Planning For Principles


Planning as a tool for achieving rapid economic growth, progress of people and development of national identity has been prevalent in India. Modern, rational, scientific planning, when it was introduced after independence, had a definite meaning.

1.      Planning was seen as the (only) method of achieving rapid economic growth and equitable distribution of wealth so as to bring large population out of deep abject poverty.

2.      Planning was also to support the social, cultural and political progress of people to achieve Social Justice.

The failure of removing poverty of people is evident. Large population continues to live in inhuman conditions and abject poverty and there seems to be no hope in near future for any concrete solutions. The social, political and cultural goals are as distant as they used to be. In addition to these new severe problems, like rapid growth and management of population, rapid uncontrolled urbanization, environmental and health issue have emerged. Social justice has remained a distant dream.

Despite some spectacular successes and achievements in few fields and expansion of democratic institutional base, the failure is visible and real. Among the other reasons and causes of the failures, policy of planning has come under severe attack.

Planning community comprising economic planners, social sector planners and urban planners are personally and collectively blamed for the gross failure. Attack on planners is on two grounds. a) The failure of planners is seen as lack of their ability to plan b) Planners integrity is challenged and they are seen as corrupt. The planning community is seen as biased and pro rich. The planners, as part of bureaucracy, are also seen as selfish, narrow minded and engaged in corrupt practices working hand in glove with the corrupt political class.

It is evident from the popular belief that the planning community is blamed for the failure rather than the planning as tool of directing change. Planning with its traditional meaning is still viewed essential tool and important in the governance and directing change. There are also efforts to improve planning by making it more rational and efficient by generating more data, refining methodologies, giving planners modern powerful equipment like computers etc. However the improvement in planning is not perceived by people.

The popular image of planner has grain of truth though the attack on the behavior of whole planning community is not justified. Popular perceptions cannot be foundation for critical inquiry.

In face of the severe attack and failures, planning community has developed two kinds of responses. a) Planning community has lost its earlier confidence and positive self-image. The community has gone into a defensive mode. They see their work as tentative and appear unsure of the results. b) At the same time to combat this situation, planning community has grown is size and expanded its operations across many fields, in specialized sectors. This expansion has not necessarily improved its effectiveness. On the contrary the quality has taken a beating and further weakened the community.

Planning in such a situation is seen as a routine work like a ritual to be performed without understanding the relevance and meaning of their acts. This ritual is viewed as essential because there are no alternatives or strategies seen available. The alternatives if available are not creatively explored.

Degeneration of planning into ritual has other costs. The ensuing atmosphere and environment is not restorative and this acts as deterrent to the creative minds. The prevailing dilemma inhibits truthful inquiry by planners. Experimenting, adventure, exploration, testing of new ideas and alternative path finding expeditions are looked down. Young, newly trained, enthusiastic, energetic people not only shy away form the profession but those who join are either forced out of the system or they are rendered ineffective through punishing mechanism. No new leadership is seen emerging to protect the planning in India.

The aim of this paper is to look at planning with an open mind and search for the reasons for such degradation.

This paper will try to address two central issues related to planning.

1)      Has the modernist, rational planning framework become limiting factor for planning profession?

2)      What kind of restorative environment is essential and needs to be promoted?

History of planning in India

Planning for progress had acquired almost magical and sacred connotations for the newly liberated countries like India in the middle of the last century. The devastated traditional cultures and societies had been struggling to find foot in the newly emerging world after the war. The struggle for freedom was the foremost priority for the majority. But even before the freedom dawned in India, Planning for the future was already on the agenda of charismatic leaders like Nehru. He had a grand vision of building India in to a modern nation with the help of science, technology and planning. It was not a dream of building powerful nation to dominate the world but of building a peaceful nation participating in promotion of just world. It was dream of banishing poverty and lifting poor population from pre-industrial colonial traditional cast ridden and mindset and heralding it in the modern world, with minimum damage.

The poverty-ridden populations in tattered clothes and shattered homes were led to victory by unorthodox struggle to freedom, based on Gandhian principles rooted in Ahimsa (Non-violence). Survival in the hostile world and developing a modern nation was an unenviable complex task. Nothing of the traditional world, the religion, culture, economy, social systems and the slow pace of evolution appeared relevant. There were far too many goals to be achieved. Everything local looked so irrational, irrelevant, defeated and obsolete that not to be attracted by the achievements of the align rulers, who could destroy and govern the Indian sub continent for more than three centuries, was unavoidable. Colonial rule had also heralded new ideals of equality and democracy in India. Ultimately the country had to be taken in future and not back in historical times! It was not that the spectacular success of western countries was attractive but western methods of achieving economic success also made sense in the chaotic and complex world environment as the only available alternative. Rational planning equipped with tools of science and technology almost became a new religion. The new religion was pressed in service of construction of Modern Temples. The new God had new priests to bless the country with prosperity, the planners.

National political leadership had full trust in democratic, liberal and secular basis of state. Imperative of these had worked against total control by the state. The goals of democracy, personal freedom and social justice cannot be really identified as planning goals like economic planning is. But these are important guiding principles.  It was also well known fact that the Indian society had suffered internally due to the rigid cast system, which had killed the initiative at individual level. Personal freedom and status were related to cast system. People trusted fate better than the human action. Social peace was at the cost of rigid social hierarchy and total submission of majority of people to the religious doctrines as preached by the upper casts. In fact, it was believed by some that the major factor in surrender of a powerful culture to the alien power, without much of resistance was due to this attitude of a passive society. However during the freedom struggle it was amply proved that the ordinary citizens were not so passive, they did have a strong will to challenge alien rule through peaceful actions and non-violent struggle. When opportunity came, they proved their capacity to comprehend and act.

Other major consideration for the government policy was that most of the Indian population resided in large number of villages. Rural areas totally depended on the traditional agriculture. Agricultural production was entirely governed by the vagaries of the Monsoon rains. Restoration of the agriculture through land distribution and modernization was of major concern. Unlike China, India with great geographical, social variations deliberately chose not to follow the path of collectivization and central planning for the agriculture sector. Local initiative and local actions were to be trusted and encouraged. Indirectly, this could be linked to the principle of Ahimsa, principle of not causing pain. One can trace this principle to the Buddhist Philosophy of Middle Path. For many observers, like Frankel (1978) this Indian planning strategy appeared as a paradox of accommodative politics and radical social change.

The Middle path

A sort of hybrid of planning strategy was evolved by the Government, which comprises

a)      The large and powerful public sector made responsible for the creation of modern industrial base for the economy

b)      The private sector which functioned like in the market economy in urban areas and mainly active in a consumer goods production, and

c)      The large agricultural sector comprising of poor farmers and supported by state in its initiative to form co-operative organizations, the middle sector.

The Starting point of all the three sectors was the economic development and investment. Relation between economic development with its relatively well developed rational methodology and the other goals i.e. of social progress and creation of foundation for democratic institutions were expected to be addressed by the individual and local strategies. The physical planning aspects of the development approach was rather under developed and weak. It was generally expected that such approach would eventually evolve through the activities and goals themselves. To help the development of spatial planning few national examples were to guide as models. Construction of new towns like Chandigarh is a prominent example.



Economic development and planning today

Today India is self sufficient in food production. It has successfully averted the tragedies of past like famine deaths. The Green Revolution was made possible because of the synergy of government and independent farming community. Together they have successfully achieved food production capacity, sufficient enough for the growing population. This was made possible because of the proactive management of water, introduction of modern farming technology like hybrid seed, chemical fertilizers, cropping practices and active involvement of small, medium and large farm owners who were guided by the dedicated and committed public sector and government officials. Important and essential production of basic industries like steel, metals, machinery, fertilizers and infrastructure like dams, reservoirs, distribution canals highways, and electricity was entrusted to the public sector and its successes in the early phase vindicated the vision of planners. But after initial successes great strains have appeared in the economy. Loss incurring bureaucracy replaced profiteering capitalist class in the name of socialist planning. (Sane 2000)

Urban planning is no exception to this general planning story. Insistence of the modernist rational, comprehensive planning (both Marxist and capital liberal) that view cities like machines that can be predicted, planned, controlled and engineered (Portugali 2000) is all the more dominant and prevalent in India.



Reality Today

Traversing this middle path approach, planning in India did help in creation of some pockets of success. Whether the success can be attributed to the planning is a point of debate. It is also true that India has been successful in remaining firm on the ideology of democracy despite doubts expressed by many. Unprecedented challenges like war with neighboring country demanding great funds for defense, ongoing terrorism, yearly natural calamities like floods, earthquake, typhoons, population pressure, economic crises, oil shocks rock the state time to time. Problem of poverty has persisted.  Large masses of people still remain illiterate and structural inequalities have appeared and are putting pressure on the national fabric. Paucity of funds for development and pressures from international funding agencies are putting pressure for liberation of economy while the organized labor and traditional left is joined by right wing in opposing state on liberalization and globalization issues. Religious fundamentalism some times gets upper hand. Environmental lobby challenges each and every development project. Cities and metropolises are growing and the quality of life deteriorating. Economic division of society is becoming sharper. Unemployment is continuing at high rates. No wonder the planning in such a chaotic and complex situation is rather like a ritual. The goals are set, funds get allocated and work started but there is no guarantee of timely completion or of the costs. Description of India by American Hi commissioner and economist J.K. Galbraith as “functioning anarchy” is still fit qualification for the country. What appeared as anarchy could also be termed as chaos and complexity which has attracted scientist’s attention only in last two decades and its potential is yet to be fully explored and understood.

Planning Dilemma

Planning experiences of other countries and those of developed countries are always an important source of reference for Indian planners. Today the planning dilemma appears to be universal. While referring to some successful examples, basic underlying dilemma of planning has not really been understood by the Indian planners. Globalizing economy is not only affecting and hurting poor nations but it is equally painful or more so for the developed economies. Powerful global cities like New York and London passed through a very difficult phase in the later part of twentieth century. The surplus of unused, obsolete harbor sites lay like lead weights on the shoulders of city administrations and city planners and designers. A large civil engineering infrastructure of quays, harbors, piers and docks became absolutely useless in the blink of the eye. (Hankel 2000)

After studying the developments of planning theory in advanced countries, it is no surprise that India has not been successful in planning and controlling the development as it intended! Looking at the history of planning one can understand how this pattern of failure is quite understandable. After the grand failure of planning experiment of Soviet Union the Indian failures appear trivial and its achievements greater!

History of planning is well documented in the book by John Friedman. As traced by him, various stages in development of planning theory build up the dilemma. At each stage, planning is challenged by new problems. Every subsequent stage in theoretical development of planning appears to be linked to previous stage of failure. Each stage is a new learning process, trying to find new ways to overcome the theoretical limitations appearing in the planning process and removing them. But at no place basic underlying principals are challenged by Friedman (1985)

Planning started as in India based on the theoretical premise of the public policy promoted by planners in the West. The roots of planning are firmly embedded in the then prevalent scientific, rational, mechanistic Western worldview. Rigorous application of universal, rational, scientific planning methods, built on empirical, quantitative methods was seen as capable of solving problems facing humanity. Prescription of right solutions, at right time, in right quantities was most important to cure human societies. The planning theory was considered revolutionary tool, which was applied to craft economic as well as physical planning policies. When certain failures appeared in the delivery of results, Policy analysis was applied rigorously. As human nature and society defied the planning, social learning of Planners was promoted. When the new learning and social knowledge failed to provide the expected results, planners were advised to get engaged in social activism. Participatory approach of planning is embedded in this new planning methodology. It is evident that large funds were allocated and large number of planners and theoreticians worked simultaneously to solve the mystery of ineffectual planning. Till today the results have eluded the planners and the planning theory. The prescription of activism of planners also has to be viewed with skepticism.

“ I propose to challenge the widely held assumption that politically committed intellectuals are the best (or indeed only) guardians of public weal, champions of the poor, and protectors of national interests. The weakness of this assumption is that it ignores the class interests of intellectuals themselves”. (Attwood 1992) This can very well apply to the planning community.

“An ideology is at peak of its strength when a) its ideological claims are fully accepted by society as if they belong to the domain of natural phenomenon b) as a consequence of above when they are embedded in societies political structure. Both aspects hold in case of modern urban and regional planning. Its (false conscious) mechanistic view of predictable, controllable and thus plannable cities and urbanism is generally accepted as an unquestionable truism, and as a consequence, urban and regional planning administrations, practices and law are built in line with this false truism. This is so in both capitalist societies with their free markets and authoritative communist societies and their planned economy and society.” (Portugali 2000)

Search of New Directions in new, fast changing Globalizing Economy

In his yet unpublished work (available on internet) Jessop discusses the emerging concept of Globalization, Entrepreneurial Cities, and the Social Economy. “Rather than considering globalization in isolation, it should be understood in terms of its complex interrelation with trends on spatial scale. These include trend like localization, regionalization, the growth of cross border linkages, and the development of transnational urban networks. We must recognize the multicentric nature of globalization.”

Some of new directions planners are exploring in the western world are pointing to local contextual examples and phenomenon, which are also observed in India. While centralized planning is under strain, isolated examples are gaining success because they are dislocated from centralized planning practice. They are locally successful because they are rooted in their uniquely contextual history in society and culture. They are results of enterprising actions of participants.  Entrepreneureship is defined as creation of opportunities for surplus profit through new combinations or innovation. (Schumpeter 1934) It is also shift from urban managerialism to urban entrepreneurialism (Harvey 1989)

Schumepeter listed several ways in which innovation can occur:

1) The introduction of a new good- that which is not familiar or new quality of a good. 2) The introduction of a new method of production. 3) Opening of new market 4) The conquest of new source of supply of raw material 5) The carrying out of the new organization of any industry.

Entrepreneurial, Informal, Self Planning Communities in India

This is the way most Indian communities have been planning! This processes is going on in India for quite some time. But it is not observed as linked to some kind of phenomenon. The examples have not been part of conscious studies by planning theorist may be because they are not strictly planned. Some individuals, some villages, towns, and localities have been successful in transforming themselves because of their unique social cultural formations. It is a process of self-planning. Many people have successfully exploited available resources, individually or collectively, in enterprising way as described by Schumpeter.

One of the better known and observed examples is of cooperative movement of Maharashtra for its success (though not by urban planners). Many farmer’s cooperatives successfully transformed their regions through integration of agriculture, Industry and services. At each stage they were able to tap new opportunities better than other areas. The Warana Nagar Village cooperative movement in Maharashtra has many success stories to its credit. Recently it has been selected for a central government Information Technology project for implementation. Where by each of the 70 villages from this area attached to the successful Co-operative movement will get a rural IT center witch will be manned by local trained residents and each will serve the farming community as well as all the residents for a small fee. Special software developed in local language will help the villagers in getting all information like land records, tax demands, banking services via Internet, etc. Besides these centers will also help student community. Warana Nagar already has a sugar factory, dairy and milk based production industry, a super market run by women, Engineering college all in the cooperative sector in the rural area. 70 villages of this group enjoy highest per capita income in India. In addition to this, local community has asked permission to set up a environmentally clean power generating plant in Co-op. Sector using natural gas, which has been granted permission as the power sector is now getting freed from oppression monopolistic hold of public sector.

By binding people together in long-term, multilevel game, organizations increase the number and importance of future interactions, and thereby promote the emergence of cooperation among groups too large to interact individually. This in turn leads to the evolution of organizations for the handling of larger and more complex issues. (Axelrod 1984)

Cooperative movement in Maharashtra has attracted many economists. It has been studied extensively for its economic success. Spatial effects need to be studied for its effects on urbanism. It is termed as Revolution from the Middle (Attwood 1992)

Other common examples are from a category, which are generally recognized as informal sector of the economy. Individual initiatives, individual small ideas are developed with no help from formal economic sector but only through the community support. A Konkan area fisherman, who is employed by a new large scale, modern shrimp farm, has established a small fish farm in his one-acre land with some funds from a friend. His investment in the farm is half of that of the large farm and his rate of return is larger than the farm he works for. Small inexpensive innovation, family help, traditional knowledge of fishing has made him very successful. In Gujarath, poor women were each was given a cow as capital. They made the legendary success story of AMUL products. And the village women have ushered in the White revolution in India, simultaneously improving their own standard of living, much similar in nature to the green revolution ushered in by Punjab Farmers. Poor women from Mumbai who started supplying food from their homes for poor textile mill workers and helped by a woman activist now form an organization of 100000 members called Annapoorna. Similar organization SEWA, (Self Employed Women’s Association) of women from Ahmedabad is one on the most successful NGO involved with women. The views of SEVA woman were greatly acclaimed by President Clinton and Bill gates in a recent conference in USA.

Effects of such small, rural regenerative processes are getting reflected, albeit in small percent, in the census data. Reduction of growth rate of urbanization in India is one such important evidence. (3.89% in 1971-81 to 2.91% in 1981-91) Some areas in coastal Maharashtra (which I studied in last year) are experiencing this regeneration of rural economy through reduction of poverty and growth of economic diversity, after the introduction of Konkan railway in 1995. The coastal region is already experiencing a small scale Blue revolution (Fishing industry in cooperative sector)

Comparison of two approaches to Development

A comparison of the prevailing modern planning (planning with theory) and informal planning development (planning with guiding principles) is presented in the following table. All the ideas put forward here are assembled from a wider debate going on in various fields and not really tested and evaluated for their importance to planning. Some of the processes are present sometimes and appear in different combinations. However I think they are important for the progress of planning theory in changing context.

Planning with Three principles

Present planning perspective theory has developed in the western rational, scientific and related Economic theory developed in last two centuries. Creation of wealth has never been under estimated in the Eastern Philosophical thought of Buddhism. But the practice of building theory on one single principle, is inherently seen limited and leads to dilemma. Unitary emphasis on justice takes humanity on path of revenge. Unitary emphasis on Ahimsa takes humanity to Vairagya (total passivity) and unitary emphasis on wealth creation leads human society to uncontrollable consumerism. (Sane 2000)

So the main question is how to weave all the three aspects into the planning theory. It could be the most challenging task for human creative mind. Planning dilemma of today can be analyzed with these three principles which may not give easy, rule based, calculable solutions but can guide planners in their actions and judgements.


 Planning with Rational Theory (Only with W)

Planning with Guiding Principles (A+W+J)

Need expertise in Economic Planning theory

Need expertise in understanding issues before plan.

Planners start either from top or from bottom

Planning can start from any middle level.

Rational, quantitative, data based plan

Other goals are seen essential, and as modifiers

Planners basis is narrow

Broad based planning

Defined methodology essential

Open general guiding principles are to be defined

Has to fit a large scale scheme or plan

Customized, uniquely tailored operating scheme

Scale decided by economy/ or Investor

Scale decided by the ability of the actors

Large scale planning infrastructure needed

Use of readily available infrastructure

Plans are rigid, work on modular basis


Fixed in time and scale




Hierarchical planning structure

Evolving Networked structure

Predictable goals, measurable results

Predictable goals, observable results

Expensive Design

Inexpensive evolution

Time consuming

Spontaneous, time constrained

Quantity and Optimization orientated

Quality and Affect Oriented



Universal application possibility

Contextual application possible

Mathematical, mechanical, calculated

Organic / intuitive approach

Failure leads to large waste, Destruction of capital

Failure leads to minor waste, regenerative Capital

Wasteful in resources

Conservation of resources

Environmentally costly

Environment friendly

Coordinated planning

Cooperative planning

Control based governance

Cooperation of community

Planner centric

Actors centric

Needs formal theory

No formal theory ( not yet)

Planning as problem solution

Planning as Creative action, play

Directed from outside

Guided from within

Needs linear thinking

Needs complex processing

Organized, can lead to chaos

Chaotic, can lead to Order

Leads to competition / compliance

Needs co-operation and consent

Rule based

Need based

Vertical thinking

Lateral thinking

Can destroy community

Can build community

Pushed down / pushed up plan

Pursuasive, accommodating approach

Planners imagine needs of others

Planners negotiate needs and wants

Choices enforced

Choices evolve

Empowers state/ Monopolies

Empower the actors



Can take long jumps

Can take short steps

Environment and Creativity

Spontaneous, local, creative solutions help to evolve the combination of elements in this process. It is essential to note that the cooperative movement could flourish and succeed in Maharashtra and nowhere else in India. It is because Maharashtra enjoys the most open social and cultural environment. It was the last state to fall to the British Empire and first one to raise banner of freedom against it. It was also a state that could exploit the best of western culture and education. Presence of Mumbai as its state capital cannot be neglected. However urban planners from the state, probably because of their urban bias, and have neglected this rural phenomenon, or because the model does not fit the Modern Mechanistic planning theory or because of both. Cooperative sector example can be one source of new paradigm for planners and they can evolve new role for themselves the way they evolved it in the last century at the advent of Industrial Revolution.

“Creative thinking is key capability that helps individuals and organizations deal with and manage change, which is fundamental to the nature of planning process. As change becomes more rapid and discontinuous, it is crucial that there are people in the profession that are able to turn problems into opportunities while acknowledging the contradictions. Often this involves seeing things from different perspective and breaking away from the traditional ways of thinking that may have lost their meaning. Critical reflection can help unlock potential.” (Higgins and Morgan, 2000)


We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt.

-Richard Feynman

Planning profession is facing doubts about its methodology and that is at the basis of dilemma. I think the planners are intuitively aware of this phenomenon. Behind the pretentious grand schemes, shiny mirrored facades and mindlessly designed urban sprawl of affluence of developed world, Western Urban planners are trying to hide the underlying unease since the decline of industrialism.

“There is strong feeling among scientists that something dramatic is happening right now at the end of the 20th century and on the verge of 21st. The rapid demographic growth of human population, the associated rapid urban growth – from 16 cities of over one million people at the turn of the century to over 500 such cities today, the seemingly contradictory conjunction between the emerging global economy and global village, on the one hand and the parallel emergence of cultural pluralism and localism, on the other, the internet, the information highway, and the information city, suggested by Castells (1996), the emergence of environmental problems, the green movements with no specific inclination to traditional right viruses left, dichotomy that has dominated society, social philosophy and politics over a century, and the very recent realization that the environmental dilemma is essentially a dilemma of cities and urbanism.” (Portugali 2000)

Dilemma is source of creativity. Strands of Ahimsa, Wealth and Justice, (Sane 2000) the three supreme guiding principles have great potential, with which planners can weave new Urbanism for the future Human civilization.


1)       Atwood D.W, 1992, Raising Cane. The political economy of Sugar in Western India. Westview press Inc. USA

2)       Axelrod R.1984, The evolution of cooperation, Basic books Inc.Publishers. New York

3)       Frankel F.R. 1978, Indian Political Economy 1947-1977, The gradual revolution. Oxford University press, Oxford

4)       Freidman J. Planning as           , Princton University press.

5)       Hans Meyer, 1999, CITY AND PORT : Rotterdam, International books, the Netherlands

6)       Higgins and Morgan

7)       Portugali J. 2000, Self Organization and City. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg

8)      Sane R. 2000, Yugantar, (Marathi) From Socialist Capitalism to Labor based Individualism Rule Rajhans Prakashan, Pune


Web Sites Related to few organizations engaged in building India



Annapurna Mahila Mandal:


MS Swaminathan:


Warana Nagar:


Konkan railway Corporation:


Flyovers in Mumbai:


Thane: the cleanest city in India:


Cellular phone for fishermen:


Operation flood:


Wada Pav: Mumbai:


SEWA : Self Employed Women’s Association: