Shashikant Nishant Sharma

Editor, Journal for Studies in Management and Planning


Urbanization is an index of transformation from traditional rural economies to modern industrial one. It is a long term process.
At the moment, India is among the countries of low level of urbanization. Number of urban agglomeration/town has grown from 1827 in 1901 to 5161 in 2001. Number of population residing in urban areas has increased from 2.58 crores in 1901 to 28.53 crores in 2001. Only28% of population was living in urban areas as per 2001 census. Over the years there has been continuous concentration of population in class I towns.
On the contrary the concentration of population in medium and small towns either fluctuated or declined. The graduation of number of urban centers from lower population size categories to class I cities has resulted top heavy structure of urban population in India. India's urbanization is often termed as over urbanization, pseudo- urbanization. The big cities attained inordinately large population size leading to virtual collapse in the urban services and followed by basic problems in the field of housing, slum, water, infrastructure, quality of life etc. Urbanization is a product of demographic explosion and poverty induced rural-urban migration. Urbanization is occurring not due to urban pull but due to rural push. Globalization, liberalization, privatization are addressing negative process for urbanization in India.


Urbanization or Urban Drift is the physical growth of urban areas as a result of global change. Urbanization is also defined by the United Nations as movement of people from rural to urban areas with population growth equating to urban migration.
Quantification of urbanization is very difficult. It is a long term process. Kingsley Davis has explained urbanization as process (Davis, 1962) of switch from spread out pattern of human settlements to one of concentration in urban centers. It is a finite process--- a cycle through which a nation pass as they evolve from agrarian to industrial society (Davis and Golden, 1954). He has mentioned three stages in the process of urbanization. Stage one is the initial stage characterized by rural traditional society with predominance in agriculture and dispersed pattern of settlements. Stage two refers to acceleration stage where basic restructuring of the economy and investments in social overhead capitals including transportation, communication take place. Proportion of urban population gradually increases from 25% to 40%, 50%, 60% and so on. Dependence on primary sector gradually dwindles. Third stage is known as terminal stage where urban population exceeds 70% or more. At this stage level of urbanization (Davis, 1965) remains more or less same or constant. Rate of growth of urban population and total population becomes same at this terminal stage.
The onset of modern and universal process of urbanization is relatively a recent phenomenon and is closely related with industrial revolution and associated economic development. As industrial revolution started in Western Europe, United Kingdom was the initiator of Industrial Revolution. Historical evidence suggests that urbanization process is inevitable and universal. Currently developed countries are characterized by high level of urbanization and some of them are in final stage of urbanization process and experiencing slowing down of urbanization due to host of factors (Brockerhoff, 1999; Brockerhoff and Brennam 1998)). A majority of the developing countries, on the other hand started experiencing urbanization only since the middle of 20th century.

Indian Census Definition of Urban Area

In Census of India, 2001 two types of town were identified (R.G, 2001): a) Statutory towns: All places with a municipality, corporation, Cantonment board or notified town area committee, etc. so declared by state law. b) Census towns: Places which satisfy following criteria:-i) a minimum population of 5000; ii) at least 75% of male working population engaged in non agricultural pursuits; and iii) a density of population of at least 400 persons per sq km.
Urban Agglomeration : Urban agglomeration is a continuous urban spread constituting a town and its adjoining urban outgrowths (OGs) or two or more physical contiguous town together and any adjoining urban out growths of such towns. Examples of out growths are railway colonies, university campus, port area; military campuses etc. that may come up near a statutory 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 criteriae (R.G 2001) 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 or one or more adjoining towns with their out growths all of which form a continuous spread.

World Urbanization

The urban population (UN, 1993) was estimated to be 2.96 billion in 2000 and 3.77 in 2010. It was estimated that nearly 50 million people are added to the world's urban population and about 35 million to the rural population each year. The share of world's population living in urban centers has increased from 39% in 1980 to 48% in 2000. The developed countries have higher urbanization level (76% in 2000) compared with developing countries (40% in 2000). The urbanization level has almost stabilized in developed countries. Africa and Asian countries are in the process of urbanization.

Process of Urbanization in India (tracing through history)

The genesis of the hierarchy of urban settlements and spatial structure in contemporary India can be traced to the development dynamics during the colonial period, essentially in response to the requirements of an imperialist regime. The colonial economy, through the establishment of few port and administrative towns, generated strong centrifugal pulls manifested in commodity and population flows towards them. This had the inevitable consequence of weakening the centripetal forces exerted by the inter-settlement linkages. The four urban agglomerations (UAs), namely, Calcutta, Madras, Bombay and Karachi (presently in Pakistan) served, un-like their Western counterparts in the medieval period, as focal points of a mechanism for generating economic surplus. The pre-existing rural-urban interactions were gradually replaced by export-import oriented commodity flows. Movement of population that became necessary to sustain the new urban centres (and the plantation fields) further disrupted the core-periphery relationship and strengthened the centrifugal forces. These cities, unlike their counterpart in the developed countries of the world, were not a product of economic development.
The interactive system evolved through the centuries, between a large number of handicraft-services and commerce based towns and their hinterland of primary production as also between large cities and smaller towns in the hierarchy were the major casualties of this process of urbanization. A few of these towns were inducted into a mechanism of surplus expropriation and became centres of collection and processing of primary goods while the others were allowed to wither away. The new urban centres, endowed primarily with instincts for trade, failed to disseminate growth impulses. Instead, they performed satellitic roles vis-à-vis the port towns that were themselves satellitic to the global metropolis. The former were by and large alien to the internal economic system “since the production activities and commerce transacted more with the world market rather than with the indigenous people”. The colonial policy of industrialization resulted in concentration of units producing mostly consumer goods in a few large cities. These, however, exerted powerful backwash effects, resulting in liquidation of the secondary activities in the rural hinterland. The substitution of an interactive and generally symbiotic relationship by an exploitative one resulted in an overall weakening of the economic base. The displacement of work force from the primary and the secondary sectors in the rural areas and their non-absorption in the formal urban economy led to serious problems of unemployment, informal employment and poverty.
As the rural-urban migration was not in response to the increased demand for labour in productive sectors of the economy, the urban centres did not have the capacity to assimilate the migrants who shuttled like refugees between place of origin and destination as also between various informal activities. As a consequence, the dysfunctionality of the cities in the context of regional economy increased and this, in turn, generated serious socio-economic distortions, affecting their internal organization. The cities were planned with a view to provide high quality civic amenities to the elites linked to the ruling class or those who could afford high prices. The segmented structure of the cities ensured that the service class resided nearby but did not over burden the infrastructure in the core areas.
As the country was gradually drawn into the orbit of the capitalistic system during two centuries of colonial rule, its political economy became the major impediment to technological advancement in agriculture and industries. This affected productivity levels of both the sectors adversely. In many of the developed countries, the high level of agricultural production, and the surpluses generated as a consequence, had facilitated the growth of cities. In British India, however, it was not the level of agricultural or industrial surplus but the socio-political organization that enabled the cities, directly or indirectly, to appropriate an increasing share of total production from their hinterland. Surpluses extracted through rents and taxation system were either transmitted across national frontiers or used to meet the increasing demand of the tertiary sectors having a high incidence of ‘non-productive’ activities. Imports entering the market in small towns and rural areas through the trading networks ushered in strong forces of deindustrialization. Most of the petty producers could not stand in global competition particularly when the policies of the government were far from being protective.
The twin processes hitting hard at the economic base of the rural industries and creating enclaves of apparent affluence in select urban centres struck at the very root of the rural-urban continuum. Public facilities got concentrated in the towns and cities and were made available to a few privileged sections of the urban community, the access of the rural population being negligible. Further, the cultural superstructure imposed on the urban areas was not rooted in indigenous institutions which led to the fragmentation of tradition along the rural-urban inter-face. ‘Urbanism”, cut off from the basic source of its strength, became rootless and imitative while ‘ruralism’ got bogged down within the confines of petty production and was emasculated under the burdens of superstition, obscurantism and parochialism.
With independence of the country in 1947, the political as well as the economic structure underwent some changes. The massive public sector investment in selected pockets, especially during the Second and Third Five Years Plans (1955-65) helped in restructuring the urban hierarchy of nodes and sub-nodes. However, the regional disparities did not narrow down, despite public sector playing a major role in directing concentrated investments in backward areas. This is because the apex centres did not create viable system of urban settlements and left their neighborhood virtually untouched. The assumption of percolation and diffusion of growth impulses from the centre to the periphery - characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon regional development theories - proved to be invalid as the multiplier effects got impound within the large agglomerations. The transformation of large cities from colonial to national capitals meant only an increasing concentration of low productive manufacturing and service activities that could find a foothold more easily due to the changed political economy. The pace of urban growth was rapid during the first three decades since Independence but that led to greater informalisation of urban economy and growing deprivation in terms of basic services.

Volume and Trend of Urbanization in India

The variation in the share of urban to total population across the states is high. The pattern, however, has undergone significant changes over the past few decades. A large proportion is currently concentrated in six most developed states, namely Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjab and West Bengal, accounting for about half of the country's urban population. This can largely be attributed to colonial inheritance, all these states reporting percentage of urban population much above the national average of 27.8 in 2001. Several studies have shown that the levels of urbanization in the states with high per capita income are generally high, the opposite being the case of less urbanized states (Sivaramakrishna, Kundu and Singh 2005).
The pattern of urban growth across states is significantly different from that of the levels of urbanization. Since Independence until 1991, most of the developed states have shown medium or low growth of urban population. In contrast, high urban growth was registered in economically backward states, viz. Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the states also having low percentages of urban population. The small north eastern states deserve special mention as they too have recorded rapid pace of urbanization due to the process of their becoming economically integrated with the national economy. This, unfortunately, did not get reflected in their levels of economic development. On the whole, the relationship between level of urbanization and urban growth works out to be negative. However, a couple of developed states like Maharashtra and Haryana may be considered as exceptions, as they have recorded urban growth slightly higher than that of the country.
Urban scenario in the post Independence period was characterized by dualism. The developed states attracted population in urban areas due to industrialization and infrastructural investment but this was largely in and around large cities and upcoming industrial centres. Interestingly, the backward states too – particularly their backward districts and small and medium towns – experienced rapid urban growth.
This can party be attributed to government investment in the district and taluka headquarters, programmes of urban industrial dispersal, and transfer of funds from the states to urban local bodies through a need based or what is popularly known as "a gap filling" approach. A large part of rural-urban migration into smaller towns from their rural hinterland in backward states could, however, be explained in terms of push factors, owing to lack of diversification in agrarian economy.
The rate of urbanization has gone down significantly during 1991-01, as mentioned in the preceding section. More important than the decline in the growth of urban population, however, is the change in the pattern of urban growth in the nineties, which makes a significant departure from the earlier decades. During the four census decades after Independence until 1991, urban growth has generally been high in relatively backward states, as noted above. A few of the developed states, too, attracted reasonable number of migrants in their urban centres but the overall relationship between urban growth and economic development across states works out to be negative, though not very strong. Nineties, however, make a significant departure from this. Most of the developed states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat have registered urban growth above the national average. Karnataka has remained slightly below the national average and West Bengal is an exception whose growth rate is low due to rural oriented strategy followed by the state government. The backward states, on the other hand, have experienced growth either below that of the country or, at the most, equal to that. Making a comparison over the past two decades, the growth rates for developed states have either gone up or remained the same as in the eighties. The backward states, however, have recorded either a decline or stability in their urban growth.
Urbanization process has, thus, become concentrated in developed regions and larger cities in recent years with the exclusion of backward areas and smaller towns. This could, at least partly, be attributed to the measures of decentralization whereby the responsibilities of resource mobilization and launching infrastructural projects have been given to state agencies, para-statal bodies and local governments, as discussed below. Large municipal bodies, particularly those located in developed states, tend to have a strong economic base, an advantage which is clearly been manifested in their high economic and demographic growth. The smaller towns in the backward states, on the other hand, have languished economically and reported low or negative demographic growth, many of them even failing to meet the criteria for being classified as urban centre.
An analysis of the dynamics of regional development in the nineties reveals that income growth has become uneven across states and so has been the incidence of poverty. Despite significant growth in per capita income and decline in poverty over the past the decades, the regional inequality in both has been accentuated. Rapid income growth has occurred in developed regions and in and around class I cities. Understandably, poverty has got concentrated in remote regions and problem areas in terms of their socio-economic characteristics. While the developed regions have over time developed resistance to in-migration, the backward regions do not seem to the capacity to export person-power with the skills that are required at the destination. Given this macro scenario, slowing down in the rate of urbanization, concentrations of urban growth in relatively developed states as well as around a few global centres, seems to be the logical outcome.
India shares most characteristic features of urbanization in the developing countries. Number of urban agglomeration /town has grown from 1827 in 1901 to 5161 in 2001. Number of total population has increased from 23.84 crores in 1901 to 102.7crores in 2001 whereas number of population residing in urban areas has increased from 2.58 crores in 1901 to 28.53 crore in 2001. This process of urbanization in India is shown in Fig 1. It reflects a gradual increasing trend of urbanization. India is at acceleration stage of the process of urbanization.

Pattern of urbanization in India

An important feature of urbanization in India is dualism—urban growth at macro level is decelerating but in class I cities it is growing. An analysis of the distribution of urban population across size categories reveals that the process of urbanization in India has been large city oriented. This is manifested in a high percentage of urban population being concentrated in class I cities, which have gone up systematically over the decades in the last century.
The massive increase in the percentage share of urban population in class I cities from 26.0 in 1901 to 68.7 in 2001 has often been attributed to faster growth of large cities, without taking into consideration the increase in the number of these cities.

Undoubtedly, the faster demographic growth is an important factor responsible for making the urban structure top-heavy. Reports about the growth rates for different categories of towns during 1970s and subsequent decades. One can note that the class I cities have experienced a distinctly higher growth rate than lower order towns except those in class VI. Indeed, the latter do not fall in line with the general pattern of urban growth in other size categories as they are governed by factors exogenous to the regional economy.
In the context of demographic dominance of urban scene by class I cities, it is important to note that there were only 24 Class I cities in 1901 that have gone up to 393 in 2001.
While a number of lower order towns have graduated to class I category, the process of rural settlements acquiring urban characteristics has been weak.
The pattern of growth has remained similar over time although there is a general deceleration in urban growth in all size categories in the past two decades. Class I cities have maintained an edge over class II, III, IV and class V towns in terms of the growth rate (of common towns). The gap, however, seems to have widened during 1991–01.
Class I cities in the country experiencing higher population growth as compared to other categories (except VI) is due to both aerial expansion as well as in-migration. Large number of satellite towns has emerged in the vicinity of these cities.

Urban Morphology

The pattern of urbanization in India is characterized by continuous concentration of population and activities in large cities (Kundu, 1983). This is manifested in a high percentage of urban population being concentrated in class I cities and its population has systematically gone up over the decades in the last century. As per 1901 census percentage of population in class I, IV, V were 26%, 21%, and 20 percent respectively. According to 1991 Census, about two third (65%) of the countries urban population lived in Class -1 cities with more than 100, 000 population. In 2001 it has increased to 69%. Over the years there has been continuous concentration of population in class I towns. On the contrary the concentration of population in medium and small town (Kundu, 1994) either fluctuated or declined. Indeed basic reason for the increasing dominance of class I cities is graduation of lower order towns into class I categories. It may be observed that in 1901 there were only 24 Class I cities that have gone up to 393 in 2001 which explains largely the increase in the share of population in this size category over the years. The graduation of number of urban centers from lower population size categories to class I cities has resulted top heavy structure of urban population in India. However in addition to factor of increase in number of large cities, the importance of a faster demographic growth, poverty induced (Mukherjee, 1995) migration to urban informal sector should be taken into account in making urban structure top heavy.

From the trend in urban population by size class over the last century one can presume an increase in inequality in the urban structure, along with regional imbalance in the next decades. The distribution of population in different size class is likely to become more and more skewed. The share of class I towns or cities, with population size of 100,000 or more, has gone up significantly from 26 per cent in 1901 to 69% per cent in 2001. The percentage share of class IV, V and VI towns, having less than 20,000 people, on the other hand, has gone down drastically from 47 to 10 only. This is largely due to the fact that the towns in lower categories have grown in size and entered the next higher category. (Kundu, 1994).

Basic Feature and Pattern of India's Urbanization

Basic feature of urbanization in India can be highlighted as:
  1. Lopsided urbanization induces growth of class I cities.
  2. Urbanization occurs without industrialization and strong economic base
  3. Urbanization is mainly a product of demographic explosion and poverty induced rural - urban migration.
  4. Rapid urbanization leads to massive growth of slum followed by misery, poverty, unemployment, exploitation, inequalities, degradation in the quality of urban life.
  5. Urbanization occurs not due to urban pull but due to rural push.
  6. Poor quality of rural-urban migration leads to poor quality of urbanization (Bhagat, 1992).
  7. Distress migration initiates urban decay
The pattern of urbanization in India is characterized by continuous concentration of population and activities in large cities. Kingsley Davis used the term "over-urbanization (Kingsley Davis and Golden, 1954) "where in urban misery and rural poverty exist side by side with the result that city can hardly be called dynamic" and where inefficient, unproductive informal sector (Kundu and Basu, 1998) becomes increasingly apparent. Another scholar depicts urbanization in India as pseudo urbanization where in people arrive in cities not due to urban pull but due to rural push.
Urbanization process is not mainly "migration lead" but a product of demographic explosion due to natural increase. Besides rural out migration is directed towards class I cities. The big cities attained inordinately large population size leading to virtual collapse in the urban services and quality of life. Large cities are structurally weak and formal instead of being functional entities because of inadequate economic base.
Globalization, liberalization & privatizations are addressing negative process for urbanization in India. Under globalization survival and existence of the poor are affected adversely. Liberalization permits cheap import of goods which ultimately negatively affects rural economy, handicrafts, household industry on which rural poor survives. The benefits of liberalization generally accrue to only those who acquire new skills. It is unlikely that common man and the poor will benefit from the liberalization. Privatization causes retrenchment of workers. All these negative syndrome forces poverty induced migration of rural poor to urban informal sectors (Kundu, Lalitha and Arora (2001). Hence migration which is one of the components of urban growth occurs not due to urban pull but due to rural push.

Problem of Urbanization

Problem of urbanization is manifestation of lopsided urbanization, faulty urban planning, and urbanization with poor economic base and without having functional categories.
Hence India's urbanization is followed by some basic problems in the field of: 1) housing, 2) slums, 3) transport 4) water supply and sanitation, 5) water pollution and air pollution, 6) inadequate provision for social infrastructure (school, hospital, etc). Class I cities such as Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai etc have reached saturation level of employment generating capacity (Kundu, 1997). Since these cities are suffering from of urban poverty, unemployment, housing shortage, crisis in urban infra-structural services these large cities cannot absorb these distressed rural migrants i.e. poor landless illiterate and unskilled agricultural labourers. Hence this migration to urban class I cities causes urban crisis more acute.
Most of these cities using capital intensive technologies can not generate employment for these distress rural poor. So there is transfer of rural poverty to urban poverty. Poverty induced migration of illiterate and unskilled labourer occurs in class I cities addressing urban involution and urban decay.
Indian urbanization is involuted not evoluted (Mukherji, 1995). Poverty induced migration occurs due to rural push. Megacities grow in urban population not in urban prosperity, and culture. Hence it is urbanization without urban functional characteristics. These mega cities are subject to extreme filthy slum and very cruel mega city denying shelter, drinking water, electricity, sanitation (Kundu, Bagchi and Kundu, 1999) to the extreme poor and rural migrants.
Urbanization is degenerating social and economic inequalities (Kundu and Gupta, 1996) which warrants social conflicts, crimes and anti-social activities. Lopsided and uncontrolled urbanization led to environmental degradation and degradation in the quality of urban life- pollution in sound, air, water, created by disposal of hazardous waste. Illiterate, low- skill or no-skill migrants from rural areas are absorbed in poor low grade urban informal sector at a very low wage rate and urban informal sector becomes in-efficient and unproductive.

World is witnessing never seen urbanization with exceptionally high growth rate. In order to understand this Urban Growth or Urbanization, various parameters like migration, economic factors and availability of resources needs to be looked at. It is worth mentioning that while the world is witnessing urban growth  there remains few areas which are facing a decay of core areas which is often termed as Counter Urbanisation. In such urban areas authorities are having a hard time to prevent the out-migration of residents.

Sources & References

Trends and Processes of Urbanization in India, Amitabh Kundu
Urbanization in India, Pranati Dutta, Unit of population studies, ISI, Kolkata. 2006
Urbanization and Urban India, N.V. Sovani, 1996
Registrar General, 2001: Census of India, 2001, India, 2A, Mansingh Road, New Delhi 110011, 25th July, 2001.
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