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2023 NOV 7

Mains   > Society   >   Urbanisation   >   Urban development


  • A report released by The Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC) shows that out of the 50 most polluted cities in the world, 39 are in India.
  • Pollution directly affects the health of people, and an average Indian loses 5.3 years of his life expectancy due to this


Urbanization is the process of transformation that occurs as society evolves from predominantly rural to predominantly urban areas. It involves the increase in the proportion of a country’s population residing in urban areas, leading to the expansion and growth of cities and towns. 


The Indian Census identifies two categories of ‘urban’ areas:

1. Statutory towns — those that have urban local bodies like municipal corporations, municipality or municipal committees.

2. Census towns — All those places satisfying the following 3 criteria:

a) Population of at least 5000 persons.

b) Minimum population density of 400 persons per sq. km. and

c) 75 percent of the male workforce is employed in non-agricultural activities.


  1. High Population Density: Urban areas, such as Mumbai, have extremely high population densities, which can exceed 21,000 people per square kilometer?1?.
  2. Social heterogeneity: Urban areas tend to have a heterogeneous population with diverse cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.
  3. Economic Activity: Cities are hubs of non-agricultural economic activities, industries, service sectors, and businesses.
  4. Infrastructure: Urban areas have more developed infrastructure, including transportation systems, utilities, and communication networks.
  5. Administrative Services: Cities typically have a concentration of administrative and governmental services.
  6. Social Services: Urban regions usually offer better access to healthcare, education, and social services compared to rural areas. Ex: AMRUT Mission


Ancient Urbanization (IVC)


India's urbanization can trace its roots back to the Indus Valley Civilization (around 3300–1300 BCE), which was predominantly urban. The cities like Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, and Lothal were well-planned with sophisticated civil engineering and urban planning, including grid layouts, drainage systems, and public baths.


Medieval Urbanization

(Delhi Sultanate)

Ralph Fitch, one of the first British merchants to visit India way back in the 1580s, remarked that “Agra and Fatehpur Sikri are two very great cities, either of them much greater than London”

Pre-colonial urban stagnation and decline

Before the British colonization, many Indian cities faced periods of stagnation or decline due to various factors, including changes in trade routes, political instability, and colonial conflicts. Ex: Surat lost importance due to Mumbai.


Colonial Urban Initiation and Early Expansion


The British developed port cities such as Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), and Chennai (Madras) as major administrative and commercial centers, initiating a new phase of urban growth.

Urban Acceleration During the British Era


The introduction and expansion of railways in the 19th century connected remote areas with urban centers, fostering trade and migration

Post-Independence Urban Expansion


Path of industrialization which led to the establishment of new urban centers and the expansion of existing ones. This period saw the migration from rural to urban areas.

Urban High Concentration in the Late 20th Century

The liberalization of India's economy in the 1990s led to an influx of foreign investment and the rise of urban centers as hubs for global commerce, information technology, and outsourcing industries.

Present-Day Suburbanization


Today, India is experiencing suburbanization as cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore sprawl outward. Satellite towns and tech parks are emerging.

Urban Renewal and Redevelopment


Urban renewal efforts are underway in several Indian cities. Government initiatives like the Smart Cities Mission aim to make cities more sustainable and liveable through technology and infrastructure upgrades.



1. Economic Growth and Opportunities: 

  • Ex: A study by the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) showed that the top 100 cities contribute about 43% of the country’s GDP.

2. Improved Infrastructure and Services: 

  • Urbanisation drives the expansion of transportation networks, including roads, railways, and public transportation systems, enabling efficient movement of people and goods. Ex: Smart city mission

3. Social and Cultural Exchange: 

  • Urban centers become melting pots of diverse cultures, languages, traditions, and ideas.Ex: Jaipur Literature festival

4. Education and Skill Development: 

  • Urban facilitates higher levels of education and skill development ultimately contributing to human capital development and socio-economic mobility.
  • Ex: All India urban literacy is around 84% (MoSPI)

5. Technological Advancements: 

  • The concentration of research institutions, technology parks, and innovation hubs in urban centers fosters technological advancements and promotes innovation. Ex: Hyderabad’s HITEC City

6. Social and Political Empowerment: 

  • Urban areas become centers for activism, civic engagement, and social movements. The density of the population, diverse social networks, and mass media urban centers provide platforms for collective action, advocacy, and the expression of diverse voices, leading to social and political change.
  • Ex:Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption drive in Delhi


1. Overcrowding and Housing Shortage: 

  • The demand for affordable housing often outstrips supply, leading to the proliferation of slums, informal settlements, and inadequate living conditions.
  • Ex: The MoHUA has reported a shortage of nearly 20 million housing units needed for the urban poor.

2. Strain on Infrastructure: 

  • Urban areas often face challenges in providing adequate and efficient infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population.
  • Ex: With the urban population expected to reach 600 million by 2031, existing infrastructure is inadequate.

3. Traffic Congestion and Pollution:

  • As urban areas expand, traffic congestion becomes a major issue, leading to increased commute times, air pollution, and environmental degradation.
  • Ex: As per the TomTom Traffic Index, cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru rank among the top for traffic congestion globally, with peak congestion levels reaching over 65% pre-pandemic.
  • Ex: New Delhi often registers AQI levels above 200, which is considered "Poor" on the NAQI scale, especially during winter months when smog is a major problem. Levels can even go above 300 ("Very Poor") and sometimes exceed 400 ("Severe").

4. Inequality and Social Exclusion.

  • Economic disparities, limited access to resources and services, and marginalisation of vulnerable groups can occur in urban areas. This can lead to social unrest, crime, and social fragmentation.
  • Ex: In cities like Mumbai, where the wealthiest 10% own up to 60% of the city's wealth, the contrast between high-rise buildings and sprawling slums is stark.

5. Environmental Degradation: 

Biodiversity Loss:


According to reports from the Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR), forest cover within metropolitan areas and their outskirts indicated a loss of 330 square kms within just two years.


Water Bodies and Wetlands:


Data from the CPCB indicates that over 70% of the surface water in India is polluted, with urban runoff and sewage being primary contributors.


Urban Heat Island Effect:


Studies IMD have shown that the urban heat island effect, where urban regions experience higher temperatures than their rural surroundings, is intensifying in Indian cities.


Solid Waste Management:


According to CPCB, only about 75-80% of the municipal waste gets collected, and only 22-28% is processed and treated.


Endangered Species:





Rapid urbanization and poor land use affected snail population,its species diversity, according to a study, published in the Journal of Urban Ecology.

Carbon Footprint of Cities

As per the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), cities contribute more than 70% of global CO2 emissions, with Indian cities being significant contributors due to its high energy consumption patterns


6. Inadequate Service Provision: 

  • The rapid influx of people in urban areas often leads to challenges in providing essential services such as healthcare, education, and sanitation.
  • Ex: The ASER report highlights that many children in urban slums do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills.

7. Displacement and Social Disruption: 

  • Urbanisation can result in the displacement of communities and disruption of social networks.
  • Development projects, gentrification, and urban renewal initiatives can lead to the involuntary relocation of residents, causing social and economic upheaval.


  • Smart Cities Mission: A program to transform cities with modern infrastructure, digital connectivity, and sustainable practices to enhance the quality of urban life.
  • AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation): An initiative aimed at providing essential services like water supply, sewage facilities, and creating green public spaces in urban areas.
  • Swachh Bharat Mission: A nationwide campaign to promote cleanliness, waste management, and sanitation to ensure an open defecation free (ODF) India.
  • HRIDAY (Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana): A project for preserving and revitalizing heritage cities to balance heritage conservation with socio-economic growth.
  • PM Awas Yojana: A housing initiative aimed at providing affordable housing for urban and rural poor by 2022.


  • 15th Finance Commission (N. K. Singh)
    • Elevate fiscal support for urban bodies; incentivize performance for service delivery; establish state-level urban planning units.
  • K. Kasturirangan Committee- High-Level Committee on Urban Planning Education
    • Overhaul urban planning education; introduce interdisciplinary studies; foster academia-local body collaboration.
  • Dr. Isher Judge Ahluwalia Committee- Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure
    • Boost urban infrastructure investment; create Urban Infrastructure Funds; enhance urban local body revenues through improved tax systems.
  • Kirit Parikh Committee-Expert Committee on Low Carbon Strategies
    • Advocate sustainable transport; enforce energy efficiency in buildings; ensure strict industrial pollution control.
  • Committee for Drafting NCAP
    • Develop city-specific air quality plans; expand air quality monitoring; enforce industrial and vehicular emission norms.
  • Committee on Delhi Air Pollution headed by E. S. L. Narasimhan
    • Introduce congestion pricing; incentivize adoption of clean vehicles; expand urban green spaces.

Achieving urban stability is crucial for India's progress towards Sustainable Development Goal Number 11, which aims to "make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable."


Q: How has urbanization affected social segments like family, religion, etc? Explain. (10M)