Bringing Sita and Gita Together
by Swati Ramanathan


One twin, uplifted by the waves of globalization and economic energy – aggressive, confident, prosperous. The other, struggling with issues of livelihood, vulnerability and access to resources – diffident, dependent. They are the urban and rural twins of India , opposite in nature but part of the same. And as in the old Bollywood favourite – Sita aur Gita , both have been separated at birth!

The two Ministries of rural and urban India – Panchayati Raj (MoPR) and Urban Development (MoUD) have displayed impressive leadership in recent times, determinedly carving out space for democratic reform at the third tier of government. Infrastructure funding has been firmly linked to decentralisation and community participation. The success of these efforts now rests on the energies of multiple government departments and the citizens of individual cities, towns and villages.

But despite these excellent separate efforts, the gap is precisely that – they are separate. Much like in the film, the twins have to be brought together. If we are to bridge the divide of prosperity, policy and institutional structures need to connect the energies of urban India with the development of rural India .

In order to understand the distinctions in planning between rural and urban, an awareness of the invisible political and administrative lines is the starting point. Each state is divided into a number of districts. So for example, Karnataka is divided into 29 districts. All of India is divided into approximately 600 districts. Each of these districts is made up of a number of villages, some towns, and perhaps a city. These are in the order of about 600,000 villages and 4,000 cities and towns across the country. The big metros are 23 in number, hold a third of the total urban population and continue to grow the fastest.

If you live in a metropolitan city, look carefully to the edge of your city limits. You will still miss the boundaries between what is urban and what is rural. This is because they are no longer evident. What is rural and what urban, is today indistinguishable. The entire periphery of the National Capital Region is littered with urban pockets located in villages and servicing urban needs. Gurgaon doesn’t even come under a municipality. It is still within Panchayat limits. Bangalore city is located in Bangalore Urban district that includes villages, while the new International Airport is located in Bangalore Rural district in the Devanahalli village. Many of Goa’s resorts such as Fort Aguada are located in Panchayat areas that don’t have authority over their taxes or building plans.


The MoPR is pushing for the decentralization of the functions and funds to the village Panchayats. Planning and budgeting for villages is designed at District / Zilla / Grama Panchayat levels. These are plans for water, education, health, etc. and are called “SECTORAL PLANS”.

There are gaps in this planning process. The emphasis of sectoral plans is purely on socio-economic development. The planning of space is dismembered from these sectoral plans, and hence its value untapped. For example, a sectoral plan for primary education might promote that every village in the district have a primary school. Suppose a spatial plan was drawn that mapped all the sectoral needs. It might result in strategically locating schools for a cluster of villages, thereby pooling resources efficiently and maximising usage of the schools’ resources. The same would apply to health clinics, water distribution, road networks, etc. Ultimately all sectoral planning –village, block, district- is linked to physical space.

The Greater Bangalore region 2 Districts and 9 blocks (taluks)

Planning of space becomes especially important when there is a significant urban presence in the district, with strong pulls on infrastructure and resources. We see examples of this infrastructure pull across the country, towards new townships, Special Economic Zones, Industrial Belts. With the erosion of boundaries between urban, peri-urban and rural that we are witnessing throughout the country today, it would be timely to define planning also in the context of SPATIAL PLANS.


In urban areas, the sheer density of population and the complexity of providing public services demand spatial planning. The smaller towns that existed pre-British era were planned using Manasara’s shilpa shastra and arthashastra. They were fort towns and temple towns with very little consideration of economics and over time deteriorated and were often abandoned. During colonial rule the unsanitary conditions of existing towns prompted the British in 1864 to deploy Sanitary Commissions to undertake town planning with the mandate to improve sanitary planning. It was only in 1898 that Urban Improvement Trusts (UIT) was created with an emphasis on urban planning.

These UITs have morphed with the steady growth of cities into the more familiar Development Authorities in the metros of Delhi , Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad , Kolkatta, etc. Most state governments continue to run these development authorities defying both the logic of devolving the function of urban planning to the municipal government as well as the directive of the 74 th Amendment to the Constitution. Urban planning is still a “centralized” function of the state.

Leaving aside this institutional issue, there is a deeper gap in the practice of “urban planning”. In direct contrast to rural development plans, urban master plans focus on land use and zoning, taking a myopic view of regulatory controls on land. They largely ignore the requirements of developing the city’s economic advantages, social safety net, environment health or cultural vibrancy.

Given the complexities of cities, these plans require the input of both residents and those concerned with city development. However, in defining a vision for growth and vitality, development authorities commit the fatal flaw of excluding all others from a stake in this vision. Not just civil society, even government departments – those that provide “sector” services such as water, sewage, traffic and transport, power, roads, housing. The concerned departments are not consulted about their vision or ability to provide the services that master plans imperially call for them to provide. For example, in deciding new growth areas for the city, sectoral considerations could entirely change the direction of growth based on better access to water, proximity to employment opportunity, better transport connections. Similarly, in the existing city, before new zoning allows a hospital or mall to be built on an arterial street, considerations of parking and traffic flows might suggest alternative zoning instead. These urban “sector plans” are critical not only to improve city planning but also to plan for resource dependencies between rural and urban areas within a region.

The districts of Karnataka

If we are to bring Sita and Gita together, what is required is a tectonic shift in how we plan. Planning at the local level of both city and village must combine the urban SPATIAL approach with the rural SECTORAL socio-economic approach. Only then can these separate plans of rural villages and urban towns and cities be united into a regional integrated DISTRICT plan, each informing the other.


If we did produce such Integrated District Plans, areas of common impact between rural and urban that have so far been neglected, will start to be addressed:

  • Highway and transport linkages to maximise connectivity
  • Water resources planning to consider access, rights, distribution, charges, etc. and the impact of need vs. availability for growth plans
  • Protection of rural water bodies and green-fields from urban sewage and toxic waste.
  • Protocol on urban solid waste disposal land fill locations and management
  • Land use zoning in rural areas for growth of urban areas, industrial allocations, acquisitions, SEZ allocations, that protect multi-crop land, ecological vulnerable areas
  • Environment protection of lakes, tanks, wetlands, forest areas, green-fields, flora and fauna

Such an Integrated District Plan would link plans, guide negotiations, and coordinate between multiple member governments of the district. It would provide the “skeletal” planning framework for the development of city and town plans and village plans. With such an approach, we would finally begin to integrate SECTORAL and SPATIAL and RURAL with URBAN.

These planning activities need to be housed in appropriate institutional structures, with democratic representation by the member governments within the district. Fortunately, the Constitution of India provides for the creation of District Planning Committees (DPC), but regrettably this has not been mandated until now. The recently launched Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission requires the creation of DPCs from all states that are receiving funds under the Mission .


Getting Integrated District Plans to be a reality means having the right planning policies and appropriate laws in place. Without the right laws, or more technically, statutes in place, any planning exercise is merely a proposal and will be vulnerable to politics, bureaucracy and inefficiency.


The authoritative spatial planning statute in a state is the Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA). Town and Country Planning Organisations (TCPO) are the principal Planning Authorities for a state through the TCPA of the state. There are other Acts which give authority over a more restricted geographic footprint, such as Metropolitan Regional Development Acts, Development Authority Acts, Industrial Development Board Acts and Municipal Corporation Acts. Each of these departments has a role in planning in varying limits depending upon the state’s planning statutes and the teeth given to these statutes. But the TCPA provides the most comprehensive statutory cover over the state.

India ‘s first Town and Country Planning Act was based on the first Town and Country Planning Act of 1909 of the United Kingdom . The UK has since come out with 8 completely revised Acts over the years to iteratively improve their planning laws, while we have held on to our legacy acts as bibles – mindless of the fact that they may be flawed, outdated and don’t address our planning needs. Amendments added to the Act are more like political specials to a menu, making the Act cumbersome to comprehend while rarely addressing the underlying fault lines of planning.

I propose five tests to evaluate any state’s planning statutes:

  • Does the State have Planning Statutes that cover the entire state, without leaving out pockets of unplanned areas, into which growth can creep ungoverned by regulations?
  • Are these statutes recognizing the rural-urban issues, and giving planning power to the right rural and urban institutions?
  • Are these rural and urban planning authorities appropriately interlinked so that Integrated District-level Plan can be produced?
  • Do the statutes provide the planning authorities with the right resources and tools for planning?
  • Do the laws allow for flexible planning, that allows changing conditions to be accommodated and integrated on an ongoing basis?

It’s time to have a completely fresh look at the planning statutes in our country, along the lines of Integrated District Planning.


Merging the approach of rural-sectoral and urban-spatial prepares the ground for improving the quality of planning and connects rural and urban interests through Integrated District Plans. Providing the enabling planning statutes requires a thorough revision of the existing statutes based on the five principles above. Once the statutes are in place, detailed guidelines can be developed that map the process of planning to include urban, rural and district. Such guidelines would define the roles and responsibilities at each level and the timelines for developing plans.

The erosion of boundaries between rural and urban is going to continue but the disparities between the two will also grow and will be abetted by the swirling politics of land and market forces acting on city regions. Bringing the long estranged twins of rural and urban together into Integrated District Plans can be one pioneering step towards unlocking the power of rural-urban partnerships.

Workshop Theme




Urban Transport

1 day


9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Water Supply

1 day


9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Spatial Planning

2 days



9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Sewerage and Drainage

1 days


9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Solid Waste Management

½ day


9:00 am to 1:00 pm

Affordable Housing

½ day


2:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Municipal Financing

1 day


9:00 am to 5:00 pm

IT Governance

1 day


9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Swati Ramanathan is Chairperson, India Urban Space; Co-Founder, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy; Advisor, State Urban Agenda for Rajasthan (SUA RAJ).

The India Urban Space Conference is a first of its kind conference on urban space to be held in Mumbai between 27-30 September, 2007. It has a series of technical and spatial planning workshops. These are for state and city planning personnel and are open to private planning professionals as well. If you are interested knowing more about the conference or in attending any of the workshops register at .

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