Category Archives: Articles & Books

Small and Medium Towns in West Bengal: Issues in Urban Governance and Planning

Mahalaya Chatterjee
Professor & Director, Centre for Urban Economic Studies Department of Economics, Calcutta University
IASSI-Quarterly, 2017, Volume : 35, Issue : 3-4: 353-370
West Bengal, among the major states, was fourth in rank at the time of Independence, slid down to 7 in 2001. It has been above the all-India average through-out in level of urbanisation but the rate slowed down. There are reasons behind the loss of the pace of urbanisation in the state. Firstly, the partition of the country robbed away the urban hierarchy of the state, along with the economic forces behind urbanisation. The rate of urbanisation was slow and most of the new towns emerged around Kolkata or in the Durgapur-Asansol region. Primacy of the city of Kolkata was the most notable feature of urbanisation of the state. Most of the other Class I towns were also in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area. Inter-district disparities in level and pace of urbanisation showed the same trend over the decades. The districts in northern and western parts were least urbanised. The winds of change came in the eighties when the Left front Government went for land reform along with recording the names of the share-croppers. This led to a spurt in agricultural production especially paddy. On the urban front, conscious policy decisions for the development of non-metro towns and regular elections in the local self-government institutions (both urban and rural) also yielded some positive results towards balanced urbanisation. The primacy of Kolkata started to decline and the growth of urban population was more spatially spread. However, the results of 2011 census came almost as a surprise. At the national level, the rate of growth of urban population surpassed that of the rural and West Bengal, the growth rate jumped to 14%. Secondly, of the 2500+ new census towns of the country, West Bengal tops the list with about 582 new towns. Now, researches are going on to find out the reasons behind this change. This paper will look into the small and medium towns of West Bengal and discuss the issues of urban governance and planning for these towns.

‘Census Towns’ in India and what it means to be ‘urban’: Competing epistemologies and potential new approaches

Sircar, Srilata


The classification of 2 532 new settlements in the Census of India 2011 as ‘urban’, and specifically as ‘Census Towns’, has brought small and emerging urban centres back into the purview of urban studies and urban development in India. Taking this to be a point of entry, this article seeks to explore how the urban has been framed and approached from different and competing epistemological standpoints in the Indian context. First, it attempts to outline the different epistemologies of the urban in India, which may be seen as competing traditions because of the unequal stakes they have claimed so far in public and policy discourse. Then, it presents two brief case studies of Census Towns from the state of West Bengal to put forth new questions in this regard. The case studies illustrate significant gaps and discrepancies between the lived experience of the urban and its representation in dominant epistemological frameworks such as the official census. I argue that the historical development of various settlement systems, which constitutes the core narrative of urbanization in India, cannot be understood in all its complexity through mere census extracts or aerial images, but requires engagement with rich, embedded epistemologies that have taken shape within these settlements.

Circular Migration and Localized Urbanization in Rural India

Soundarya Iyer

Environment and Urbanization Asia – 8(1) 105–119, 2017

Internal migration is a major driving force for urbanization all over the world and is of concern in Asia due to its rising magnitude. Most studies on internal migration focus on the migrant in the process of migration and a large majority of studies are interested in understanding the conditions of the migrant at the destination for policy concerns. This article makes a case for studying the source of migration and the role that circular migration plays in processes of urbanization at the source of migration. This is particularly important in the context of the growing urbanization away from cities in India. Using the case of a dry land village in northeastern Karnataka, this article attempts to understand the role that circular migration for construction work to cities has in the process of localized urbanization in the village.


N. Sridharan

School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi

Draft paper to download

SHAMA PRASAD MUKHERJEE NATIONAL RURBAN MISSION is not a old wine in a new bottle, if one looks at it deeply. For the first time in India, a spatial planning strategy has been introduced in Rural Development Model with land use and convergence of various programmes and activities. If implemented with earnest interest, this Mission will be a game changer for the country. Lesser time for planning and lesser emphasis on people’s participation may challenge mission’s success than achieving desired integration and convergence. Capacity needs to be built at various levels so as to make this landmark programme a successful one.

Urbanisation, rural transformations and food systems: the role of small towns

Cecilia Tacoli and Jytte Agergaard

Book/Report, 29 pages, IIED, 2017

Small towns are an essential but often-neglected element of rural landscapes and food systems. They perform a number of essential functions, from market nodes to providers of services and goods and non-farm employment to their own population as well as that of the wider surrounding region. In demographic terms, they represent about half of the world’s urban population, and are projected to absorb much of its growth in the next decades. But the multiple and complex interconnections between rural and urban spaces, people and enterprises – and how these affect poverty and food insecurity – remain overlooked. Drawing on lessons from a set of case studies from Tanzania and other examples, this paper aims to contribute to this debate by uniting a food systems approach with an explicit focus on small towns and large villages that play a key role in food systems.


Rurban Centres: The New Dimension of Urbanism

By Neha Pranav Kolh & Krishna Kumar Dhote

Procedia Technology, Volume 24, 2016, Pages 1699–1705

Abstract: In recent years urbanization has become synonym to development. Developing countries like India has experienced huge shift in the economy from agrarian base to service oriented employment. Indian cities unlike the western are not planned; they evolve in layers as a testimony to different period. The settlement may be organic, with heterogeneity yet very well reflects the interwoven social fabric. As a result of urbanization the urban sprawl is approaching the rural hinterlands. The line of distinction is fading away between urban and rural. A new type of settlement is emerging which once termed as conurbation by the Scottish planner Patrick Geddes. The area with diffusion of urban and rural activities is termed as RURBAN. These rurban centres are new emerging towns that are governed by rural local bodies, the activities possess in these areas are urban in nature. The paper attempts to develop a understanding of issues and challenges, possibilities and potential and development guidelines for this upcoming new centres of urban growth.


Middle India and Urban-Rural Development: Four Decades of Change

edited by Barbara Harriss-White, 2015

Springer, Exploring Urban Change in South India series

The only long-term urban study in India, and possibly worldwide

Middle India and Rural-Urban Development explores the socio-economic conditions of an ‘India’ that falls between the cracks of macro-economic analysis, sectoral research and micro-level ethnography. Its focus, the ‘middle India’ of small towns, is relatively unknown in scholarly terms for good reason: it requires sustained and difficult field research. But it is where most Indians either live or constantly visit in order to buy and sell, arrange marriages and plot politics. Anyone who wants to understand India therefore needs to understand non-metropolitan, provincial, small-town India and its economic life. This book meets this need. From 1973 to the present, Barbara Harriss-White has watched India’s development through the lens of an ordinary  town in northern Tamil Nadu, Arni. This book provides a pluralist, multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary perspective on Arni and its rural hinterland. It grounds general economic processes  in the social specificities of a given place and region. In the process, continuity is juxtaposed with abrupt change. A strong feature of the book is its analysis of how government policies that fail to take into account the realities of small town life in India have unintended and often perverse consequences.

In this unique book, Harriss-White brings together ten essays written by herself and her research team on Arni and its surrounding rural areas. They track the changing nature of local business and the workforce; their urban-rural relations, their regulation through civil society organizations and social practices, their relations to the state and to India’s accelerating and dynamic growth. That most people live outside the metropolises holds for many other developing countries and makes this book, and the ideas and methods that frame it, highly relevant to a global development audience.

New Census Towns in West Bengal: ‘Census Activism’ or Sectoral Diversification?

Debarshi Guin, Dipendra Nath Das

Economic & Political Weekly, April 4, 2015 vol l no 14

West Bengal’s agrarian distress-driven increase of rural non-farm activities in the 1990s caused the unprecedented emergence of new census towns in the 2011 Census. However, because of the huge increase of agricultural labourers (in 2011), many new census towns might be reclassified as villages for the next census in 2021.

Large Villages, Small Towns

V M Rao

Economic and Political Weekly, Vol – XLIX No. 16, April 19, 2014

Two distinctly different processes of change are likely to operate in rural areas as a consequence of urbanisation (Surinder S Jodhka, “Changing Face of Rural India”, EPW, 5 April 2014). As the urban boundaries shift out with larger villages becoming eventually small towns, the people in these villages would acquire urban lifestyles and aspirations though they continue to remain rural in the records. As the review notes, some 20,000 large villages account for more than a half of rural population.

At the frontiers of Urban Space Proceeding

Aux frontières de l’urbain / At the frontiers of Urban space

Avignon (France), 22-23 January 2014

Conference proceeding / Actes de la conférence

Download here:

At the International conference “At the Frontiers of  Urban Space. Small towns of the world: emergence, growth, economic and social role, territorial integration, governance”  were exposed various issues concerning the bottom of the urban hierarchy:

  • Comparative approach: India, Europe, Africa, Latin America…
  • Small towns, networks and mobility
  • Small town and land issues
  • Urban systems and hierarchies
  • Emerging towns: genesis and history
  • Role of politics, role of spontaneous urbanisation
  • Small town economy
  • Small towns and sustainable development

Handbook of Urban Inequalities (in India)

By Darshini Mahadevia and Sandip Sarkar, in Oxford University Press,2012.

Nearly all urban data used for the purpose of economic analysis, urban policymaking, and investment decision-making are aggregated data. Urban systems, however, are heterogeneous and complex, which requires more nuanced responses. This handbook reprocesses NSS household-level schedules to develop disaggregated data sets for different size classes of urban centres. Comparing changes in the pre-reform and post-reform periods, the book analyses the inequalities between metros and non-metros with regard to consumption, poverty, employment, education levels, and services.
With detailed and meticulous data analysis covering the last 25 years, the book covers:
The importance of small and medium towns (SMTs) in urban development and urban poverty trends across major states in India.
Head Count Ratio (HCR) and per capita monthly consumption expenditures for different size class of urban centres in 16 major states in India.
Employment patterns and unemployment levels across different size classes and disaggregated by sex.
Level of basic facilities in different size classes of urban centres pertaining to water supply, sanitation, and garbage collection; and
Patterns of urban inequalities and their policy implications.

1. Urbanization, Urban Poverty, and Small and Medium Towns
2. Consumption Patterns and Urban Poverty
3. Distribution of Employment Patterns and Growth
4. Educational Opportunities and Economic Well-being
5. Access to Water and Sanitation
6. Emerging Patterns and Policy Implications

Small town water services: Trends, challenges and models

by Marieke Adank (2013) for International Water and Sanitation Centre, Thematic Overview Paper 27:  full paper here

Relatively new and emerging categories of human settlements, such as small towns, may require a different set of service arrangements to facilitate the provision of water. In this paper, Marieke Adank presents the main features and understanding of what constitutes “small towns” to determine the most appropriate water service arrangement for this new phenomenon. Findings of the paper point out to challenges in developing a clear typology for small towns and assigning one single model for delivering small town water services. Amidst this layer of ambiguity however, Adank draws examples from different arrangements serving “small towns” in countries, and provides compelling evidence that: a) different models and arrangements have been tested and have worked; b) there is a growing role for private sector involvement; and c) there is a need to revisit institutional and regulatory frameworks, as well as funding models, to finance capital maintenance. This paper concludes with a list of resources for further reading, and provides contact details of some organisations whose work focus on “small towns”.

The Golden Quadrilateral Highway Project and Urban/Rural Manufacturing in India

by Ejaz Ghani, Arti Grover Goswami and William R. Kerr

The World Bank, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network, Economic Policy and Debt Department, September 2013

Policy Research Working Paper 6620

This study investigates the impact of the Golden Quadrilateral highway project on the urban and  rural growth of Indian manufacturing. The Golden Quadrilateral project upgraded the quality and width of 5,846 km of roads in India. The study uses a difference-in-difference estimation strategy to compare non-nodal districts based on their distance from the highway system. For the organized portion of the manufacturing sector, the Golden Quadrilateral project led to improvements in both urban and rural areas of non-nodal districts located 0–10 km from the Golden Quadrilateral. These higher entry rates and increases in plant productivity are not present in districts 10–50 km away. The entry effects are stronger in rural areas of districts, but the differences between urban and rural areas are modest relative to the overall effect. The productivity consequences are similar in both locations. The most important difference appears to be the greater activation of urban areas near the nodal cities and rural areas in remote locations along the Golden Quadrilateral network. For the unorganized sector, no material effects are found from the Golden Quadrilateral upgrades in either setting. These findings suggest that in the time frames that we can consider—the first five to seven years during and after upgrades—the economic effects of major highway projects contribute modestly to the migration of the organized sector out of Indian cities, but are unrelated to the increased urbanization of the unorganized sector.



Is india’s manufacturing sector moving away from cities?

By Ejaz Ghani, Arti Grover Goswami, and William R. Kerr  NBER Working Paper No. 17992

This paper investigates the urbanization of the Indian manufacturing sector by combining enterprise data from formal and informal sectors. We find that plants in the formal sector are moving away from urban and into rural locations, while the informal sector is moving from rural to urban locations. While the secular trend for India’s manufacturing urbanization has slowed down, the localized importance of education and infrastructure have not. Our results suggest that districts with better education and infrastructure have experienced a faster pace of urbanization, although higher urban-rural cost ratios cause movement out of urban areas. This process is associated with improvements in the spatial allocation of plants across urban and rural locations. Spatial location of plants has implications for policy on investments in education, infrastructure, and the livability of cities. The high share of urbanization occurring in the informal sector suggests that urbanization policies that contain inclusionary approaches may be more successful in promoting local development and managing its strains than those focused only on the formal sector.

The Urbanisation of Rural China

China Perspectives 2013/3, Special Feature

For the first time in history, more Chinese people now live in towns and cities than in rural villages. Reaching 51% in 2011, urbanisation in China is accelerating. Convinced that this holds the key to the country’s ongoing social and economic development, China’s leaders recently announced an urbanisation target of 70% (approximately 900 million people) by 2025. However, leaders including Premier Li Keqiang have emphasised that future urbanisation would be characterised not by an expansion of megacities (dushihua 都市花), but by growth in rural towns and small cities (chengzhenhua 城镇化). The Party is essentially seeking to take the cities to the rural populace rather than bring the rural populace to the cities. Following the policy announcement at the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, a group of national ministries has been tasked with developing guidelines for promoting the urbanisation of rural China.