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India's Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act of 1966 dictates all municipal corporations (local government bodies) to negotiate twenty-year development plans for land within their jurisdictions.
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has done this twice already, with the most recent plan coming in 1994. With that directive expiring in just over a year, the city's local government has begun to prepare for the next round of negotiations. To initiate the process, the government released a number of maps showing existing land use in the city.
For the first time since the Maharahtra Act was passed, the government has opened up the maps for the crowd to scrutinize.
The maps have been posted in local government buildings and online. Over the next several weeks, Mumbai’s denizens will be able to report any mistakes they see in how land plots are classified. As the maps serve as a starting point for any future development plan, getting them right can prevent long-term planning mistakes in India’s largest city.
The government’s decision to open up maps to the public came after petitioning from non-profits and activists fighting for the rights of poor Mumbaikars, as well as those hoping to keep the city’s open spaces construction-free.
The tips will come to the Mumbai government in the form of emails – a virtual suggestions box, essentially – and it’s up to the NGOs who pushed for the move to mobilize their volunteers. It’s the non-profits, in other words, who must motivate and direct the crowd on the ground, and then hope that the local government implements the corrections.
While it’s certainly a step in the right direction for Mumbai’s municipal corporation, the initiative would have been better off with a crowdmapping element. Seeing problem spots on a map would make it easier to identify the most popular (and accurate) corrections. With an email suggestion box, problems may arise in figuring out how people different refer to a single plot of land, as well as in compiling a comprehensive database from the messages.
If it follows up on the map corrections, the Mumbai government will deserve some praise for opening the maps up to scrutiny. It could have made its job much easier, however, by building a simple online map tool to collect the suggestions – something the government would do well to consider in twenty years’ time.