Urbanization and its Distinctive Trends in India

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  • The level of urbanization, at present, is considered as an important indicator of development.

  • In recent years, urbanization takes place with the growing expansion of industry and trade in a particular state or region.

urbanization in India

Urbanization is a term with several connotations. The proportion of a country’s population living in urban places is its level of urbanization. The process of urbanization involves the movement to, and the clustering of, people in towns and cities- a major force in every geographic realm today. Another type of urbanization occurs when an expanding city absorbs rural countryside and transforms it into suburbs; in the case of cities in developing countries, this also generates peripheral slums, ghettos and shanty colonies.

The level of urbanization, at present, is considered as an important indicator of development. In fact, it is one of the common characteristics of economic development. With the gradual growth of the economy, the process of urbanization depends on the shift of surplus population from rural to urban areas along with the growth of some industrialized urban centers. Due to social and economic pressures, people from backward villages started to move towards urbanized centers in search of jobs, where newly established industries and ancillary activities continuously offer job opportunities to the in-migrants. The pace of urbanization is fast if the industrial growth is fast. The pace of urbanization gradually declines only when the proportion of urban population to total population of the country becomes too high.

India has a long history of urbanization. The first phase of urbanization is traced in the Indus Valley which is associated with the Harappa urbanism. The cities of Harappan civilization flourished for about 600 years, between 2350 B.C. and 1750 B.C. The important towns of the Harappan culture located in India are Dholavira, Lothal, Mehgam,  Rangpur,  Rojdi, Surkotada,  (Gujarat), Kalibangan (Rajasthan),  Alamgirpur, Banwali and Rakhigarhi (Haryana) and Rupar (Punjab).
 From around 600 B.C. onwards, towns and cities grew in association with two cultural streams, i.e. Aryan civilization in the north and the Dravidian civilization in the south. The major cities which grew during this period were Ayodhya, Champa, Hastinapur,  Indraprastha, Kapilvastu, Kurukshetra, Mathura, Patliputra, Rajgir, Varanasi, and Vaishali  in north India; and  Kancheepuram, Korkai, Madurai, Mahishamiti,  Nagarjunkonda,  Puhar, Ujjain, and Vanji in south India.
During the Medieval Period the Turks and Mughals the cities of Agra, Aligarh, Ahmadabad, Aurangabad, Bikaner, Bijapur,  Hisar, Hyderabad, Golkunda, Indore,  Kota, Jaipur, Jaunpur, Jodhpur, Mysore, Murshidabad, Saharanpur, Shahjahanpur,  Udaipur, Vijainagar etc.

With the arrival of the British East India Company, the nature of urbanization process changed significantly. The major  contribution of the British to the Indian urban was (i) the creation of 

three metropolitan port cities Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), and Chennai (Madaras),  (ii) creation of a chain of hill stations in the Himalayan region, and in the hills of South India, (iii) the introduction    cantonment, civil lines, railway colonies, churches and modern industries. Some of the major towns that came up during the British Period are:
Alleppey, Almora, Asansol, Bhadrawati, Bhusawal, Dalhousie,  Darjeeling, Dhanbad, Dehra Dun, Kanpur, Kodaikanal,   Kolkatta, Madras, Mussoorie,  Ooty, Ranchi, Ranikhet,  Shillong,  Shimla, Siliguri. During the post Independence Period, the important cities developed include Bhilai, Chandigarh, Durgapur,  Lavasa, Raurkela, etc.

Trends of Urbanization in India
In India, an increasing trend towards urbanization has been recorded from the very beginning of the last century.  The trend of urbanization has been given in Table I.


Urban Population

(in million)

Urban as % of total population

No. of towns

































It may be seen from the Table I that the proportion of urban population to total population was only 11 percent in 1911, which increased to 11.3 percent in 1921 and 14 percent in 1941. The proportion of urban population rose to 17.6 percent in 1951, 18.3 percent in 1961, which rose to 27.8 percent in 2001 and 30 percent in 2011.

Although, a significant increase has been recorded in the urban population of India after Independence, it is much below the world average. The percentage of urban population is 97 in Belgium, 93 percent in Germany, and 92 percent in U.K.  Moreover, the number of million cities is  53 in  2011 as against 35 in 2001. There are three mega cities (Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata) each with a population of more than 8 million.

Causes of Rapid Growth of Urbanization in India

Rapid urbanization is taking place in different parts of the country in and around the big cities and towns of the country. The factors which are largely responsible for such a rapid growth of the urban population are given below:
1.Natural  Growth of Population: Rapid urbanization is taking place as a result of the high rate of natural increase in population. The natural growth rate of the urban population is higher than that of the rural population due to higher net survival rate arising out of better health and medical facilities. Improvement in health and medical facilities, drinking water supply and sanitation facilities have reduced the incidence of water-borne diseases, communicable diseases, etc.

2.Migration: Rural-urban migration is considered another important factor responsible for rapid urbanization in India. The rural to urban migrations are the results of industrialization, better job opportunities, and better educational health and recreation facilities. The poverty, hunger, malnutrition in the rural areas of many parts of the country have pushed the population out of their birthplaces. This is known as the ‘push factor’ in the process of migration. Thus in India,  in the current phase of urbanization both te ‘pull factor’ and ‘push factor’ are very much operational. 

3.Expansion of Industry and Trade: In recent years, urbanization takes place with the growing expansion of industry and trade in a particular state or region. The growth of  an industry with its ancillaries along with localization of industry would create favorable situation for the growth of urban setup. Similarly, the growth of business and trade along with the establishment of an active market always provides adequate support toward growing urbanization in those places related to the development of industry and trade.

4.Urban Sprawl: With the expansion of the boundaries of cities and towns, more and more rural areas are gradually merged in urban areas. Although life in these newly extended areas remains rural initially but the inclusion of these areas into these towns and cities necessarily increases the number of urban population.

Consequences of Rapid Urbanisation: The rapid urbanization is subjected to both Positive and negative consequences:
Positive Aspects: The positive aspects of urbanization are given below:

1..Rapid urbanization results in the development and setting up of many industrial cities. Along with manufacturing units, ancillaries and service sector started to grow in those urban areas. 
2. Secondly, new and additional employment opportunities are created in the urban areas in its newly expanding manufacturing and service sector units. This would result in rural-urban migration and ‘industrialisation-urbanisation process’ to set in.
3. The growth of cities can give rise to external economies so as to reap the benefits of economies of scale for various services and activities.
4 Urbanisation promotes national integration.
5.Urbanisation results in changes in attitudes and mind-set.  Urban people develop progressive behavior which is conducive for economic development, social well-being, and social development.

Negative Aspects: Although the development of the economy is very much associated with urbanization, it has resulted some serious problems. Some of the important problems  created by the urbanization are given below:

1. Growing urbanization is largely responsible for increasing congestion in urban areas. Too much congestion has resulted in the problems of traffic jams, too much concentration of population, the management of which is gradually becoming very difficult and costly.

2. The larger size of cities and urban places creates urban chaos related to housing, education, medical facilities.
3. Unemployment: With the increase in urban population there occurs a shortage of jobs and unemployment becomes a serious menace in the society.
4. The growth of urban slums and shanty colonies: The growth of slums is considered to be injurious to the healthy urban life. They result in deterioration in the quality of life.
5.Large-scale migration from rural to urban areas lead to a shortage of workforce in the agricultural sector. The production in the primary sector (agriculture and its allied activities) decline.
6. The rate of crime against the property and females goes up.
7. The traditional rural values are sacrificed as the younger generation adopt the western and modern way of life.
8. There occurs pollution all type, like water, air and noise pollution which is injurious to health and efficiency of the people and the urban ecosystems and environment. Thus urbanization beyond at a certain point results in unhealthy consequences.

Considering the unhealthy consequences of rapid urbanization, it is quite important to formulate a sound urban policy which can provide urban development with minimum undesirable effects. The measure which can  make our urban places healthy and sustainable are: (i) integrating urbanization process with the development plans of the country for developing non-agricultural activities like manufacturing, services and infrastructure leading to attainment of external economies, (ii) making arrangement for selective urban development so as to minimize the disadvantages of these large sized cities and towns., (iii) to develop rural areas especially agro-based industries to generate more employment in primary sector and to check the migration from rural  to urban areas. (v) relieving pressure on large urban centers by developing sound urban amenities so as to make urban living peaceful and enjoyable. If all these steps are taken together our urban system may become sustainable.

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