Essay on Urbanization: Problems and Prospects

Essay on Urbanization: Problems and Prospects


Although the emergence of urban settlements in India dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization more than 4,000 year ago, the proportion of the urban population remained quite modest for a long time with but minor fluctuations; its steady rise has been taking place only during the last half a century or so.

However, factual information on rural and urban distribution of population of India systematically collected and presented is available only from the 1901 Census onwards.

Information on the subject, in a processed form, is also readily available in several sources. Accordingly, the period covered for viewing urban development in India is roughly the first three quarters of the= 20th century.

Development of Thought:

Urbanization is rapidly advancing in India especially in. the metropolitan cities more than the small and medium town and rural settlements. The problems arising due to unprecedented growth of metropolitan area is not only a consequence of poverty and demographic concentration but mere a result of complex socio-economic, political and market forces.

The effects of such concentrated pattern of urbanization have far reaching implications. It articulates in not only the settlement and popu­lation distribution pattern, but also concerns national issues such as economic development, resource conservation and social progress.

Therefore, decentralization of population and economic activities is a pre-requisite for an appropriate process of a settlement system. Suffice to say that the National Urbanization Policy is an imperative need to ensure the rural-urban integrated development in terms of spatial and economic activities within a regional per­spective.


If rural persons are provided better educational facili­ties and basic amenities of life, then there is no reason why urbanization cannot be stopped.

It is useful to distinguish between two major types of urban demographic trends namely; urbanization and urban growth so as to evaluate the changes that are taking place in the urban situation in India.

Urbanization refers to the per­centage of the total population which is concentrated in urban settlements as well as the rise in this percentage; a rise in this percentage implies a corresponding decrease in the percentage of rural population.

Urban growth, on the other hand, refers to the percentage increase in the absolute size of the urban population. Accordingly, urbanization and urban growth are not necessarily linked with each other.

As a matter of fact, from the historical perspective the urban demographic situation so far during the 20th century is said to be characterized by a relatively low rate of urbanization but a high rate of urban growth.

Yet, what determines the growth of urban settlement is a significant ques­tion. Here we are concerned not merely with urban growth but with urbanization as well, more particularly with urbanization which results from rural to urban migration and which is reflected in the differential growth rates of towns and cities.

It can be safely affirmed that more than one factor is responsible for the rise of urbanization and differential growth of urban settlements, and the com­position of the set of factors may vary from country to country.

But evidence from a growing number of studies tends to show that rapid economic develop­ment has inevitably led to rapid urbanization in developing countries. Rapid economic development in recent times has depended mainly on industrialization and so rapid industrialization and rapid urbanization go together.

While generally agreeing with the above thesis, Bert Hoselitz has put for- ward the point of view that in developing countries in Asia, including India, Urbanization has run ahead of industrialization. He has termed this abnormality over urbanization'.

Although ordinarily rural to urban migration involved in rapid urbanization depends upon the 'pull' factors at the urban and 'push' factors from the rural end, according to Hoselitz, in developing countries it is mainly the Push factors which are operating.

These ideas, however, have not been borne out by subsequent studies. As a matter of fact, in India too as in many other devel­oping countries, cities, with manufacturing functions have been growing faster than the others.

There is also a relationship between regional variation in indus­trial growth, which further confirms the proposition that growing urbanization in India is a consequence of industrialization and economic development.

During the British period the internal structure of the indigenous type of the Indian city accorded with the pre-industrial city pattern. For their own conve­nience, the British introduced the European type of city design which by that time had come to resemble the pattern of the industrial city.

But often the im­ported pattern called the Civil Lines and the indigenous one existed side by side: "the typical Indian urban centre contains a congested old section; adjacent to it may be found 'carefully planned' and often spacious sections dating from the British period.

The urban morphology of India thus shows either conflict or blending of indigenous features and the hybridized European features."

Apart from the changes directly introduced by the British the internal struc­tures of the Indian cities are also indirectly affected by the technological forces of industrialization.

However, the change is not uniform in all cases and so the internal structures of the Indian cities now a day present varying patterns rang­ing from the pre-industrial type at the one extreme to the industrial type at the other.

But most cities are in a transitional stage combining the elements of both pre-industrial and industrial city patterns in varying degrees.

There is an intimate relationship between the social structure and the spatial structure (ecological pattern) of a city. The traditional Indian social structure was characterized by religious, linguistic and caste distinctions.

The occupational specialization followed the caste lines, and privileges and disabilities were also channeled on the same principles.

Accordingly, the residents in a city were segregated on the basis of religion, language and caste. The dominant castes occupied localities closer to the centre of the city and the under-privileged ones resided at the periphery.

At present the neighborhood patterns of cities as well as the internal com­position of neighborhoods are undergoing a change. First of all, the ethnic and caste basis of occupational specialization and of distribution of privileges and disabilities has become weaker so that the ethnic groups are becoming socio- economically heterogeneous.

There is a corresponding change in the spatial struc­ture also. The residents of a neighborhood have tended to become ethnically heterogeneous.

The segregation now is based more on economic homogeneity of members than on ethnic unity. So also the dominant sections of the city's resi­dents are tending to move to spacious areas on the periphery leaving behind the under-privileged sections in the congested localities near the centre.

Despite the changing situation, the ethnic and caste segregation is still an important aspect of the spatial structures of even metropolitan cities such as Calcutta and Madras.

The process of rural to urban migration involved in urbanization leads to the presence of ethnic minorities in cities, which have come from far away regions. How are these groups which are culturally distinct from the main sections of the community, socially adjusted in the cities is an interesting question.

Indian cities do not easily assimilate their cultural minorities. On the other hand, in their social adjustments the immigrant groups recreate in their host communities the cultural conditions of their home communities.

Such a phenomenon does not mean that these groups are less adjusted than the population of the main sections; sometimes the situation may be just the other way round.

Family and kinship ties in urban communities compared with their rural counterparts are known to become much weaker all the world over.

The Indian traditional society which is still the predominant type in the rural areas is noted for the existence of the joint family system and strong kinship networks. Social organization in urban communities has changed but not to the extent of seriously undermining the role of family and kinship.

It is now well recognized that the quality of life is largely dependent upon the condition of human settlements. But the urban settlements in India in general are woefully deficient in this respect.

They are characterized by an acute shortage of housing, the prevalence of vast slum areas, inadequate health, education and recreational facilities and pool transportation and communication channels. The larger cities are also plagued by the problem of environmental pollution.

There has been a tendency of late to regard some of the urban problems such as poverty and slums as an extension of rural poverty. It is assumed that these problems are a consequence, of the continual migration of the rural poor into the urban areas in search of livelihood and their failure to find adequate means to support themselves in the cities.

The implication is that if you take care of rural poverty, the urban problems of poverty and slums will resolve them­selves on their own. These assumptions do not bear a critical analysis but only serve to divert attention from some of the serious problems of the urban settle­ments.

On the other hand, there are studies to show that many of the urban problems have their deep roots in the city itself and have to be tackled directly in their own locale.

In the Twenty-first century nearly all the metropolitan cities are be con­fronted with a serious threat of environmental pollution, acute housing crisis, and deterioration in the living conditions of slum and squatter settlements. Particu­larly there would be raising disputes between landlords and tenants in the metropolitan and large cities.

The unsystematic pattern of urban development has resulted in haphazard unauthorized residential colonies and industrial estab­lishments. Further due to the population explosion in the metropolitan cities, there has arisen a serious deterioration in the quality of life.

Our excessive pattern of urbanization is mainly confined to the metropolitan cities like Ahmadabad. Mumbai, Bangalore. Kolkata. Delhi, Chennai and Kanpur.

Consequently, there has been an acute shortage of public utility services and infrastructural facilities. Due to the financial constraints the urban services have been hard hit and are unsatisfactory in low performance levels.

Our metropolitan cities have witnessed an alarming magnitude of slum and squatter settlements. The bus tees of Kolkata, the zopadpatties of Mumbai, the cherries of Chennai, the jhuggi jhompries of Delhi are multiplying in a spectacu­lar proportion without the manageable limits of providing the civic amenities.

The low lying areas are dumped with garbage, stinking lanes and unsatisfactory sanitation and sewerage and the scene of slum and squatter settlements in the metropolitan and large cities. It is emphatically pointed out that by the year 2000 A.D. a projected estimate of a large number of cities would be categorized as slum and squatter settlements.

The alarming trend of migration and the exorbitant rental value do not permit the urban poor to afford a roof over the heads. The only alternative before the migrants has been the forcible occupation of the urban vacant land. Thus, the squatter settlements have emerged in a gigantic proportion throughout the met­ropolitan and large cities.

Surprisingly, the Master Plan has not provided adequate land for the service personnel. With the result the squatter settlements have emerged in the residen­tial complexes where the services of cobblers, washer men, sweepers, domestic servants, ayahas, etc., are required. This aspect has to be kept into perspective while formulating a national policy for urbanization.

The housing shortage has been multiplying and subsequently too the rental values have arisen in an alarming proportion. The problem of housing shortages in urban areas and more particularly in large cities is being periodically esti­mated.

The national building organization has rightly pointed out that if efforts are not made to contain the deficit, increase in population and the shortage in housing programme will lead to numerous physical and socio-economic prob­lems especially in the urban areas where growth of the slums and squatter settle­ments have already assumed considerable dimensions.

Nearly 30 per cent of the urban population is estimated to be living in squatter settlements and slums in many cities.

The housing crisis has aggravated with enormous cost of construction. In Mumbai, Kolkata. Delhi and Mumbai, due to the exorbitant rates, a large number of people stay in one room tenements.

The middle income groups face the maximum trouble due to the enormous land value. As such, the system is rampant in cities like Ahmadabad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Chennai etc.

The Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, ULCRA 1976, instead of easing housing problem has created restrictions on buying and selling activities by the competent authority.

The hypothesis in ULCRA that on the excess land the houses for urban poor will be built, has come out to be an incorrect propo­sition. Thus, housing activity has come to a standstill in our country.

Housing has become a costly proposition. The application of the research and development in the context of low cost housing has not been emphasized in an effective manner. The administrative cost of a building agency has been beyond the limit of common men and needs to be rationalized.

It is desirable to experiment in innovative techniques of cost reduction in building materials. Emphasis has to be placed on appropriate utilization of space suitable to the family requirements with different income groups and their capacity to pay.

In this connection, a survey has got to be conducted of people registered with the housing agencies. Further, land and housing development and planning have to be visualized in a regional perspective.

It is heartening to note that the Government of India is contemplating the formulation of a national housing policy. In fact, the housing developments need to be encouraged in a comprehensive manner with the application of innovation and adopting the research and development technology.

Greater stress needs to be emphasized for low cost housing schemes both in the rural and urban areas. As such, the use of local building materials needs to be encouraged. The role of private enterprise has to be duly encouraged for boosting the mass scale low cost housing programmes on competitive rates.

In an interesting paper 'Shelter for the Homeless' (Delhi Vikas Varta, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) house journal July-December 1986) Mr Om Kumar the then Vice-Chairman, DDA, had elaborated the following objectives of na­tional housing policy:

(i) To focus on short-term and long-term perspective for ameliorating the housing shortage

(ii) To create and strengthen the institutional infrastructure for housing and facilitate the flow of all types of resources to meet the housing sector goals,

(iii) To maximize people's participation in the effort to solve the housing problem,

(iv) To develop a sound financial policy through an effective housing finance system, which will include the setting up of a National Housing Bank, housing loan institutions and to expand the role of the public sector in housing,

(v) To provide of tenure to households in the urban and rural areas and to make available affordable land for housing,

(vi) To promote repairs, renovations and expansions of the existing housing stock.

The new approach will be to set up land development banks and facilitate land readjustment programme through incentives to small and large land owners to release land for optimum utilization. While formulating a national policy for urbanization the above aspects of housing policy needs to be duly considered.

The Town and Country Planning Organization in its National Urbanization Policy Resolution, 1975, have highlighted the following main recommendations in the document prepared by an expert group on National Urbanization Policy.

Evolving a spatial pattern of economic development and location of a hierarchy of human settlements consistent with the exploitation of the natural and human resources of the region and ensuring functional linkages inter. Securing the optimum distribution of population between rural and urban settlements within each region and also among the towns of various sizes.

Securing the distribution of economic activities in small and medium towns and in growth centres in order to achieve maximum economic growth for the future. Controlling and. where necessary, arresting the future growth of metropolitan cities by dispersal of eco­nomic activities, legislative measures and establishment of new counter magnets in the region.

Providing for maximum level of services for improving the quality of life in rural and urban areas and reducing gradually the difference between the rural and urban living.

To save our cities from decay, the following measures of action plan are required to be implemented. The industries in metropolitan cities have emerged in an haphazard manner. No more industrial and commercial establishments should be allowed in the already congested urban centers.

A cheap and efficient transport network with less time travel distance should be developed, so that people are induced to live outside the metropolitan and large cities.

The multiplicities of authorities in metropolitan and large cities have been responsible for delays in providing the public utility services and developmental activities. Therefore, a Unified Coordinated Urban Development Authority should be created.

Effective socio-economic activities and infrastructural facilities need to be provided in small and medium town settlements. This would check the influx of migrants towards the metropolitan and large cities. The preservation of urban landscape and ecological balance should be emphasized in the urban de­velopmental plan and policy perspective.

The fire safety measures should be strictly maintained in tall buildings of metropolitan cities. This should be a strict guideline for the national urbanization policy.

The Town and Country Planning Organization have emphasized the role of National Urbanization Policy in the following perspective: The pattern of India's urbanization exhibits striking variation between different states and regions. Popu­lation explosion in large cities and its decline in small towns are the disturbing features of India's urbanization.

A lopsided urban growth and unbalanced eco­nomic activities in various urban centers have resulted in little build up of infra­structure in rural areas. Steep rural-urban disparity has led to higher migration into large cities and towns.

India's urban population is expected to touch 278 million by 2001 A.D. and with the county"; stride in economic and industrial development, urbanization is bound to accelerate. Planned settlement of urban population and a provision of employment and minimum basic amenities for them.

There is need for a conscious and concrete national urbanization policy for ensuring a healthy pattern of our human settlements.

The National Urbanization Policy is an imperative need to ensure the rural- urban integrated development in terms of spatial and economic activities within a regional perspective. A national housing and urban land policy should be directed for providing house for the masses.

An urban land policy should be directed for protecting the green and agri­cultural land. Surprisingly, in the name of urban development and metropolitan city extension programmes, even the agricultural land and open green land has been swallowed.

Thus, an ecological imbalance in a city settlement has arisen. There is an imperative need for adopting a decentralization policy of spill over of population and economic activities in a balanced regional development per­spective.

As a measure of national urbanization policy, the rural growth centers small and medium towns need to be provided with adequate infrastructural and socio-economic facilities for boosting the optimal employment opportunities.

Housing for the urban poor assumes a special relevance in the context of a National Urbanization Policy. Simultaneously, the regional aspects of develop­ment will have to recognize as an important ingredient of a National Urbanization Policy.

Government's awareness of the problem and a broad perception of the situ­ation have been clearly reflected in the eighth five-year plan and the industrial policy pronounced recently.

The skewed urban pattern perpetrated by the continued polarization of popu­lation and activities in the metropolitan cities has largely emerged owing to the ineffectiveness of public policies to channelize the initial spin-offs of the metro­politan scale economy to alternative centers outside their influence areas.

In the past, attempts were made to plan the cities, to organize the growth and to channelize the development. However, these have not brought an orderly growth either to the towns or to the metropolis.

Programmes like Integrated Urban Development (IUDP) for medium and large scale cities, Urban Basic Services Programme (UBS) and the Integrated Development of Small land Me­dium Town programme (IDMST) introduced from the fifth five-year plan on­ward, have not made adequate impact in arresting the forces of polarization, and creating attractive conditions in the medium size cities to emerge as alternative centers of growth.

Thus, there is an imperative need to consider development in the context of divisional level towns for promoting an effective scale of spatial, socio-economic, infrastructure and employment facilities. The concept of divi­sional towns refers to the level of development of categories in between the metropolitan and small cum medium town settlements.

One of the significant characteristics of divisional town is that it has poten­tial for spatial and economic viabilities. Contrarily, the metropolitan cities are over-congested and have reached a saturation point. Further, the provisions of public utility services and infrastructural services have become a cumbersome task in the context of population explosion.

It is worthwhile to point out that the small and medium town settlements are located within the physical proximity of districts but lack the economic viability Keeping these facts in view, there is need to develop the divisional headquarter town as these have built up facilities and administrative set up facilities with a commissioner as its head.

The medium and small towns are within the district level administrative controls while in the divisional level towns it can be effec­tively managed as a Commissioner is better equipped with financial power for sanctioning and regulating the Master Plan.

The divisional town settlements need to be developed in terms of providing the socio-economic and infrastructural facilities. Subsequently, it would be able to promote high level of technological advancements for accelerating the tempo of employment and production prospects.

It has been felt that the metropolitan cities like Ahmadabad, Mumbai, Ban­galore, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Kanpur have reached a saturation point. As an alternative to metropolitan cities, stress has to be laid on developing the middle order development in divisional level town settlements as these town­ships already have adequate infrastructural facilities.

The divisional towns can absorb the migrant population. There is availabil­ity of land, water supply and other facilities. There is a scope for developing higher degree of industries as well as small scale technology for promoting the production, income and employment prospects.

There is the possibility for pro­moting the specialized hospital, research centers and higher level of educational facilities in the middle order divisional town settlements to distract the popula­tion aiming for metros only.

The divisional level towns have greater potential for development and in providing a better quality of life in an improved environment as compared to the over-polluted metros.

The Divisional Headquarter Towns (DHQT) can be developed by proper conservation, planning, mobilization, regeneration and management of abundant natural resources which are in its region. The type and level of economic devel­opment should relate to the type and level of development and growth potential of the DHQTs and cities.

Accordingly, the industrial location and licensing policy need to be oriented keeping in view the development of those industries which have the capacity for significant labour absorption. Integrated sectoral develop­ment is needed for agriculture, industry, transportation, markets and networks to develop the DHQTs.

In this context decentralization of economic and other activities may be instrumental for the effective and efficient use of an appropriate technology. Housing the poor in the DHQTs is a basic necessity and should be attended by appropriate authority in consonance with suitable land policy.

Tourism can play an important part in the development of these cities. A survey can be conducted to identify the new towns destination areas. Urban and regional information system, with mapping and documentation should be devel­oped at state level for review of development plans.

Transportation and communication will play an important role for the re­distribution of population together with decentralization of economic and other activities from large cities and metropolises to Divisional Headquarter towns.

A clear policy is required to provide physical linkages to Divisional headquarter Towns and Cities which in turn will develop and strengthen the functional link­ages of these settlements.

Most of the Divisional Headquarter Towns and Cities have the potential and propensity to depolarize metropolitan cities. Further through the effective plan­ning of divisional level towns, the balanced regional development and rural urban continuum at a state-wide perspective can be achieved.