Tuesday, 8 February 2022


Levels of urbanization

The level of urbanization of the country as a whole or of any state within it may be measured from data provided by the Census. A basic problem, at this stage, relates to the Census definition of an urban place. If we use the Census data as they are, inter-state variations in the level of urbanization would in part be due to the variability of the Census definition. To eliminate this problem, the small and mini towns with a population of less than 20,000 are excluded from the analysis below. There is a strong consensus of opinion that places with 20,000 plus towns account for 86.4 per cent of the total urban population as defined by the Census.

In India, towns serve as focal points of socio-economic change. The rural population served by a town can be regarded as an indication of its effectiveness. The larger the rural population served by each town, on average, the lower the level of urbanization. When no rural population is served, urbanization is total and no further urbanization is possible. There is, however, no upper limit to the number of people that an urban centre may serve.

Another alternative measure of urbanization has to do with the distance that rural people have to travel to the nearest urban centre. The greater the distance that they have to travel, the lower the level of urbanization, because such a situation indicates that urban centres are spaced further apart and are fewer in number. In rural India, urban places are commonly visited on foot, by bicycle or by bullock cart. In any case, distance is of paramount importance in terms of the time and effort spent on reaching an urban place. In a state with a well developed system of urban places, people will have to go smaller distances.

  1. Urban Population Ratio

People living in towns and urban agglomerations with a population of 20,000 or more accounted for 3.16 per cent of India’s total population is more than 377 million in 2011. There are significant variations in the level of urbanization between the different states in India. Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have more than 30 per cent of their population living in towns; they are the most urbanized states in India. The least urbanized state in Arunachal Pradesh, which has no towns with a population of 20,000 or more. The least urbanized states have the following characteristics:

  1. They are hilly or mountainous.

  2. They have a larger proportion of tribal population

  3. They are generally inaccessible with respect to metropolitan cities and the main arterial railways connecting them.

  1. Rural Population Served by Urban Centres

The larger the number of towns, the more urbanized an area. However, the number of towns has to be related to either the population or the area of the territorial units. This measure of urbanization may be expressed as the number of towns per million populations. The population threshold of a town will depend on the level of urbanization-high levels of urbanization resulting in lower population thresholds and vice versa. Lower population thresholds are also, concomitantly, a product of higher per capita incomes and consequently higher levels of services rendered to the rural population.

  1. Distance to the Nearest Town

The number of towns could be related to the area of a state or any other territorial unit. The simplest approach is to measure the density of towns per unit area. The reciprocal of density, namely, the area served by a town in keeping with the tradition in urban geography, where urban centres are thought of as the foci of their rural hinterlands. The size of the hinterland is an indication of development, for towns with larger hinterlands, the town’s services would be thinly spread over a larger area, while the converse would be true of towns with smaller hinterlands.

  1. Composite Index of Urbanization

The three criteria of urbanization discussed above reveal widely different macro-spatial patterns. In order to arrive at an overall picture, the three measures may be combined into a composite index of urbanization. The first problem has the relative importance of each criterion that needs to be specified. A second problem has to do with the units of measurement – the first criterion is measured in terms of percentages, the second in terms of population, and the third in terms of distance. These units are not comparable. A third problem has to do with the fact that the percentage of urban population is inversely related to the other two criteria.

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