Urbanization and associated phenomenon

  • Urbanization is a process that transforms the built environment, converting formerly rural into urban settlements, while also shifting the spatial distribution of a population from rural to urban areas.
  • Urbanization in India is mainly due to the liberalization of its economy after the 1990s, which gave rise to the development of the private sector.
  • Presently, although urbanization is taking place at a fast rate in India, still urban areas account for just 3% of the nation’s land and 31.1% of its population (Census of India 2011). Nevertheless, it contributes a whopping 60% to the GDP. Thus clearly, Urbanization is the key to India’s future.

Criteria for delineating Urban Settlement/census town (The Census of India, 2011)

Those places have municipalities, corporations, cantonment boards or notified town area committees. All the other places which fulfil the following criteria:

  • A minimum population of 5000 persons must be there.
  • >75 % of the male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits
  • The density of the population (per square kilometre): should be at least 400 persons

Urban Agglomeration

This term was introduced in the 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 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 the excessive development of urban traits. Due to the expansion of the range of urban activities and occupations, a greater influx of secondary functions like industry, increasing and widespread development of an intricate bureaucratic administrative network, 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 the over-urbanization of a city. When cities get overcrowded by population, it may result in sub-urbanization. Delhi is a typical example. Sub-urbanization means the 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, and
  • intensive communication of all types between the 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 starts moving into suburban areas or smaller cities thereby leapfrogging the rural-urban fringe. There are instances that show that the phenomenon of counter-urbanization is occurring in India.

Global trend in Urbanization:


Process of Urbanization

 In the context of India, the process of urbanization is seen as a sociocultural process, an 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.

The process of urbanization has thus been associated with important economic and social transformations, which have brought greater geographic mobility, lower fertility, longer life expectancy and population ageing.

Urbanization in India

India has a long history of urbanization with spatial and temporal discontinuities. It is an ongoing process that has never stopped and has rarely, slowed down since its beginning.

Urbanization in India is divided into different phases, beginning from the Indus Valley civilization to reaching the watermark during the Mughal period and also a contribution from the British made to the process of urbanization in India. Post-independence witnessed rapid urbanization in India on a scale never before achieved.

The major changes that have occurred in India’s urban scene after India’s urban independence are

  • the building of new administrative cities,
  • the construction of new industrial cities and townships near major cities,
  • the rapid growth of one lakh and one million cities,
  • the massive growth of slums and rural-urban fringe,
  • the introduction of city planning and
  • the general improvement in civic amenities.

As per the 2011 Census, 377 million Indians comprising 31.1% of the total population live in urban areas. The United Nations (UN) Habitat World City’s 2016 Report estimates that the urban population in India reached 420 million in 2015. While this progress is welcome, the extent of urbanization in India remains significantly below those in other major developing countries. According to the World Bank, urban population as a proportion of the total population in 2015 stood at 86% in Brazil, 56% in China, 54% in Indonesia, 79% in Mexico and 82% in South Korea

Factors that have led to urbanization in India

  • Population growth – This is a natural increase, an outcome of more births than deaths in urban areas, a direct function of the fertility rate as well as the quality of healthcare systems (lower mortality rates, particularly for infants).
  • Migration – Rural to urban migrations due to agriculture distress, better employment opportunities, access to better education, healthcare and amenities etc. has been a strong urbanization factor.
  • Expansion of towns and cities – Due to the high economic growth that the city has witnessed over the years. Because of this, the government in India has decided to grab the opportunity to further thrust the country into urbanization, with several smart cities to be put up in various locations, and other initiatives.
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