Category Archives: Team Members Publications

Urban territories, rural governance

By Gopa Samanta in infochange (full text here)

West Bengal has the highest number of census towns among all the Indian states — with 528 villages reclassified as such in the last decade — but only 127 urban local bodies. The slow process of municipalisation means that most census towns, especially those with fast-growing industry, mining and commercial enterprises, are urban areas governed by gram panchayats. Such urban territories can become unregulated free-for-alls, with low taxes but haphazard development and poor infrastructure and services.

The ‘other’ urban India

By Partha Mukhopadhyay in infochange (full article here)

The most vibrant, people-driven process of urbanisation is occurring outside the large metropolises which dominate popular imagination. It is not directed by the state, as in Chandigarh and Bhubaneswar, nor developed by the private sector, as in Mundhra or Mithapur. It is the result of decisions about livelihood and residence made by thousands of individuals that coalesce to transform a ‘village’ into a census town.

Rethinking the rural

An article of The Indian Express (23 May 2013)

India is urbanising away from the big cities. This trend calls for policy changes, Say “rural India”, and the image that flashes in our minds is that of a buffalo tied outside a mud hut. After all, for most if not all of us, rural equals agriculture. Imagine the surprise, therefore, when told that while all agriculture by definition is rural, the converse is no longer true. Now only one-fourth of rural output comes from agriculture. Fifty-five per cent of India’s manufacturing output comes from rural India. Seventy-five per cent of all manufacturing plants that started in the last decade started in rural India.

K.C. Pradhan from the Centre for Policy Research estimates that in the last decade almost 30 per cent of the increase in urban population came from the reclassification of villages into new census towns. Add that to the natural population growth in cities/towns (that is, urban-dwellers having kids), and it would seem that the conventional view of urbanisation, that of a poor migrant worker sitting in a train moving to a city, is fast becoming outdated.

The Logics and Realms of Small Town Territories. The Story of Tiruchengode

A paper by Bhuvaneswari Raman

in a new issue of Sarai Reader

Sarai Reader 09: Projections

Urban studies view city territories in general and small town ones in particular as projections of either the master plan or the market; territories that do not fit these logics are read through the lens of informality and illegality. Such readings eventually pose urban territories as problems to be fixed through better plans and strict implementation. Small towns are further assumed to be inward-looking enclaves of locally bound economy and politics, their growth shaped by metro city market logic…

Measuring Urbanization around a Regional Capital: The Case of Bhopal District

The present working paper by Anima Gupta is the first in the SUBURBIN Series.

It tackles a central question of the program: ‘What is an Urban Area?’

The working paper is based on a Master Thesis in Regional Planning from the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi conducted under the supervision of N. Sridharan and P. Mukhopadhyay in 2011. It provides a very informed and stimulating report based on an explicit methodology, in-depth fieldwork and an excellent usage of mapping techniques. The location of fieldwork is in the district of Bhopal, which includes the capital of Madhya Pradesh. In a very clear manner, Anima Gupta presents the international variations in the definition of “urban”, and the issues raised by the Indian definition. Then, her paper explores a palette of potential indicators to measure, divide and categorize urban and rural localities which open up an important debate on the notion of urbanity. A detailed analysis of eight selected localities in Bhopal’s district follows, based upon this multi-criteria approach in order to assess the level of urbanity of these settlements.
This analysis of a set of localities questions the institutional limits of the metropolitan area, its mode of governance, and the dependence of localized growth. It shows that in the submetropolitan environment, localities are very diverse: one locality can remain a village while another changes into a town. Furthermore, the existing official criteria for urbanisation are insufficient and incomplete in describing the character of settlements. The research shows that transformation depends on multiple factors, ranging from accessibility and location to situated historical capital and the size of the settlement is not necessarily a determinant of this transformation.

A Land full of Disturbances

Economy, Land, and Politics of the Possessed in Coastal South India’s
South Canara

A presentation by Solomon Benjamin, January 24th 2013

at the Vernacular Urbanism and the Provincial City in South Asia

Fourth Urban South Asia Seminar, Stanford University

The four major metropolitan cities in India, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai, have a paradigmatic place in the literature on urban life in the entire region. Large cities like Bangalore and Ahmedabad are scantily studied as urban spaces, and so are Lahore, Karachi and Kathmandu. Other major urban spaces, such as Dhaka or Colombo, or Lucknow and Kanpur are hardly studied in their contemporary form. However, the biggest absence in the scholarly understanding of urban South Asia is the massive landscape of hundreds of provincial cities, many of them exceeding 500.000 people. Most of these cities have emerged in the past few decades from being minor towns, local railway hubs and minor industrial centers.

The seminar will be devoted to explore two larger questions: (1) what spatial, political and cultural imaginings and designs define the public life of provincial cities? Does the metropolitan areas in the region provide hegemonic models or do we see attempts to define aesthetics, symbolsandurbaninstitutionsthatreflectspecificregional histories? (2) As urban centers grow and diversify in terms of communities of caste, language and religion what are the relations between ‘community’ as an ethical and practical structure, and the commercialization of public life, increasingly mediated by access to capital, land and coveted private sector jobs? Is the older proverbial contradiction between capital and community giving way to a new (and yet old) ‘caste capitalism’ where caste and community are the most important forces shaping and enabling mobility and accumulation of wealth in urban spaces across South Asia?

Abstract: In this paper, I suggest that we should move away from an approach where small towns are posed as a ‘periphery’ and understood from the perspective of the metro (the center). This also relates to assumptions of a mythical line of progress now read as globally connected economic development, from the rural to the urban.

Coastal Karnataka’s South Canara challenges this unilateral seductive metro-logic of Bangalore whose visions from Delhi seek to globalize via mega projects, throw in some planning to deal with the ‘unplanned’ growth, and reduce a rich political history to ‘cultural conservation and tourism’: Fish Curry, Rice, and Development.

Institutional changes emanating from Bangalore seek to impose a statecraft that now includes the entry of large financial capital. These techno-financial and managerial visions are confronted and unsettled by a political complexity that differs from the disciplining sought out by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment. Here, territory formation is haunted by possession – occupancies by various forest deities whose cautionary warnings occupy the minds of large developers promoting multi-storied apartment and commercial complexes and haunt this regions mega projects: an expressway, a thermal power plant, and another of large wind turbines. These deeply embedded rationalities drive an intensive and feverish transformation of values that rejects a narrow read of the plan, where economies globalized since the 7th Century reject the inevitability of the IT dominated policy growth machine, and where a politics of nuances, subtle glances, nudges facilitate and appropriate at lease in part imposed statecraft.

Subaltern Urbanization in India

by Eric Denis, Partha Mukhopadhyay, and Marie-Hélène Zérah:

The concept of subaltern urbanisation refers to the growth of settlement agglomerations, whether denoted urban by the Census of India or not, that are independent of the metropolis and autonomous in their interactions with other settlements, local and global. Analysing conventional and new data sources “against the grain”, this paper claims support for the existence of such economically vital small settlements, contrary to perceptions that India’s urbanisation is slow, that its smaller settlements are stagnant and its cities are not productive. It offers a classification scheme for settlements using the axes of spatial proximity to metropolises and degree of dministrative recognition, and looks at the potential factors for their transformation along economic, social and political dimensions. Instead of basing policy on illusions of control, understanding how agents make this world helps comprehend ongoing Indian transformations.

Economic & Political Weekly, 2012 July 28, vol XLVII, n°52

In Between Rural and Urban: Challenges for Governance of Non-recognized Urban Territories in West Bengal

By Gopa Samanta (Department of Geography, The University of Burdwan)


A 2012 publication of the Department of Geography – Burdwan University

The paper focuses on the spatial pattern of urbanization in West Bengal which is changing in this century to a large extent and is being more diversified in character to become independent of metropolitan dominance. The overall pattern of urbanization in twentieth century was very much concentrated in and around Kolkata and Durgapur-Asansol urban-industrial agglomerations of the state. This pattern has started to be altered from the beginning of this century with new urban growth coming up in areas away from metropolitan dominance, which can be defined as ‘subaltern’ in nature.

The census 2011 has come out with some data sets on urban West Bengal, the fourth most populous state in India, which together put a big challenge before the State Government in the context of managing ‘non-recognized’ urban territories. The term ‘non-recognized’ is being used to mean the territories which have been declared as ‘urban’ by the Census of India but have not been declared as ‘statutory urban’ (Urban Local Bodies, shortly called ULBs) by the State. The list of such census towns are increasing in number at a very fast rate in West Bengal. Full paper here


Building the cities of tomorrow, findings from small indian towns

De Bercegol, R & Gowda, S.

A paper presented at:

The Sixth Urban Research and Knowledge Symposium 2012 Cities of Tomorrow: Framing Future, 

A Symposium organized by The World Bank in partnership with the City of Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain, 8-10 October 2012

Summary: This paper summarizes the major findings of a recent PhD thesis which analysed the new political and technical arrangements in small town governance in the aftermath of decentralisation reforms in India. Various research projects have dealt with these subjects in rural areas and large metropolises but little attention has been paid to the same issues in smaller urban settlements. By analyzing government reorganization, this report aims to present the institutional building of small municipalities in India. Based on empirical research in Uttar Pradesh, it will examine the incentives faced by local officials to ensure effective management of their towns. It will study the reorganization of powers and responsibilities between municipal institutions and traditional public actors in order to assess the impact of this transformation on access to municipal services within and between towns.

Download the full paper

India’s census towns face a governance deficit

Governed by panchayats, it is impossible for them to get infrastructure, services a municipality would have provided

C. Chandramouli, who led Census 2011 as the Registrar General of India, compares the urbanizing census towns to early versions of the unplanned sprawl in Gurgaon, near Delhi, and other rapidly growing satellite cities. “You have these huge fancy buildings, but no sewerage or garbage systems, and you have not changed the characteristics of that local (administrative) body,” he said.
Most experts agree that the panchayat is not the ideal governing body for areas beyond a certain size, with a diverse labour market and a healthy consumer economy.
“The panchayat itself possesses no institution for getting any real development work done,” said Pronab Sen, principal adviser to the Planning Commission. “That resides with the state government. Villages have some funds from the state, which they can use for cleaning, desilting, fixing tube wells, but when we are talking about places that have all the characteristics of an urban area, like census towns, then you get into trouble. All of that stuff is simply not within the competence of panchayat.”

Cordelia Jenkins, Makarand Gadgil and Shamsheer Yousaf for live mint, 7th October 2012

Full article here

An ignored boom in India

It’s time to refashion policies keeping in mind India is urbanizing at a faster pace than estimates

Recently, Mint published a series on urbanization and small towns in India. It is also important to look at the analytic aspects of the process of urbanization and policies for it.
In the middle of the last decade we established what we called “large villages” which met the census criteria of towns that were not classified as urban areas by the government. This led to a pessimistic perception of urbanization by experts like Rakesh Mohan and Amitabh Kundu. We argued then that a part of this pessimistic perception might arise from settlements which are “urban” by census definitions but which are still not classified as “urban”. While the absolute differences on this account may be small, due to the nature of computational methods to arrive at population projections, in the end “small” absolute differences can lead to “large” end differences and may affect projections. These can lead to the wrong policy choices on urbanization.
Applying the census criteria of considering rural areas as non-statutory towns, to village-wise data of 2001 census, it was estimated that out of 18,539 populated villages of Gujarat, 122 villages were classified as non-statutory towns, which the Mint articles call census towns.

Yoginder K. Alagh for live mint, 7th October 2012

Full article here

Moving people and morphing places

New census towns have accounted for 30% of the reclassification from rural to urban in the last 10 years

Why do census towns matter? Their share of urban population has doubled in the last 10 years, but they still comprise only one-seventh of urban India. But they matter because their growth challenges many preconceptions and myths that equate urbanization to migration, municipalities to urban areas, villages to agriculture, and cities to manufacturing.

Census towns are not about moving people, they are about morphing places. In the last 10 years, the reclassification of population from rural to urban as a result of identification of new census towns is responsible for nearly 30% of the growth in the urban population, while migration appears to account for less, around 22%, with the rest being the normal natural increase in pre-existing cities.

By Partha Mukhopadhaya (CPR) for live mint, 7th October 2007

Full article here