The title as well as the claim made in the preface — that it provides a comprehensive insight into the problems, policies, and practices of urban planning — tends to raise the reader's expectations. The book, which has as many as 22 chapters, with annexures that take away over a third of the space, is no doubt compendious, covering just about every aspect of the urban problem. The overview chapter offers an interesting comparison of the new and old approaches to urban problems, with the data, although not new, compiled and presented in tabulated form for convenience and ready reference.
Most of the chapters are in the nature of simplified status reports on the urban front, with the author offering his own suggestions on what needs to be done. There are a few chapters which one felt could have made a significant contribution to the literature on the subject.
Take, for instance, the chapter on “Delhi's Governance, Planning and Development.” Given as an annexure is a 1961 communication related to the urban land policy containing instructions to the Chief Commissioner of Delhi. It speaks of the authorisation of land acquisition to an extent of 8,000 acres and spells out the purposes for which the land should be parcelled out: 1,200 acres for housing government employees; 4,000 acres for shopping centres, industries, private and public institutions, etc. (through the DDA); 2,000 acres for the resettlement of slum-dwellers and industrial re-location (through the Delhi Municipal Corporation) and 800 acres for cooperative housing societies. It also specified the norms in regard to plot size, price, and so on. Considering the author's long association with Delhi, the value of the relevant chapter would have been enhanced significantly had he critically analysed how far those instructions were complied with and whether they had been any deviation, addition or modification. The imperative is all the more because the Delhi experience was held out as a model for other cities to emulate.
This goes for two other, inter-related annexures that contain the Haryana Development and Regulation of Urban Areas Act (1975) and the Haryana Government's Urban Policy (2002). Against the backdrop of the sea change in Haryana's landscape, particularly in the vicinity of the nation's capital, one felt the author could have given his assessment of how the 1975 Act had fared and to what extent the 2002 policy improved matters.
To cite another instance, in the chapter on the “impact of mega events”, the author limits himself to giving a brief account of the Asian Games (1951, 1982), the Asian Trade Fair (1972), and the Commonwealth Games (2010). But he fails to take a critical look at their impact on the planning of Delhi and assess whether and how the various investments reinforced or distorted the contours of planning and development.
Notable among the more cogent chapters is the one on “financial reforms for urban turnaround.” Apart from providing some useful information about mobilising municipal resources, it emphasises the value of proper accounting procedures. If the chapter on land acquisition presents a historical account of how the law and procedures in this area have evolved, the one that deals with tools for planning research and rapid appraisal stops with cataloguing the commonly used survey and planning tools — this leaves the reader no wiser about, say, how they are more important than others or how they could be of help in the effective planning of cities.
As a source of information, the book, especially the annexures, will be of immense value to researchers. The 1961 Urban Land Policy of Delhi apart, there is the report of the working group on private housing (1981), of which H.T. Parekh was a member; it called for a review of the 1961 policy and suggested the setting up of a Mortgage Insurance Corporation. Overall, the book reads, in part, like a planning school primer and, in others, sounds like the author's wish list. The sketches, whether planner's drawings or cartoons, provide some relief to the reader as he proceeds from one content-heavy chapter to another.