Environmentally Sustainable Guwahati

Environmentally Sustainable Guwahati

Creating environmentally sustainable development control regulations for Guwahati, to channelize its future growth in an environmentally-conscious manner.

This project dealt with creating environmentally sustainable development control regulations for Guwahati, the capital city of Assam, India. Assam is located in North-east India and is one of the states in India subject to high annual rainfall of approximately 1500 mm per year. Guwahati was once beautiful with the Brahmaputra River flowing through it, forests, hills and ‘Bils’ (lakes) and abundant wildlife. However, today the city is facing tremendous environmental troubles because of its insensitive and haphazard urban development. Parts of the hills and ‘bils’ have been encroached upon because of which rainfall runoff accumulates on the streets, increasing their levels. This has led to the problem of artificial flooding in the city. Moreover, being seismically sensitive (seismic zone 5), improper development would only lead to devastation during an earthquake.

The primary challenge of the project was to understand the actions that needed to be taken to mitigate this situation. Hence, we visited Guwahati to understand the problems first-hand; and to interact with different government, municipal organisations and stakeholders to collect city-wide data. But most of all, the intention of the visit was to understanding the local context so that relevant environmentally sensitive development control regulations could be formulated.

To understand the current development control regulations in Guwahati, the regulations were analysed and compared with the regulations in six other environmentally-conscious cities in India. The existing master plan assessment was also undertaken; and the parameters for assessment were physical and social infrastructure, traffic and transport, existing development control regulations, etc.

Simultaneously, Land Suitability Analysis was undertaken. Land Suitability Analysis is a GIS-based process used to determine the appropriateness of a given area for a particular use. The basic premise of GIS suitability analysis is that each aspect of the landscape has intrinsic characteristics that are in some degree either suitable or unsuitable for the activities being planned. Suitability is determined through systematic, multi-factor analysis of different aspect of the terrain. The results are often displayed on a map that is used to highlight areas from high to low suitability. We assessed 9 terrain factors and overlaid them using th Weighted Overlay Method to create a comprehensive land suitability map.

Land Suitability Analysis map for Guwahati

The findings from the master plan assessment were then compared to findings from the Land Suitability Analysis. Several discrepancies were found in the master plan from this analysis that needed to be addressed to enable sustainable growth in the city. We updated the development control regulations for Guwahati; and also made a proposal to revise the master plan and create a land development mechanism to make agricultural land serviceable for future urban development.

Map representing development intensity zones for Guwahati
Legend for the map representing development intensity zones for Guwahati
Proposed no development and conservation zones in Guwahati (as per the proposed master plan
Map of areas to be conserved in Guwahati (as per existing Master Plan
Proposed base FSI in Guwahati (as per the proposed master plan
Population density map of Guwahati (as per the existing master plan

Based on the land suitability analysis, 6 development intensity zones were created - starting from no development to high density development. Based on the zone an area was located in, its base FSI/ FAR was designed so that there would be uniform development, without exerting pressure on natural resources. FSI/ FAR is floor space index, a ratio calculated by dividing the built up area by the land area. Therefore, if the FSI is 1.5 and the plot area is 100 sqm, then the built up area can be 100 x 1.5 = 150 sqm. The base FSI proposed by us ranged from 0.3 to 1.25. However, while rapidly developing cities in the world have much higher FSIs, they are supported by adequate infrastructure development too. Therefore, the FSI could be increased in Guwahati, based on the width of the road a property abutted. Higher the width of the road, more FSI could be used for development. Another important aspect considered while increasing the FSI was plot size. Cities in india tend to have properties located small plot sizes. This is an issue when high intensity development needs to take place because after deducting the side margins, not much floor space is left to accommodate high intensity/ high rise developments. Therefore, we proposed that for larger plot sizes, more FSI could be procured.

Another interesting concept used for the development of the city is TDR (Transfer of Development Rights). A TDR seeks to preserve landowners' asset value by moving the right to build from a location where development is prohibited (e.g., for environmental reasons) to a location where development is encouraged. Because the total property ultimately built in the larger region does not go down as a result of simply moving the geographic location of the new adjusted development, there should be enough money available overall to compensate landowners in the restricted area for any decline in their land value, without sacrificing the profits of landowners elsewhere. The trick is to transfer part of the purchase price for land in a location where development is encouraged to a landowner in a place where development is prohibited. For e.g., currently the FSI in a conservation area is 1, but after the new master plan is in effect, the FSI might go down to 0.3. This would lead to a loss for the land owner. However, he can still sell 0.7 FSI (1 - 0.3 = 0.7 FSI) to landowners in areas permitting higher FSI. It is a collaborative method used in urban planning so that land owners get a good valuation of the land they own, while allowing for the city's development according to its plan.

The significance and implementation of land development mechanism: Urban land development is being controlled by following the objectives of access to urban land ensuring optimum social use of land, making available adequate quantity of serviced land at reasonable price to both public authorities and individuals, encouraging cooperative community efforts in the field of land developments, and preventing concentrating of urban land in a few private hands safeguarding the interest of economically weaker section of the society. In India, the conventional approach to land acquisition, even for public purpose, has become a time consuming process. Sometimes it leads to unending litigation and encourage speculative tendencies. The acquisition process besides being time consuming also becomes cost prohibitive while on the other hand the owners, whose lands are acquired, feel that they have not been adequately compensated. The Gujarat Town Planning Scheme mechanism is being followed as an alternative method to assemble the land for urban development activities in a faster and financially affordable manner without taking recourse to compulsory acquisition of land. It is basically an area planning technique patterned on the concept of land re-adjustment.

Keywords: City planning, public consultation, stakeholder consultation, collaboration, data collection, analysis, environment, byelaws, land suitability analysis, master plan, density, development, transfer of development rights, land development mechanism, GIS, FSI, town planning schemes, sustainability, Urban planning