The archaeological findings from several parts of the Indian sub-continent tend to suggest that the urban growth in India is as old as the history of Indian civilisation.
With the coming of European colonial traders in India, the process of urbanisation entered into a new phase. Cities grew up in the coastal areas as ports-cum-trading centres. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries European trading posts were established initially for trading purposes.
As the British power grew in the 19th century, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras became the political centres too. Indeed, in this period with the introduction of knowledge, we find the emergence of new economic and political institutions, new modes of communication such as telegraph, railways, advanced system of roads and water ways. The process of urbanisation became smooth and widened the structure of economic opportunity and widened the social horizons of people.
In the nineteenth century, though the process of urbanisation grew in modest way, the countryside suffered from the gradual process of the destruction of the cottage and small industries in the rural areas. In this situation the new economic opportunity structure pulled a significant section of population to the urban areas.
Many of the artisans became unemployed. Hence, the displaced rural artisans and labourers were also pushed to urban areas for employment. The late nineteenth century, however, witnessed a large scale migration of the rural labour force especially from Bihar and eastern United Provinces towards the jute mills of Calcutta and other industrial destinations. To avail the new economic opportunity many people migrated either temporarily or permanently to the urban areas.
With the spread of education, the institutional arrangements of the urban centres also changed. The educated people joined the bureaucracy, and also took up jobs as teachers, journalists, lawyers and so on. They brought about a new world views. The urban centres gradually grew up as the centres of new social and political ideas, diverse economic activities and of heterogeneous populations. The new process of urbanisation presented various economic opportunities and scope for occupational and social mobility. It was only the upper caste and class people who were able to make use of these opportunities.
The new process of urbanisation which began with the advent of the British received a momentum at the beginning of twentieth century. The process of this urbanisation has some distinctive features.
The process of urbanisation has two dimensions, namely social and demographic. Demographically, the process of urbanisation denotes population growth of the cities and towns. Sociologically, it denotes the spread of urban way of life towards the countryside.
Though India is known as a ‘Country of Villages’, the size of India’s urban population is the second largest in the world. According to 1991 census, over 23 crore persons, accounting for 27% of the total population lived in towns and cities. Among several other features, rapid rate of growth is one of the impressive features of India’s urbanisation.
In India, urban growth is mainly due to natural growth of cities, and there we find real cause of unevenness. And not the natural exodus has contributed to population growth in cities as much as it has been thought.
In 1961, the ‘urban area’ was redefined taking into account the economic characteristics in addition to other administrative and demographic features. According to this definition an urban area is, any place which satisfies the following criteria of
(a) A minimum of 5,000 persons.
(b) At least 75% of the working population engaged in non-agricultural activities.
(c) A density of not less the 400 persons per square kilometer.