Tuesday, 8 February 2022


Urbanization is the movement of people from rural to urban areas, and the result is the growth of cities. It is also a process by which rural areas are transformed into urban areas. Urbanization is a process that has occurred or is occurring, in nearly every part of the world that humans have inhabited. People move into cities to seek economic opportunities. Urbanization is measured by the percentage of people, who are urban in a society, a region or the world. Urbanization, therefore, summarizes the relationship between the total population and its urban component. That is, it is mostly used as a demographic indicator or in the demographic sense, whereby, there is an increase in the urban population to the total population over a period of time.

The concept of urbanization has a dual meaning: demographically and sociologically. The demographic meaning refers to the increasing proportion of the population in a country or a region that resides in cities. Sociologically, it refers to the behaviour, institutions and materialistic things that are identified as urban in origin and use. In other words, it is a social process which is the cause and consequence of a change in the man's way of life in the urban milieu.

In the urban areas, one can find a range of features like the loss of primary relationship and increasing secondary group relationship, voluntary associations, plurality of norms and values, weaker social control, increasing secularization and segmentary roles, a greater division of labour, greater importance of the mass media and the tendency for the urbanites to treat each other instrumentally. Sociologists believe that all these are caused due to large number of population, which is heterogeneous, having come from various backgrounds. Thus, the more denser, larger and heterogeneous the community the more accentuated are the characteristics associated with the urban way of life. Another aspect is that in the social world, institutions and practices may be accepted and continued for reasons other than those that originally brought them into existence and that accordingly the urban mode of life may be perpetuated under conditions quite foreign to those necessary for its origin.


  1. John Palen in demographic terms defines Urbanization as ‘an increase in population concentration; organizationally it is an alteration in structure and functions.’

  2. Eldridge substantiates this view. According to him, urbanization involves two elements such as the multiplication of points of concentration and the increase in the size of individual concentration.

  3. Thompson Warren in Encyclopedia of Social Sciences states ‘Urbanization is the movement of people from communities concerned chiefly or solely with agriculture to other communities, generally large whose activities are primarily concerned with the government, trade, manufacture or allied interests.’

  4. According to the definition of ‘Vidal de la Blache’, A city is the social organization of much greater scope, it is the expression of a stage of civilization which certain localities have not achieved and which they may perhaps never themselves attain.”

  5. As per ‘Burgel’, “The Transformation process of rural area in to an urban area is known as Urbanization. This process have immense impact on Rural Economic Structure.”

  6. According to ‘Bogue’, “About 70.00% of the increase in city dwellers come from reproductive change (Natural increase) and about 30.00% from Rural-Urban Migration.”

  7. According to Anderson, ‘Urbanization is not a one-way process, but it is a two-way process. It involves not only movement from villages to cities and change from agricultural occupation to business, trade, service and profession, but it involves change in the migrants attitudes, beliefs, values and behavior pattern.’ 

From the above definitions, one can conclude that sociologists meant urbanization as a process of diffusion of certain modernizing traits or characteristics in a population. It is often considered to be a causal factor of modernization. Thus, urbanization can be summarized as a process which reveals itself through temporal spatial and sectoral changes in demographic, social, economic, technological and environmental aspect of life in a given society.


  1. Urbanism: Urbanism is the way of living or characteristics of lifestyle of people living in urban areas. Urbanization and Urbanism used as synonyms but they are different terms. Urbanization is a process of development of urban areas while Urbanism is the way of living of the inhabitants of urban area. That influenced by not only sociological and psychological dimensions but also from educational, technological, industrial, historic, philosophical, legal, military, political, scientific and other dimensions.

  2. Urban Population: Urban Population refers to the population living in urban areas. Areas that come under the definition of “Urban Area”.

  3. Urban Agglomeration: As per Census of India 2001, “A town with its outgrowth (it may be viable unit like a village or hamlet etc.) is treated as an integrated urban area and is designated as an urban agglomeration.” The Agglomeration Constitutes:

    1. A city/a Town with a continuous outgrowth, the outgrowth being outside the statutory limits but falling withing the boundaries of the adjoining village or villages.

    2. Two or more adjoining towns with their outgrowths, if any.

    3. A city and one or more adjoining towns with or without outgrowths all of which from a continuous spread.


India is not an exception to the world-wide trend of mass exodus of people from rural areas and their settlement in urban centres. In India, rural-urban migration began during the thirties of the twentieth century. The pace of such migration increased manifold during the post-independence period. There is an increasing concentration of people in small, medium and large-sized towns, leading to a spatial expansion of the urban settlements. In addition, new towns centering around the setting up of new factories are coming up in increasing numbers.

Sociologists have explained the global trend towards rural-urban migration in different ways. The explanatory causes may be classed under two categories: the push factor and the pull factor. In some cases, the situation in the countryside may be so inhospitable as to force people to leave their hearth and home. Sociologists characterize such factors as ‘push factors’. The people living in the countryside may also be attracted by better opportunities of employment and good living (these may also be fancied rather than real) in urban areas and decide to move out. Sociologists characterize such factors as ‘pull factors’.

It is difficult to say for certain which of these factors plays a more decisive role in rural-urban migration. On the contrary, it is more probable that both the factors are responsible for influencing the decision of the people to migrate. We may enumerate briefly the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors which are operative in the Indian situation. Among the ‘push’ factors the following are particularly important.

Firstly, man-land ratio in the countryside has changed to the disadvantage of the farmers, so that the arable land available to them has diminished considerably. This has severely restricted the scope for expansion of employment opportunities and created scarcity in food supply.

Secondly, the rate of increase of public investment in the countryside has not kept pace with the rate of increase of population. This has further aggravated the problem of food scarcity and restriction in employment opportunities.

Thirdly, expansion of primary education in the countryside, paradoxically enough, has not produced, in many cases, the desired result of benefiting the community and the persons who are so educated.

In traditional societies, including India, literacy is a status symbol. As such, to make a person literate has the effect of alienating him from his ancestral occupation, because literacy tends to give him the impression that manual work or farming operations are not proper callings of a literate person. They, therefore, migrate to urban areas in search of new ‘pastures’. On the other hand in India, farming provides seasonal employment. Naturally, those who are engaged in farming are forced to move to urban areas in search of odd jobs when there is not enough work in the field. In course of time, some of them stay on in the periphery of towns and cities. Among the ‘pull factors’, mention may be made of the following: 

Firstly, the comparative affluence and the existence of varied and numerous employment opportunities in towns and cities attract large numbers of people from the countryside.

Secondly, in the cities and towns, there is heterogeneity, not simply in matters of employment, but also in patterns of recreation, in education, in modes of transportation, in styles of toughing and styles of thought as well as in kinds of stimulation. In contrast to life in the countryside which is dull, monotonous and uneventful, life in towns and cities attract people from the countryside.

Thirdly, the partition of the country on the eve of India’s independence led to a mass exodus of people from East Bengal and West Punjab. Millions of uprooted people without homes and jobs, for obvious reasons, preferred to stay in towns and cities proper or in the peripheries in order to eke out a living. They had no other alternative. As a consequence, the concentration of population in cities and towns all over India, West Bengal and Punjab towns, in particular, swelled all of a sudden.

Fourthly, it is pointed out that in India, family and village ties are sufficiently strong to create an obligation upon the successful migrant to help sponsor new entrants to the city. The cumulative effect of this has been that it (the upswing in urban ward migration) has now progressed to a point where the residents of almost every village have relatives or fellow villagers in at least one (and possibly several) of the major cities.

Western countries also experienced urbanization as a sequel to the expansion and diversification of industries. But urbanization in these countries was entirely different in nature from that in India. As in India, people living in rural areas were attracted to cities and towns by the prospect of better employment opportunities and higher income. In most cases, their dreams were fulfilled. They got jobs and were successful in increasing their income. Moreover, there were also opportunities of getting trained and acquire necessary skills which helped them not only to make themselves employable but also to become competent and skilled factory hands. As a result, they could identify themselves completely with the urbanities and they no longer remained outsiders’.

In India, the picture is just the opposite. The expectation with which the people flock in large numbers from rural areas to towns and cities remains unfulfilled in most cases. They fail to get jobs or to acquire the necessary skill to make themselves employable as factory hands. They are, thus, forced to live in urban slums or in slums adjoining city areas. Physically, they might be living in cities and towns. But they do not belong to cities and towns in the sense that they do not share in the lives of city people. They do not have the necessary income to participate in various urban activities-recreational, educational and civic. Their only goal is to earn some money and just stay alive. They have no means either to contribute to urban life or to benefit from urban amenities. Some sociologists have characterised such a situation as subsistence urbanization.

It is alarming to note that most of these people are unlikely to escape from the subsistence urbanization level of living even after a long period of stay in cities and towns. 


India is largely a rural country, with about 72 per cent of its population living in rural villages. The growth of urban population as well as the pace of urbanization has been generally slow in India compared to the other Asian countries. The urban population rose from 17.3 per cent in 1951 to a mere 28 per cent in 2001 (provisional). An analysis of the growth rate of urban population in India in 1981-91 indicates that 58 per cent of this growth was due to natural increase (births minus deaths) and 42 per cent due to rural-urban migration. It may be understood that though urban population in India may be only 28 per cent, this seemingly low percentage is a large population, number-wise. Therefore, the quality of life in urban areas means the lives of a large number of people. Therefore, this population group requires urgent consideration.

The classification of an area as an urban unit in the Census of India 2001 is based on the following definitions: 

  1. All places are declared by the state government under a statute us a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified (own area committee, etc).

  2. All other places that simultaneously satisfy or are expected to satisfy the following criteria:

    1. A minimum population of 5,000.

    2. At least 75 per cent of the male working population engaged in non-agricultural economic pursuits.

    3. A density of population of at least 400 per square kilometre (1009 per square mile).

Cities are in the fore front of socioeconomic development in India at the present time. They are the focal point of a government's revenue earning nowadays. More than half of the gross national product comes from the urban areas, especially the metropolitan cities, where service industries including the BPO companies are making huge profits. Urbanization is also inducing and promoting modernization of agriculture, which is affecting the life of each and every Indian.

Urbanization was earlier seen as the best way to modernize, as it is the transfer of population from the hinterlands to urban centres that stimulates the needs and provides the conditions needed for the take off of any economical activity. According to Lerner, cities are considered as places that produce machine tools of modernization. But today, it is clear that uncontrolled urban growth may prevent steady progress. Cities are no longer seen as the centres of change and progress but the centres of crisis (Evers). Great cities have always had the power to intensify the triumphs and tragedies of human existence.

Thus, the world's demographic, environmental and social problems are most evident in urban places, especially in the cities belonging to poor countries. The cities have grown so rapidly that the problems outweigh the benefits of industrialization and modernization. The most common urban problem is the increasing population, which is the cause for housing problems, environmental pollution and urban conflict.


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 large-scale and small scale industrial and 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 India, a peculiar phenomenon is seen: industrial growth without a significant shift of population from agriculture to industry and of growth of urban population without a significant rise in the ratio of the urban to the total population. While in terms of ratio, there may not be a great shift from rural to urban activities, but there is still a large migration of population from rural areas to urban areas. This makes urban areas choked, there is lack of infrastructural facilities to cope with this rising population.

Urbanization implies a cultural and social psychological process whereby people acquire the material and non-material culture, including behavioural patterns, forms of organization, and ideas that originated in or are distinctive of the city. Although the flow of cultural influences is in both directions – both toward and away from the city – there is substantial agreement that the cultural influences exerted by the city on non-urban people are probably more pervasive than the reverse. Urbanization seen in this light has also resulted in what Toynbee has called the “Westernization” of the world.

The idea of urbanization may be made more precise and meaningful when interpreted as aspects of diffusion and acculturation. Urbanization may be manifest either as intra-society or inter-society diffusion, that is, urban culture may spread to various parts of the same society or it may cross cultural or national boundaries and spread to other societies. It involves both borrowing and lending. On the other side of the diffusion coin is acculturation, the process whereby, individuals acquire the material possessions, behavioural patterns, social organization, bodies of knowledge, and meanings of groups whose culture differs in certain respects from their own. Urbanization as seen in this light is a complex process –

The history of urbanization in India reveals, broadly four processes of urbanization at work throughout the historical period. These are:

  1. The emergence of new social relationships among people in cities and between people in cities and those in villages through a process of social change.

  2. The rise and fall of cities with changes in the political order.

  3. The growth of cities based on new productive processes, which alter the economic base of the city.

  4. The physical spread of cities with the inflow of migrants, who come in search of a means of livelihood as well as a new way of life.

Urbanization as a Socio-Cultural Process

Cities are social artifacts and stand apart from the countryside, in terms of the higher degree of their acceptance of foreign and cross-cultural influences. It is a melting pot of people with diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds. Seen in this light, urbanization is a socio-cultural process of transformation of folk, peasant or feudal village societies.

India has had a continuous history of urbanization since 600 BC. Over this period, three major socio-cultural processes have shaped the character of her urban societies. These are Aryanization, Persianization and Westernization.

The Aryan phase of urbanization generated three types of cities:

  1. The capital cities, where the secular power of the Kshatriyas was dominant.

  2. The commercial cities dominated by the vaishyas.

  3. The sacred cities, which, for a time, were dominated by Buddhists and Jains, who were Kshatriyas, and later by brahmins.

With the advent of the Muslim rules from the 10th century AD, the urban centres in India acquired an entirely new social and cultural character. The city became Islamic; Persian and later Urdu was the official language of the state and Persian culture dominated the behaviour of the urban elite.

The impact of 150 years of British rule in India, that is, Westernization, is clearly visible in various aspects of city life today – in administration, in education, and in the language of social interaction of the city people and their dress and mannerisms. Urbanism is clearly identified with westernisation.

Urbanization as a Political – Administrative Process

The administrative and political developments have played an important role in urbanization in the past and they continue to be relevant today. From about the 5th century BC to the 18th century AD, urban centres in India emerged, declined or even vanished with the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires. Patliputra, Delhi, Madurai and Golconda are all examples of cities that flourished, decayed, and sometimes revived in response to changes in the political scene. The administrative or political factor often acts as an initial stimulus for urban growth; which is then further advanced by the growth of commercial and industrial activities.

Urbanization as an Economic Process

Urbanization in modern times is essentially an economic process. Today, the city is a focal point of productive activities. It exists and grows on the strength of the economic activities existing within itself. It is the level and nature of economic activity in the city that generates growth and, therefore, further urbanization.

Urbanization as a Geographical Process

The proportion of a country’s total population living in urban areas has generally been considered as a measure of the level of urbanization. Population growth in urban areas is partly a function of natural increase in population and partly the result of migration from rural areas and smaller towns. An increase in the level of urbanization is possible only through migration of people from rural to urban areas. Hence, migration or change of location of residence of people is a basic mechanism of urbanization. This is essentially a geographical process, in the sense that it involves the movement of people from one place to another.

There are three major types of spatial moments of people relevant to the urbanization process. These are:

  1. The migration of people from rural villages to towns and cities leading to macro-urbanization.

  2. The migration of people from smaller towns and cities to larger cities and capitals leading to metropolisation. It is essentially a product of the centralization of administrative, political and economic forces in the country at the national and state capitals. It is also a product of intense interaction between cities and the integration of the national economy and urban centers into a viable independent system.

  3. The spatial overflow of metropolitan population into the peripheral urban feigned villages leading to a process of sub-urbanization. It is, essentially, an outgrowth of metropolization and here there is a reverse flow of people from the city to the countryside.


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.


In the Structural pattern of urbanization, there is an unequal pattern of development of small towns and big cities within the system is an essential component. Every urban system is characterized by the presence of a few large cities and a large number of small towns. The large cities account for a larger share of the total urban population, while the small towns, despite their numbers, account for a smaller share. 

A million cities form the apex of the Indian urban system and account for over a quarter of India’s urban population. They are followed closely by the one-lakh cities and the medium towns, each of which accounts for over a quarter of the urban population. Together these three categories add up to more than 85 per cent of the urban population. The small towns, which account for 55 per cent of the total number of towns, constitute only 13 per cent of the urban population. The mini towns have an unimportant role in India’s urban system. The distribution patterns of the major categories of cities and towns in the different states of India show remarkable unevenness.

The Metropolis and the City

Of the 25 states in India, 17 have no million cities: None of the union territories, excepting Delhi, possesses a million cities. While the smaller states and the union territories cannot be expected to have a million cities, there are large states, in particular, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, which have no million cities. Both states ought to have these, considering the size of their population. However, they fall within the urban shadow of two leading metropolitan cities of India, namely Calcutta and Delhi. The four principal metropolitan cities account for the absence of million cities in a number of peripheral states and union territories. Thus, the state of Kerala comes under the shadow of Madras; Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana come under the influence of Delhi, while Bihar, Orissa and the entire north-eastern area come under the shadow of Calcutta.

A number of states, however, have fully developed and independent urban systems with their own million cities at the apex. There were 8 such large states in India in 1981. Maharashtra had three cities with populations of a million or more, while Uttar Pradesh had two such cities in close proximity to each other. However, a major part of Uttar Pradesh comes directly under the influence of Delhi, the national capital. The other states where the urban system is dominated by one metropolitan city are the three southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and the states of Gujarat, West Bengal and Rajasthan. 

At a lower level, the one-lakh cities play an important role in the Indian urban system. There were over 200 such cities in India in 1981. In spite of this, the entire states of Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim, and all Union Territories, excepting Delhi, Chandigarh and Pondicherry, had not even a single one-lakh city. In fact, all these territorial units are small in terms of their total population which is less than 5 million in each case. Several other states had urban systems with one city at the apex; they include Meghalaya, Manipur and Assam (1971). Each of the larger states, with a population of l0 million or more, had several one-lakh cities. Among these states, Haryana, Kerala, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu had a relatively higher proportion of one-lakh cities. One-lakh cities were deficient in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. These point to minor structural deficiencies in the urban systems of these states. 

Medium Towns

The medium towns form an important link function within an urban system. They can serve to offset the deficiencies in the number of larger cities as well as of small towns. Medium towns account for over a quarter of the total number of towns as well as the total urban population. In terms of numbers, the medium towns are very strongly represented in the states of Kerala, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where they account for over 50 per cent of the total number of towns. In West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, they account for slightly over 4-0 per cent. The medium towns are poorly developed in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Madhya Pradesh among the larger states, and Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Tripura among the smaller states. Medium towns form the largest urban centres in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Nagaland, where they are called upon to act as the state capitals: Simla (now Shimla), Gangtok and Kohima. These towns often do not have the infrastructure required to perform such a function. In the case of Simla, this is offset by the fact that it was the summer capital of British India, but Gangtok and Kohima are less well off. In all three cases, however, the constraints of hilly location and cold winters inhibit further expansion.

Elsewhere, medium towns are major market centres for agricultural produce and have a rural oriented tertiary sector. Few of these towns have any appreciable industrial base. 

Small Towns and Mini Towns

The smaller states and union territories as well as the less urbanized among the larger states have a larger proportion of small towns. In these cases, the small towns constitute more than 60 per cent of the total number of towns. Among the big states, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Assam are notable for the high proportion of small towns. Kerala has a lower proportion of small towns.

The mini towns, though not large in number, are an important component of the urban systems of Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Tripura. Among the largest states, Uttar Pradesh has as many as 82 mini towns: more than a third of the 230 mini towns in the country.

Mini towns are a characteristic feature of the hill areas, particularly in Himachal Pradesh, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir.

In these areas, the nature of the terrain accounts for the small size of both rural and urban settlements. Most of the mini towns of Uttar Pradesh also belong to the hill tracts of Kumaon and Gharwal districts. Those in the plains are actually project towns, collieries, or small industrial townships. By and large, most mini towns have clear and specific urban attributes.

The identification of small towns, on the other hand, poses a problem. Small towns have a population of 5,000 or more; however, the number of revenue villages with a population of 5,000 or more is roughly 10,800, and of these only I,790 are recognized by the Census as small towns. The inter-state differences in the number and ratio of small towns are, at least in part, due to the Census definition of urban areas. 


A balanced distribution of towns and cities of various size categories, roughly conforming to the national pattern, exists in only five large states, namely, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan. At the other extreme are the small states which have an imbalanced urban structure with a concentration of small towns and mini towns, poor development of medium towns and total absence of cities. In this category are Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Nagaland, apart from Mizoram, Goa and Arunachal Pradesh. In Tripura, Manipur, Meghalaya, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, the urban system is weak in terms of the development of medium towns, although all these states have at least one city at the head of the urban system. Among the larger states, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Haryana and Orissa have noticeable deficiencies of towns at the middle or higher level.

*Note: It’s taken from Urbanization and Urban Systems in India by R. Ramachandran (pp 132-140)


Despite India being one of the world’s least urbanised countries, India’s biggest cities are grappling with socio-economic problems. India’s overall urban population, according to Economic Survey “India is witnessing rapid urbanisation. According to Census 2011, India’s urban population was 37.7 crores, which is projected to grow to about 60 crores by 2030.” With the increasing population this trend is going to enhance and would lead to degradation of living conditions more.

The sheer magnitude of the urban population, haphazard and unplanned growth of urban areas, and a desperate lack of infrastructure are the main causes of such a situation. The rapid growth of urban population both natural and through migration, has put heavy pressure on public utilities like housing, sanitation, transport, water, electricity, health, education and so on. On other hand, poverty, unemployment and under employment among the rural immigrants, beggary, thefts, dacoities, burglaries and other social evils are on rampage.  Following problems are related to urbanization in india are being highlighted.

  1. Urban Sprawl:

Urban sprawl or real expansion of the cities, both in population and geographical area, of rapidly growing cities is the root cause of urban problems. In most cities the economic base is incapable of dealing with the problems created by their excessive size. Massive migration from rural areas as well as from small towns into big cities has taken place almost consistently; thereby adding to the size of cities.

​​In India out of the total population of 1210.2 million as on 1st March, 2011, about 377.1 million are in urban areas. The net addition of population in urban areas over the last decade is 91.0 million. The percentage of urban population to the total population of the country stands at 31.6. There has been an increase 3.35 percentage points in the proportion of urban population in the country during 2001-2011.

The provisional results of Census 2011 reveals that there is an increase of 2774 towns comprising 242 Statutory and 2532 Census towns over the decade. Growth rate of population in urban areas was 31.8%.

Further the number of million plus cities/urban agglomeration UA has increased from 35 in Census 2001 to 53 in Census 2011. Among all the States and Union territories, the National Capital Territory of Delhi and the Union territory of Chandigarh are most urbanized with 97.5 percent and 97.25 percent urban population respectively, followed by Daman and Diu (75.2 percent) and Puducherry (68.3 percent).

Among States, Goa is now the most urbanised State with 62.2 percent urban population, a significant increase since 2001 when urban population of Goa was 49.8%. Another significant instance of rapid urbanisation is that of Kerala, its urban population is now 47.7 per cent, while a decade ago it was just 25.9 percent. Among the North-Eastern States, Mizoram is most urbanised with 51.5 per cent urban population, though in terms of absolute contribution to total urban population in the country, Mizoram’s contribution is just 0.1 percent. Similarly Sikkim, which was just 11.0 urbanised a decade ago became almost 25 percent urbanised in 2011. Among major states, Tamil Nadu continues to be the most urbanized state with 48.4 percent of the population living in urban areas followed now by Kerala (47.7 per cent) upstaging Maharashtra (45.2 percent).

The proportion of urban population continues to be the lowest in Himachal Pradesh with 10.0 per cent followed by Bihar with 11.3 percent, Assam (14.1 percent) and Orissa (16.7 percent).

In terms of absolute number of persons living in urban areas, Maharashtra continues to lead with 50.8 million persons which comprises 13.5 percent of the total urban population of the country. Uttar Pradesh accounts for about 44.4 million, followed by Tamil Nadu at 34.9 million.

Brush (1968) has referred to this situation in the central parts of the cities as “urban impulsion” which results from concentration of people in the centre of the city close to their work and shopping. Incidentally many of the fastest growing urban centres are large cities.

This is due to the fact that such large cities act as magnets and attract large number of immigrants by dint of their employment opportunities and modern way of life. Such hyperurbanisation leads to projected cities sizes of which defy imagination. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, etc. are examples of urban sprawl due to large scale migration of people from the surrounding areas.

In several big cities wealthy people are constantly moving from the crowded centres of the cities to the more pleasant suburbs where they can build larger houses and enjoy the space and privacy of a garden around the house. In some cities, the outskirts are also added to by squatters who build makeshift shacks of unused land although they have no legal right to the land. The difficulty of restricting town growth in either case is immense and most towns and cities are surrounded by wide rings of suburbs.

Historically suburbs have grown first along the major roads leading into the town. This type of growth is known as ribbon settlement. Such sites are first to be developed because of their location near the road gives them greater accessibility. But soon the demand for suburban homes causes the land between ribbon settlements to be built and made accessible by constructing new roads.

This type of development is known as ‘infil’. Simultaneously small towns and villages within the commuting distance of major cities are also developed for residential purposes. In this way towns are continuously growing and in some areas the suburbs of a number of neighbouring towns may be so close together as to form an almost continuous urban belt which is called conurbation. Urban sprawl is taking place at the cost of valuable agricultural land.

  1. Overcrowding:

Overcrowding is a situation in which too many people live in too little space. Overcrowding is a logical consequence of over-population in urban areas. It is naturally expected that cities having a large size of population squeezed in a small space must suffer from overcrowding. This is well exhibited by almost all the big cities of India.

For example, Mumbai has one-sixth of an acre open space per thousand populations though four acre is suggested standard by the Master Plan of Greater Mumbai. Metropolitan cities of India are overcrowded both in ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’ terms. Absolute in the sense that these cities have a real high density of population; relative in the sense that even if the densities are not very high the problem of providing services and other facilities to the city dwellers makes it so.

Delhi has a population density of 9,340 persons per sq km (Census 2001) which is the highest in India. This is the overall population density for the Union territory of Delhi. Population density in central part of Delhi could be much higher. This leads to tremendous pressure on infrastructural facilities like housing, electricity, water, transport, employment, etc. Efforts to decongest Delhi by developing ring towns have not met with the required success.

  1. Housing:

Overcrowding leads to a chronic problem of shortage of houses in urban areas. This problem is specifically more acute in those urban areas where there is large influx of unemployed or underemployed migrants who have no place to live in when they enter cities/towns from the surrounding areas.

Urban India has a severe shortage of housing, yet Indian cities have many vacant houses. According to the census of India 2011, out of the 90 million residential census units, 11 million units are vacant; that is about 12% of the total urban housing stock consists of vacant houses.

Moreover, the current rate of housing construction is very slow which makes the problem further complicated. Indian cities require annually about 2.5 million new devellings but less than 15 per cent of the requirement is being constructed.

The Census of India 2001 concluded the first ever and the largest survey of household amenities and assets which points a never-before profile of problem relating to housing in India. The outcome is both instructive and amusing. Taking India as whole, there are 179 million residential houses, i.e., about six people to each house.

Thirty-nine per cent of all married couples in India (about 86 million) do not have an independent room to themselves. As many as 35 per cent (18.9 million) urban families live in one-room houses.

For about a third of urban Indian families, a house does not include a kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet—and in many cases there is no power and water supply. Only 79 per cent (42.6 million) urban household live in permanent (pucca) houses. 67 per cent (36 million) of the urban houses are owned by the households while 29 per cent (15 million) are rented.

Several factors are responsible for the above mentioned sad state of affairs with respect to housing problems faced by the urban people. The major factors are shortage of building materials and financial resources, inadequate expansion of public utilities into sub-urban areas, poverty and unemployment of urban immigrants, strong caste and family ties and lack of adequate transportation to sub-urban areas where most of the vacant land for new construction is located.

The problem of unemployment is no less serious than the problem of housing mentioned above. Urban unemployment in India is estimated at 15 to 25 per cent of the labour force. This percentage is even higher among the educated people. As per CMIE on 6 February 2022, unemployment rate in India is 6.8% and urban and rural is 7.9% and 6.3% respectively. Tripura fall 17.1% unemployment rate.

It is estimated that about half of all educated urban unemployed are concentrated in four metropolitan cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai). Furthermore, although urban incomes are higher than the rural incomes, they are appallingly low in view of high cost of living in urban areas.

One of the major causes of urban unemployment is the large scale migration of people from rural to urban areas. Rural-urban migration has been continuing for a pretty long time but it has not always been as great a problem as it is today. The general poverty among the rural people pushes them out to urban areas to migrate in search of livelihood and in the hope of a better living.

But the growth of economic opportunities fails to keep pace with the quantum of immigration. The limited capacity of urban areas could not create enough employment opportunities and absorb the rapid growth of the urban labour force. Efforts made by the central and the state governments to create employment opportunities in rural areas and to check the large scale rural-urban migration have not met with much success.

  1. Slums and Squatter Settlements:

The natural sequel of unchecked, unplanned and haphazard growth of urban areas is the growth and spread of slums and squatter settlements which present a striking feature in the ecological structure of Indian cities, especially of metropolitan centres.

The rapid urbanisation in conjunction with industrialisation has resulted in the growth of slums. The proliferation of slums occurs due to many factors, such as, the shortage of developed land for housing, the high prices of land beyond the reach of urban poor, a large influx of rural migrants to the cities in search of jobs etc.

In spite of several efforts by the Central and State Governments to contain the number of slum dwellers, their growth has been increasing sharply exerting tremendous pressure on the existing civic amenities and social infrastructure. Slums are known by different names in different cities. They are called bustees in Kolkata, jhuggi- jhoparies in Delhi, Jhoparpattis or Chawl in Mumbai and Cheri in Chennai.

In India Slums have been defined under section 3 of Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act 1956. As areas where buildings:

  1. Area in any respect unfit for human habitation.

  2. Area by reason of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light, sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors, which are detrimental to safety, health and morals.

Socially, slums tend to be isolated from the rest of the urban society and exhibit pathological social symptoms (drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, vandalism and other deviant behaviour). The lack of integration of slum inhabitants into urban life reflects both, the lack of ability and cultural barriers.

Thus the slums are not just huts and dilapidated buildings but are occupied by people with complexities of social-networks, sharp socio-economic stratification, dualistic group and segregated spatial structures.

  1. Transport:

With traffic bottleneck and traffic congestion, almost all cities and towns of India are suffering from acute form of transport problem. Transport problems increase and become more complex as the town grows in size. With its growth, the town performs varied and complex functions and more people travel to work or shop.

As the town becomes larger, even people living within the built-up area have to travel by car or bus to cross the town and outsiders naturally bring their cars or travel by public transport. Wherever, trade is important, commercial vehicles such as vans and trucks will make problem of traffic more complicated.

Since most of the commercial activities of the towns are concentrated in the Central Business District (C.B.D.), the centres are areas of greatest congestion. However, other parts of the town are not free from traffic congestion.

Such areas include the roads leading to factories, offices, schools, etc., which will be thronged with people in morning and evening; minor shopping centres which grow up in the suburbs; sporting arenas, entertainment districts which will be busy at night, roads leading to residential and dormitory towns which will be busy when commuters flock to the cities in the morning to work and return home in the evenings.

Such congestion becomes greater when the centre is built up in tall skyscraper blocks whose offices sometimes employ thousands of workers, because at the end of the office hours everyone leaves the building within a short space of time to make their way home.

This puts tremendous pressure on public transport and causes journeys to take much longer period than they normally would. In most cities the rush hour or peak traffic hour lasts for about two hours and during that period buses and trains are crammed to capacity, roads are overcrowded with vehicles and the movement of traffic becomes very slow.

In other towns, the narrowness of the streets, which were built long before the motorised transport and lack of parking facilities are the main cause of congestion. Cars may be parked along the edges of the roads restricting movement to a narrow lane and the multiplicity of narrow streets, sharp comers and waits to turn into lanes of traffic may slow down the movement and thus create even greater congestion.

The traffic scenario in almost all the Indian cities presents a pathetic picture with Mumbai still having the best city transport system and Chennai, Ahmedabad and Pune being reasonably well served by local transport system. In all other cities, if one does not own a personal vehicle, great hardship is experienced in moving about in the city.

Apart from that, the level of incomes and affordability of Indian masses is very low and the citizens are not able to pay an economic fare for use of public transport system. Therefore, all city bus services sustain such heavy losses that they cannot really expand or even maintain a fleet adequately to meet the city needs.

Moreover, mixture of vehicles causes uncontrollable chaos on the roads. Free movement of stray cattle and domestic animals on the roads adds to traffic problem and often cause accidents. Heavy traffic and congestion leads to slow movement of traffic, fuel wastage environmental pollution and loss of precious time.

A lot of people are often moving around in between their workplaces and their homes; this more often leads to traffic jams and congestions. The number of people who own cars is growing every year, especially in urban areas and the public transport system is very unreliable.

The number of cars increases, and as a result of this, the traffic problems continue to worsen. This does not only lead to blockages in traffics but increases the chances of people getting involved in traffic accidents and urban air pollution.

Some relief is expected with the completion of metro rail. But experts fear that by the time the metro rail becomes fully operational, the demand for transport facilities will outpace the capacity of both road and rail transport.

Similar conditions prevail in most of the Indian cities. In Kolkata, metro rail and Vivekanand Setu were constructed to ease traffic flow. But traffic congestion in several old localities and near Haora bridge is almost a daily routine. In Ahmedabad, the speed of vehicles comes down to 5 km/hr on Gandhi Marg and several other roads due to congestion and overcrowding.

  1. Water:

What is one of the most essential elements of nature to sustain life and right from the beginning of urban civilisation, sites for settlements have always been chosen keeping in view the availability of water to the inhabitants of the settlement. However, supply of water started falling short of demand as the cities grew in size and number.

Today we have reached a stage where practically no city in India/ gets sufficient water to meet the needs of city dwellers. In many cities people get water from the municipal sources for less than half an hour every alternate day. In dry summer season, taps remain dry for days together and people are denied water supply at a time when they need it the most.

The individual towns require water in larger quantities. Many small towns have no main water supply at all and depend on such sources as individual tubewells, household open wells or even rivers. Accelerated Urban Water Supply Programme (AUWSP) was launched to provide water to towns with population of less than 20,000.

Keeping in view the increased demands for water by the urban population, Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation (CPHEEO) fixed 125-200 litres of water per head per day for cities with a population of more than 50,000, 100-125 litres for population between 10,000 and 50,000 and 70-100 litres for towns with a population below 10,000.

The Zakaria Committee recommended the water requirement per head per day 204 litres for cities with population between 5 lakh and 2 million and 272 litres for cities with population more than 2 million. This amount of water is supposed to be used for drinking, kitchen, bathing, cloth washing, floor and vehicle washing and gardening.

Sadly majority of the cities and towns do not get the recommended quantity of water. Gap in demand and supply of water in four metro cities, viz., Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Chennai varies from 10 to 20 per cent. The condition is still worse in small cities and towns. To meet the growing demand for water, many cities are trying to tap external sources of water supply.

Mumbai draws water from neighbouring areas and from sources located as far as 125 km in the Western Ghats. Chennai uses water express trains to meets its growing demand for water. Bangalore is located on the plateau and draws water from Cauvery river at a distance of 100 km. Water for Bangalore has to be lifted about 700 metres with help of lifting pumps.

Hyderabad depends on Nagarjuna Sagar located 137 km away. Delhi meets large part of its water requirements from Tajiwala in Haryana. Water is also drawn from Ramganga as far as 180 km. Under the proposed scheme it will meet its growing requirements of water from Tehri, Renuka, and Kishau barrages.

  1. Sewerage Problems:

Urban areas in India are almost invariably plagued with insufficient and inefficient sewage facilities. Not a single city in India is fully sewered. Resource crunch faced by the municipalities and unauthorised growth of the cities are two major causes of this pathetic state of affairs.

According to latest estimates, only 35-40 per cent of the urban population has the privilege of sewage system. Most of the cities have old sewerage lines which are not looked after properly. Often sewerage lines break down or they are overflowing.

Most cities do not have proper arrangements for treating the sewerage waste and it is drained into a nearly river (as in Delhi) or in sea (as in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai), thereby polluting the water bodies.

In most Indian cities, water pipes run in close proximity to sewer lines. Any leakage leads to contamination of water which results in the spread of several water borne diseases.

  1. Trash Disposal:

As Indian cities grow in number and size the problem of trash disposal is assuming alarming proportions. Huge quantities of garbage produced by our cities pose a serious health problem. Most cites do not have proper arrangements for garbage disposal and the existing landfills are full to the brim. These landfills are hotbeds of disease and innumerable poisons leaking into their surroundings.

Wastes putrefy in the open inviting disease carrying flies and rats and a filthy, poisonous liquid, called leachate, which leaks out from below and contaminates ground water. People who live near the rotting garbage and raw sewage fall easy victims to several diseases like dysentery, malaria, plague, jaundice, diarrhoea, typhoid, etc.

  1. Urban Crimes:

Modem cities present a meeting point of people from different walks of life having no affinity with one another. Like other problems, the problem of crimes increases with the increase in urbanisation. In fact the increasing trend in urban crimes tends to disturb peace and tranquility of the cities and make them unsafe to live in particularly for the women.

Growing materialism, consumerism, competition in everyday life, selfishness, lavishness, appalling socio-economic disparities and rising unemployment and feeling of loneliness in the crowd are some of the primary causes responsible for alarming trends in urban crime.

Not only the poor, deprived and slum dwellers take to crime; youngsters from well-to-do families also resort to crime in order to make fast buck and for meeting requirements of a lavish life. Occasional failures in life also drag youngsters to crime.

The problem of urban crime is becoming more complicated in the present day world because criminals often get protection from politicians, bureaucrats and elite class of the urban society. Some of the criminals reach high political positions by using their money and muscle power.

According to study made by Dutt and Venugopal (1983), violent urban crimes like rape, murder, kidnapping, dacoity, robbery, etc. are more pronounced in the northern-central parts of the country. Even the economic crimes (like theft, cheating, breach of trust, etc.) are concentrated in the north- central region. Poverty related crimes are widespread with main concentration in the cities of Patna, Darbhanga, Gaya and Munger. This may be due to widespread poverty prevailing in this region.

However, the latest surveys show that Mumbai and Delhi figure in 35 cities that have high crime rate. As much as 31.8 per cent of citizens in Mumbai and 30.5 per cent in Delhi have been victims of crime. Sexual assault was higher in Mumbai (3.5 per cent) as compared to Delhi (1.7 per cent). Both cities score poorly in corruption, with 22.9% in Mumbai being exposed to bribery as compared to 21% in Delhi.

  1. Problem of Urban Pollution:

With rapid pace of urbanisation, industries and transport systems grow rather out of proportion. These developments are primarily responsible for pollution of environment, particularly the urban environment.

We cannot think of strong India, economically, socially and culturally, when our cities remain squalor, quality of urban life declines and the urban environment is damaged beyond repair. As a matter of fact, cities comprise the backbone of economic expansion and urbanization is being seen in a positive light as an engine of economic growth and agent of socio-political transformation.

The share of urban areas in the total national economic income had been estimated at 60 per cent and the per capita income was about three times higher than rural per capita income. But this is not sufficient partly, due to high cost of living and partly, because of growing economic disparity in urban areas. Rich are becoming richer and poor are becoming poorer. Several steps have been initiated to meet the challenges posed by urban crisis but with little or no success.

National Commission on Urbanization (NCU) has, in its policy proposal of 1988, stressed the need for (a) the evolution of a spatial pattern of economic development and hierarchies of human settlements, (b) an optimum distribution of population between rural and urban settlements, and among towns and cities of various sizes, (c) distribution of economic activities in small and medium-sized growth centres, (d) dispersal of economic activities through the establishment of counter-magnets in the region, and (e) provision of minimum levels of services in urban and rural areas.

The other major development programmes include (i) Urban Basic Services for the Poor (UBSP) programme, (ii) the Environmental Improvement of Urban Slums (EIUS) programme, (iii) the Integrated Development of Small and Medium Towns (IDSMT), (iv) various housing and infrastructure financing schemes of Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO), (v) the Mega Cities Project, and (vi) the Integrated Urban Poverty Eradication Programme (IUPEP).

Almost all the major programmes of urban development suffer from the chronic disease of resource crunch. Right from the beginning of the planning period, urban development has been low on the development agenda with only 3-4 per cent of the total plan outlay being allocated to the urban sector. The National Commission on Urbanization recommended in 1988 that at least 8 per cent of the Plan outlay should be dedicated to urban sector.


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Kumar, Amit & Rai, Ambarish. (2014). URBANIZATION PROCESS, TREND, PATTERN AND ITS CONSEQUENCES IN INDIA. Neo Geographia. 3. 24. 

Ramachandran, R. (2015). Urbanization and Urban Systems in India. OUP India.

Census of India 2011: Urban Agglomerations and Cities

11 Major Problems of Urbanisation in India. (n.d.). Your Article Library. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/urbanisation/11-major-problems-of-urbanisation-in-india/19880

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