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.

Dynamism and Fragility of the Non-metropolitan Development in India. The Kartarpur Example: A Small Cluster-city of Craft Woodworkers

de Bercegol, R., & Gowda, S.

Espaces et sociétés, 2017 (1), 147-170.


Urbanisation in India is usually perceived as the problem of huge metropolises. The focus of this paper is on small conurbations in which specific urban dynamics emerge and contribute also to the current urban transformations. One of them, Kartarpur, is a small cluster-city of craft woodworkers. It shows both the dynamism and the fragility of this non-metropolitan urbanisation. The remarkable expansion of a small furniture industry is linked with endogenous factors rooted in a specific territory, far away from metropolitan development schemes. The analysis shows how a territorial cluster of local craftsmen, putting together their traditional know-how, allowed the creation of a real added-value which is upset by current neo-liberal evolutions.

‘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.


Employment and Unemployment situation in cities and towns in India

NSS Report No. 564: Employment and Unemployment situation in cities and towns in India (68th Round, 2011-2012)

This report is based on the employment and unemployment survey conducted in the 68th round of NSS during July 2011 to June 2012. In this report, estimates of the employment and unemployment indicators are presented for each of the class 1 cities, for size class 2 towns and for size class 3 towns.

Changes in WPR among persons of age 15 years and above between 2004-05 and 2011-12 for different size class of towns: Over the period 2004-05 and 2011-12, WPR for males of age 15 years and above decreased by about 2 percentage points for size class 3 towns as well as class 1 cities whereas it decreased by about 3 percentage points for size class 2 towns, while WPR for females decreased by nearly 6 percentage points for size class 3 towns and by 4 percentage
points for size class 2 towns and it remained almost at the same level for class 1 cities.

Self-employed persons: Among male workers in class 1 cities, about 37.9 per cent were self-employed and this proportion was about 42.7 per cent in size class 2 towns and 44.9 per cent in size class 3 towns and the corresponding proportions for females were 35.7 per cent, 42.5 per cent and 50.5 per cent for class 1 cities, size class 2 towns and size class 3 towns, respectively.

Casual labourers: Proportion of casual labourers among males was 7.5 per cent, 15.9 per cent and 21.2 per cent, respectively, for class 1 cities, size class 2 towns and size class 3 towns whereas the corresponding proportion for females was 6.5 per cent, 14.5 per cent and 22.2 per cent.

Small towns beat metros in jobs, self-employment

Construction is booming and related jobs are more to be found in smaller towns. These are some of the facets of urban India revealed in a recent NSSO report on employment in cities.

Smaller towns are surging ahead as hubs of jobs and entrepreneurial activity, beating larger cities and even metropolises. While industrial activity declines in big cities, smaller cities and towns are picking up the slack, often displaying a preference for manufacturing at the cost of the services sector.

Subodh Varma, May 24, 2015

Times of India: text here 

Urbanization and Spatial Patterns of Internal Migration in India

S Chandrasekhar, & Ajay Sharma

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, May 2014
With an urbanization level of 31.16 percent in 2011, India is the least urbanized country among the top 10 economies of the world. In addition, unlike other countries, the transition of workforce out of
agriculture is incomplete. This coupled with jobless growth in recent years has contributed to an increase in certain migration streams. While rural-rural migration continues to be the largest in terms of magnitude, we also document an increase in two-way commuting across rural and urban areas. Further, there are a large number of short term migrants and an increase in return migration rate is also observed.

Urbanization and Spatial Patterns of Internal Migration in India. Available from: [accessed Aug 16, 2015].

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.

Developing model village clusters


Creating central towns with urban facilities for 100 or so villages in each tehsil will prevent wastage of national resources on ‘model villages’ and ‘smart cities’. The Narendra Modi government has launched an ambitious programme for both rural and urban development. In his budget speech, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, “The Prime Minister has a vision of developing ‘one hundred smart cities’ as satellite towns of larger cities by modernising the existing mid-sized cities. To provide the necessary focus to this critical activity, I have provided a sum of [Rs.] 7,060 crore in the current fiscal.” For rural areas, Mr. Modi in his Independence Day speech urged each Member of Parliament to make one village of his or her constituency a ‘model village’ by 2016. After 2016, two more villages should be selected and after 2019, at least five model villages must be established by each MP in his/her area.

Patriotism plus passion: stories of 20 entrepreneurs from small towns in India

Madanmohan Rao | April 27, 2014, YOURSTORY

Guess what? The world’s largest company in value-added spices, one of the world’s Top 10 publishing BPOs, India’s biggest exporter of hand-knotted carpets, largest machine tool manufacturer, largest honey exporter, and largest leather exporter all started up in small towns in India, not the big metros.

Over the decades, big ideas and successful entrepreneurs have made a mark in small-town India, as shown by the 20 profiles in the new book by Rashmi Bansal, Take Me Home.


Census Towns in Kerala: Challenges of Urban Transformation

Yacoub Zachariah Kuruvilla, TISS, School of Habitat Studies, Graduate Student

Access to the paper

Abstract: This paper reviews the growth of urbanisation in Kerala with a special focus on census towns in Kerala using census data from 1961-2011 and State urbanisation report of the department of town planning. Kerala registered a massive increase in urbanisation from 25 per cent in 2001 to 47 percent in 2011. Major contribution of this increase was due to increase in number of census towns which are not governed by urban local governments. Census has defined census towns as ‘places that satisfy three fold criteria of population of 5000, 75 per cent of male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits and density of  400 persons per They can be easily defined as transitional urban areas at various levels of transition which is also known as urbanisation by implosion, where massive density of population, economic change and access to good level of public services leads to urban growth. In Kerala the growth of census towns can be attributed to improvement of transport facilities, massive decline of the male workforce in agriculture and related activities along with shift to tertiary sector. The paper highlights several challenges of planning and governance of census towns in Kerala such as spatial planning, waste management, traffic and transport management and use of centrally sponsored schemes. The paper concludes with the suggestion that institutional transition from village panchayats to town panchayats along with a proper legal framework may be reauired to deal with the challenges of this urban transformation.

Subaltern Urbanisation in India