A human settlement is defined as a place inhabited more or less permanently. The houses may be designed or redesigned, buildings may be altered, functions may change but settlement continues with time and space.


The census of India, 1991 defines urban settlements as “All places which have municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee and have a minimum population of 5000 persons, at least 75 per cent of male workers are engaged in non-agricultural pursuits and a density of population of at least 400 persons per square kilometers are urban. 

EVOLUTION OF Urban Settlements:

The first urban settlement to reach a population of one million was the city of London by around. A.D. 1810. By 1982 approximately 175 cities in the world had crossed the one million population mark. Presently 48 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban settlements compared to only 3 per cent in the year 1800.


The definition of urban areas varies from one country to another. Some of the common bases of classification are size of
  • population,
  • occupational structure and
  • administrative setup.


In India the size of population, density of 400 persons per sq km and share of non-agricultural workers are taken into consideration.


In India if more than 50 per cent of its economically productive population is engaged in non-agricultural pursuits.

Administration Setup:

For example, in India, a settlement of any size is classified as urban, if it has a municipality, Cantonment Board or Notified Area Council.

Types of Urban Settlements:

Depending on the size and the services available and functions rendered, urban centers are designated as town, city, million city, conurbation, megalopolis.

Town (more than 5000ppl):

The concept of ‘town’ can best be understood with reference to ‘village’. Population size is not the only criterion. Functional contrasts between towns and villages may not always be clear cut, but specific functions such as, manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade, and professional services exist in towns.

City (more than 1 lac):

A city may be regarded as a leading town, which has outstripped its local or regional rivals. In the words of Lewis Mumford, “the city is in fact the physical form of the highest and most complex type of associative life”. Cities are much larger than towns and have a greater number of economic functions. They tend to have transport terminals, major financial institutions and regional administrative offices. When the population crosses the one million mark it is designated as a million city.

Conurbation (pop of 2 or more cities combined):

The term conurbation was coined by Patrick Geddes in 1915 and applied to a large area of urban development that resulted from the merging of originally separate towns or cities. Greater London, Manchester, Chicago and Tokyo are examples.

Megalopolis (more than 10 million):

This Greek word meaning “great city”, was popularized by Jean Gottman (1957) and signifies ‘super- metropolitan’ region extending, as union of conurbations. The urban landscape stretching from Boston in the north to south of Washington in U.S.A. is the best known example of a megalopolis.

Million City (more than 10 lacs):

The number of million cities in the world has been increasing as never before. London reached the million mark in 1800, followed by Paris in 1850, New York in 1860, and by 1950 there were around 80 such cities. The rate of increase in the number of million cities has been three-fold in every three decades – around 160 in 1975 to around 438 in 2005.

Town groups

The concept of ‘Town Group’ was first introduced in 1951 to include urban areas adjacent to cities with population of 1 lac and over. In 1961, census defined town group as ‘a group of towns which adjoined one another so closely as to form a single inhabited urban locality’. Further, the census identified town groups only when the aggregate population of the towns in a group exceeded one lakh. In 1961, there were as many as 132 town groups out of a total of 2700 urban places.
The town Groups emerged in two types:
  1. Town groups which were made up of a cluster of neighboring municipalities only
  2. Town groups which were made up of municipal and non-municipal localities.
The town group idea was severely criticized by geographers in 1968 at the international geographical union congress held in Delhi. The main arguments against it were:
  1. The town group is not a compact and contiguous area, but a scattered collection of towns, with intervening rural villages, which are left out of the town group.
  2. It is not possible to prepare city plans for such a dis-contiguous set of settlements, where, in the process of development, the intervening spaces are likely to be urbanized.
  3. In some cases (42 out of a total of 137 town groups), the town group consisted of an amalgam of towns of small size, without the large unifying city. In such cases, the town group failed to convey the essence of cohesion as one unit. The census definition becomes an artificial entity.
A town group defined by the census will have no stability over time and will thus create problems of comparability of data overtime as well as loose its unity as a unit of city planning. With each decade, the town group cluster will grow with the addition of new town into the cluster.

Definition of Town

The definition of urban areas has not been uniform all over the country as one would wish. However from 1961 census onwards a uniform and rigid definition was adopted to maintain the comparability and to study the trends of urbanization. In the subsequent censuses viz., 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 the same urban concepts were adopted with some minor changes. In 2001, places were designated as urban or towns on the following principles.
(a) All places with Municipality, Corporation, Cantonment Board, Sanitary Board, Notified Area Committee etc.
(b) All other places which satisfy the following criteria:
i) A minimum population of 5,000 ;
ii) At least 75 per cent of the male working population being engaged in non-agricultural (and allied) activity ;
iii) A density of population of at least 400 per square kilometer (or one thousand persons per square mile)
It is proposed to retain the same definition at the 2011 Census also as this will ensure the comparability with the previous Censuses and also provide the basis for analysis of trends of urbanization in the State.

Statutory towns:

All places which have been notified under the Karnataka Municipal Act and have local bodies like Municipal Corporation, City Municipal Council, Town Municipal Council, Town Panchayat etc., irrespective of their demographic characteristics will be considered as “urban units”.

Non-Statutory towns

Further, all rural units which satisfy the demographic criterion cited above (in Definition of Town 2b) have been identified as urban units based on 2001 Census data in this Directorate. For Census purposes these places are treated as urban units and are called “Non Municipal Census Towns’.

District/Taluk headquarters

A district/taluk headquarter which is not a statutory town and fails to satisfy the demographic criterion, is treated as ”rural unit” only.

The Urban Agglomeration

For census 2001, it was decided that the core town or at least one of the constituent towns of an urban agglomeration should necessarily be a statutory town and the total population of all the constituents should not be less than 20,000 (as per 1991 census).
Urban agglomeration is a continuous urban spread constituting a town and its adjoining urban outgrowths (OGs), or two or more physical contiguous towns together and any adjoining urban outgrowths of such towns. Examples of Outgrowth are railway colonies, university campuses, port area, military camps etc. that may have come up near a statutory town or city but within the revenue limits of a village or villages contiguous to the town or city. For Census of India, 2001, it was decided that the core town or at least one of the constituent towns of an urban agglomeration should necessarily be a statutory town and the total population of all the constituents should not be less than 20,000 (as per 1991 Census). With these two basic criteria having been met, the following are the possible different situations in which urban agglomerations could be constituted.
i) a city or town with one or more contiguous outgrowths;
ii) two or more adjoining towns with or without their outgrowths.
iii) a city and one or more adjoining towns with their outgrowths all of which form a continuous spread.


A new concept that had been developed for the 1971 Census for the tabulation of certain urban data was the Standard Urban Area.
The essential of a Standard Urban Area are :
(i) it should have a core town of a minimum population size of 50,000,
(ii) the contiguous areas made up of other urban as well as rural administrative units should have close mutual socio- economic links with the core town and
(iii) the probabilities are that this entire area will get fully urbanized in a period of two to three decades.
The idea is that it should be possible to provide comparable data for a definite area of urbanization continuously for three decades which would give a meaningful picture. This replaced the concepts of Town Group that was in vogue at the 1961 Census. The town group was made up of independent urban units not necessarily contiguous to one another but were to some extent inter-dependent. The data for such town groups became incomparable from census to census as the boundaries of the towns themselves changed and the intermediate areas were left out of account; this concept came for criticism at one of the symposium of the International Geographic Union in Nov.-Dec.1968 and the concept of Standard Urban Area came to be developed for adoption at the 1971 Census. If data for this Standard Area were to be made available in the next two or three successive censuses it is likely to yield much more meaningful picture to study urbanisation around large urban nuclei.
· Report of ‘Manual on Vital Statistics(Govt. of India).