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Urbanization and Associated phenomenon


Urbanization, indeed is the process of becoming urban, moving to cities, changing from agriculture to other pursuits common to cities, such as trade, manufacturing, industry and management, and corresponding changes of behaviour patterns. It is the process of expansion in the entire system of interrelationships by which population maintains itself in the habitat.

Urbanization in India was mainly a post-independence phenomenon, due to adoption of mixed system of economy by the country, which gave rise to the development of private sector. Urbanization has been taking place at an increasingly fast rate in India.

  • Population residing in urban areas in India, according to 1901 census, was 11.4%.
  • This count increased to 28.53% in the 2001 census, and has crossed 30% as per the 2011 census, standing at 31.16% to be exact.


  •  China has the largest urban population (758 million), followed by India (410 million).
  •  These two countries account for 30 per cent of the world’s urban population and, with another five countries, the United States of America (263 million), Brazil (173 million), Indonesia (134 million), Japan (118 million) and the Russian Federation (105 million), account for more than half of the world’s urban population.

Process of Urbanization

  • Urbanization as a structural process of change is generally related to industrialization but it is not always the result of industrialization.
  • Urbanization results due to the concentration of largescale and small scale industrial ,commercial, financial and administrative set up in the cities; technological development in transport and communication, cultural and recreational activities.
  •  The excess of urbanization over industrialization that makes it possible to provide employment for all persons coming to urban areas is, in fact, what sometimes leads to over urbanization.

 In context of India, the process of urbanization is seen as a socio-cultural process, economic process and a geographical process.

  •  As a socio-cultural phenomenon, it is a melting pot of people with diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds.
  •   As an economic process, the city is a focal point of productive activities. It exists and grows on the strength of the economic activities existing within itself.
  •   Under the geographical process, it deals with migration or change of location of residence of people and involves the movement of people from one place to another.

Urbanization and Associated phenomenon

The criteria for classifying an area as urban may be based on one or a combination of characteristics, such as:

  •  minimum population threshold;
  •  population density;
  •  proportion employed in non-agricultural sectors;
  • presence of infrastructure such as paved roads, electricity, piped water or sewers;
  •  presence of education or health services.

 In 1961 census, ‘town’ was defined and determined on the basis of number of empirical tests:

  •   a minimum population of 5000
  •  a density of not less than 1,000 per square mile,
  •  three-fourth of the occupations of the working population should be outside of agriculture.
  •   the place should have a few characteristics and amenities such as newly founded industrial areas, large housing settlements and places of tourist importance and civic amenities.

Urban Agglomeration

   This term was introduced in 1971 census. Very often large railway colonies, university campuses, port areas, military camps etc. come up outside the statutory limits of the city or town but adjoining it. Such areas may not themselves qualify to be treated as towns but if they form a continuous spread with the adjoining town, it would be realistic to treat them as urban. Such settlement has been termed as outgrowths, and may cover a whole village, or part of a village. Such towns together with their outgrowths have been treated as one urban unit and called ‘urban agglomeration’.


   It refers to the increased exemplifications of the characters of urbanization in a city or its surrounding rural area. It results from excessive development of urban traits. Due to the expansion of the range of urban activities and occupations, greater influx of secondary functions like industry, the increased sophistication and mechanization of life and the influx of urban characters into the surrounding rural area, over urbanization gradually replaces the rural and traditionalistic traits of a community.

Mumbai and Kolkata are two such examples of cities.


   It is closely related to over-urbanization of a city. When cities get over-crowded by population, it may result in sub-urbanization. Delhi is a typical example.

Sub-urbanization means urbanization of rural areas around the cities characterized by the following features:

 • a sharp increase in the ‘urban (non-agricultural) uses’ of land

 • inclusion of surrounding areas of towns within its municipal limits,

 • intensive communication of all types between town and its surrounding areas


  •   It is a demographic and social process whereby people move from urban areas to rural areas. It first took place as a reaction to inner-city deprivation and overcrowding.
  • Counter urbanization occurs when some large cities reach a point where they stop growing further or actually begin to decrease in size as their population start moving into suburban areas or smaller cities thereby leapfrogging the rural-urban fringe.

Census Towns

In 2011, a new definition of census town has been developed.

 To be classified as a census town, a village must fulfil three criteria;

 • it need at least 5,000 inhabitants,

 • a density of 400 people per sq. km, and

 • at least three quarters of its male working population must  be “engaged in non-agricultural pursuits”


  •  Globally, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas.
  •  In 2007, for the first time in history, the global urban population exceeded the global rural population, and the world population has remained predominantly urban thereafter.
  •  The planet has gone through a process of rapid urbanization over the past six decades.
  •  The urban population is expected to continue to grow, so that by 2050, the world will be one third rural (34 per cent) and two-thirds urban (66 per cent).

Social effects of Urbanization

Family and kinship

 Urbanization affects not only the family structure but also intra and inter-family relations, as well as the functions the family performs.

 With urbanization, there is a disruption of the bonds of community and the migrant faces the problem to replace old relationships with new ones and to find a satisfactory means of continuing relationship with those left behind.

 Aileen Ross (1962) in her study of 157 Hindu families belonging to middle and upper classes in Bangalore found that

  •  about 60 percent of the families are nuclear
  •  the trend today is towards a break with the traditional joint family form into the nuclear family       form into the nuclear family unit.
  •  Small joint family is now the most typical form of family life in urban India.
  •  Relations with one’s distant kin are weakening or breaking.

 Urbanization and Caste

 • It is generally held that caste is a rural phenomenon whereas class is urban and that with urbanization, caste transforms itself into class.

 • Caste identity tends to diminish with urbanization, education and the development of an orientation towards individual achievement and modern status symbols.

 • However, caste system continues to persist and exert its influence in some sectors of urban social life while it has changed its form in some other sectors

Urbanization and the Status of Women

• Women constitute an important section of rural urban migrants. They migrate at the time of marriage and also when they are potential workers in the place of destination.

• The status of urban women, because of being comparatively educated and liberal, is higher than that of rural women. However in the labour market, women continue to be in a disadvantaged situation.

Problems of Urbanization

Housing and Inflated Land Prices

A key factor contributing to inflated land prices in India has been the flow of illicit money into real estate. Therefore, attacking black money would have the important beneficial side effect of bringing land prices down and making housing more affordable for low-income families.

Housing and Slums

 There is acute shortage of housing in urban areas and much of the available accommodation is of sub-standard quality. This problem has tended to worsen over the years due to rapid increase in population, fast rate of urbanization.

 Slums are characterized by sub-standard housing, overcrowding, lack of electrification, ventilation, sanitation, roads and drinking water facilities. They have been the breeding ground of diseases, environmental pollution, demoralization and many social tensions.

Over Crowding

 In major cities in India like Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune and Kanpur, Over-crowding encourages deviant behaviour, spreads diseases and creates conditions for mental illness, alcoholism and riots. One effect of dense urban living is people’s apathy and indifference

Water supply, Drainage and Sanitation

  • Many small towns have no main water supply at all and are dependent on the wells.
  •  Drainage situation is equally bad. Because of the non-existence of a drainage system, large pools of stagnant water can be seen in city even in summer months.
  • Removing garbage, cleaning drains and unclogging sewers are the main jobs of municipalities and municipal corporations in Indian cities.

 Transportation and Traffic

 Absence of planned and adequate arrangements for traffic and transport is another problem in urban centres in India. The increasing number of two-wheelers and cars make the traffic problem worse. They cause air pollution as well.


Our towns and cities are major polluters of the environment. Several cities discharge 40 to 60 percent of their entire sewage and industrial effluents untreated into the nearby rivers. Urban industry pollutes the atmosphere with smoke and toxic gases from its chimneys. All these, increase the chances of disease among the people living in the urban centres.

Housing problems

Homelessness is on the rise and has been for the past half a century. Eight years ago, after the 2011 Census, the demand for new housing was at 25 lakh units. With demand rising exponentially and increasing migration numbers, the current requirement for shelter stands at 30 lakh units.

Challenges in providing housing

  • Ineffective programs 
    • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana aims to provide cheaper houses quickly to low-income groups, with substantial interest subsidies on housing loans. The previous scheme, Awas Yojna, has been attempting the same since 1985 without much success. 
    • State housing boards have similar unachievable goals.
  • Every year, more houses are constructed; yet, every year the demand increases.
  • Idea of ownership
    • In the early 1950s, new houses in most cities relied on the bungalow model. The home’s ownership, independence, and property rights were paramount.
    • 70 years later, despite a 100-fold increase in city population density and land values, little has changed from that ideal.
    • The unwillingness of a homeowner to rent out when the legal rights grossly favour tenants. 

Four factors need to be evaluated in the search for a new model

  1. put a halt to the growing privatization of the city – do away with more private ownership of land and buildings.
    1. Isolating quality of the Indian city has been reinforced by divisions of profession, ethnicity and economic status
    2. By discouraging homeownership, the city becomes more open and accessible to a greater number of new residents
  2. Making housing part of city infrastructure projects, the government takes away land and construction from private builders and creates diverse pockets of housing in different parts of the city.
    1. Ensuring citizens have easy access to subsidized rental housing without legal rights of ownership. Rental units would allow residents to live close to the office and employment, keeping the neighborhood changing and dynamic.
    2. It is imperative that a system of tax incentives and new rental regulations be used to achieve that goal
    3. The imposition of a high un-occupancy tax on buildings that are vacant will help to inhabit almost a third of private housing that remains empty in most cities. 
  3. Current densities of residential space need more efficient modifications – smaller multifunctional and compact unit makes more sense. Given the high land values, unless there is an increase in floor area ratio (FAR) and a decrease in a home’s occupancy footprint, economies of scale will never be achieved in city residential areas
    1. Subsidies on efficient space planning, environmental considerations, and design that create shared community spaces should be encouraged and rewarded.
  4. Civic governance structures need to be separate from politics. 

Singapore replaced their poorer tenements altogether with a basic high rise of low-cost low-income housing integrated into the fabric of the city. 


Housing in India is both inefficient, poorly constructed, thoughtlessly designed, and conforms to outmoded ideas that still hark to the bungalow prototype. Unless more thoughtfully-designed homes, with newer materials and technologies, and a more egalitarian housing policy become part of future government programs, it is these citadels of waste and decay that will remain the public face of the city.

Urbanization and Governance

  • Governance forms an integral part of Urbanization. Governance is the weakest and most crucial link which needs to be repaired to bring about the urban transformation so urgently needed in India.
  •  It is seen that large expenditures on Indian cities and towns have to be combined with better governance structures, strong political and administrative will to collect taxes and user charges, and improved capacity to deliver.
  •  Cities must be empowered, financially strengthened, and efficiently governed to respond to the needs of their citizens and to contribute to the growth momentum.

Administrative reforms commission in its 6th report mentioned measures to strengthen the urban governance. Some of its important recommendations are

  • Urban local bodies should be given responsibility for water supply and distribution in their territorial jurisdiction whether based on their own source or collaborative arrangements with other service providers.
  •  Sanitation, as a matter of hygiene and public health, must be given priority and emphasis in all urban areas.
  •  Community participation and co-production of services should be encouraged by municipal bodies. This should be supplemented by awareness generation.
  •  In all towns and cities with a population above one lakh, the possibility of taking up PPP projects for collection and disposal of garbage may be explored.
  • Municipal bodies should be encouraged to take responsibility of power distribution in their area.

  As per NITI Aayog, well-run ULBs should have the power to raise financial resources including through municipal bonds. Introduction of Standardised, time-bound, audited balance sheets across ULBs would help improve financial management as well as spur further reforms in this area. Indian cities also need to overhaul their municipal staffing and introduce appropriate skills to achieve administrative efficiency

February 2024