By Raka Choudhury
Reuters: UTTIPEC is moving in the right direction to address the issues related to traffic and transportation infrastructure in New Delhi.
It’s no secret that Indian cities face infrastructure challenges. Problems are often exacerbated by the lack of coordination among local government agencies, who anyway need to take a much more prominent role in urban planning.
An agency within the Delhi Development Authority is moving in the right direction. The Unified Traffic and Transportation Infrastructure (Planning and Engineering) Center, thankfully known more simply as UTTIPEC, was established in 2008 under a special provision of the Delhi Development Act.
It is responsible for planning oversight of all traffic and transportation infrastructure in the capital. In keeping with the National Urban Transport Policy, UTTIPEC aims to make sure that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport are given at least as much importance as private vehicles.
UTTIPEC may be the only agency of its kind in India, where planning and implementation of traffic and transportation projects are coordinated by a single agency. Working groups for specific projects are supposed to meet once a week, and a governing body meets once a month to approve projects, or not. In essence, UTTIPEC is a planning agency that forces cooperation and collaboration among various departments representing different interests.
The Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time spoke with UTTIPEC Director Ashok Bhattacharjee to find out more about the agency. Edited excerpts:
WSJ: DDA has been around for many years now. What prompted the creation of UTTIPEC?
Mr. Bhattacharjee: It was a series of events. First, a technical committee within DDA had been responsible for approving flyovers and other road projects, but it was a narrow scope. Second, the last couple of iterations of the Delhi Master Plan had been talking about creating a Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority that would adopt a holistic approach toward reviewing transport improvements, but was unsuccessful. Since the transport scenario is complex with various disciplines and players involved, there was an urgent need for planning, integration and inter-agency coordination. UTTIPEC was formed through a Central Government Notification to fulfill that role.
WSJ: There are so many construction projects happening around the city at any given time. How do these projects come under the reviewing authority of Uttipec?
Mr. Bhattacharjee: This is still a work in progress. The Public Works Department controls the major roads within the city, and it decides how these should be reviewed and if Uttipec should be involved. Then there are a number of projects submitted to the technical committee for review. This is not how the process should be. For example, UTTIPEC’s first approval was a set of pedestrian design guidelines, because Uttipec realized that pedestrians were being treated as secondary in Delhi, and this needed to change. Now all new and retrofit street projects need to follow these guidelines and are subject to review by UTTIPEC.
WSJ: What have been some of Uttpec’s biggest accomplishments?
Mr. Bhattacharjee: The creation of Uttipec itself was a great achievement because of the need for coordination between the agencies and a comprehensive review of all aspects of a project. This has been possible because the governing body is headed by the Lieutenant Governor [Tejendra Khanna]. With UTTIPEC , he started coming to the DDA offices every month to chair meetings, and it forced the heads of all the other departments of the Delhi government and other important stakeholders to be involved. Until then, junior engineers were involved in meetings without the authority to make decisions. Now, the presence of all these high-level decision-makers in the room allows for coordination at a much higher-level and decisions to be made relatively quicker.
We also have 10 working groups now working on a range of issues from developing planning guidelines to road capacity building, community outreach and even the monitoring of construction projects. In terms of actual projects, there are about 20-25 projects that have been approved so far, including the ITO Urban Renewal Project, and Vikas Marg Metro Connectivity, which includes a parking strategy.
But really, the biggest accomplishment has been getting all the different departments to meet, brainstorm and arrive at a consensus.
WSJ: What have the challenges been and how have you overcome them?
Mr. Bhattacharjee: Initially, people were very uncomfortable with this level of transparency. People were also used to a certain way of working and were not open to deliberations or change in the process. Planning was totally ignored by the engineers… Now the engineers have all come around, they even consult UTTIPEC before they hire their own consultants to make sure that they meet Uttipec’s requirements.
WSJ: Is it possible that Uttipec’s powers could be too far-reaching? Are there checks and balances in place to make sure that the vision of a wider audience is served? What is the process for approval?
Mr. Bhattacharjee: The process is no different than what was happening when DDA’s technical committee approved projects. In fact, there is better coordination now and all agencies can weigh in. What we have done is put some guidelines in place that we then use to approve projects. Sometimes, there are projects that come in and we realize that we need to develop guidelines.
The process for approval is pretty clear cut. Working groups discuss and deliberate, and the governing body (which includes representatives from all departments) approves it or asks the working group to revise it. Projects go through a public review process and are posted on UTTIPEC ’s website for comment.
WSJ: The Ministry of Urban Development is getting ready to launch the second phase of its Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission program over the next couple of months. The program is supposed to provide an estimated $40 billion for urban infrastructure improvements across the country. Do you have any advice for local governments that may want to emulate Uttipec’s institutional framework and operational procedures?
Mr. Bhattacharjee: Yes, this is the right time to create an agency like Uttipec so that all the departments can sit together and comprehensively prioritize the entire city’s interests, not indulge in piecemeal, short-term improvements like the flyovers that are being built across mid-level cities around India. The idea should be develop in a way that is more “planning-focused” and less focused on getting the maximum construction funds possible.
There are four stages for any project- planning, implementation (enforcement during construction), management, and operation and maintenance. During the planning stage, people from the other three stages should be involved. Only then will all departments take ownership of projects, and that is what an agency like UTTIPEC will help achieve.