Category Archives: Suburbin Events

Provincial Urbanization: examining the role of small and medium towns and cities in the urbanization of India

Joint NationalWorkshop UIRF & SUBURBIN

School of Planning and Architecture

Delhi, 23rd and 24th April, 2013

Download the program schedule

The Urban India Research Facility (UIRF) housed in the School of Habitat Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Suburbin project (Subaltern Urbanization in India) coordinated by the French Institute of Pondicherry and the Centre de Sciences Humaines propose to organize a national level workshop focusing on the significance of India’s small and medium cities and towns to the rapidly changing and complex processes of urbanization in India. Building from the ongoing research of these two programmes on the multitude of forces influencing the transformation, growth, development of and governance in small and medium cities and towns in India this workshop will attempt to address much broader and complex questions about the relations between urban and rural areas, the nature and the extent of urbanization in contemporary India and the economic and social changes occurring in smaller urban settlements. With policy, investment and academic interest seemingly converging on existing mega cities and large metropolitan areas, the other urban centers such as small and medium sized cities and towns have remained largely neglected despite more than half of India’s urban population living in non–metro smaller urban centers or towns. These places are seen to form an important linkage between larger cities and the rural hinterland in terms of the flow of goods, produce, circuits of capital and migration of people. They are likely as well to be independent economic centres. Small and medium cities and towns in India are thus key sites for opening up an urban enquiry into the diversity of urban settlements and the role they play in the larger scheme of urbanization.

UIRF has been actively researching and preparing a knowledge base on contemporary urban issues in India since 2009. Given the context of widespread urban reforms being implemented in the country, the Facility has been studying changes in policies and institutional frameworks, responses by urban local bodies and state governments pertaining to a range of urban issues (for e.g. increasing demand for urbanisable land and land reforms, push towards privatization of urban infrastructure, urban local governance and changing power relations across different levels of local, state and central governments, changes in municipal administration and an emphasis on citizens participation in the planning and governance of urban areas). UIRF shaped its research and advocacy agenda around the nature, status of implementation and implications of urban reforms on the poorer urban populations within the context of small and medium cities and towns across four states – Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan where it has partnered with state level academic institutions as well as non-government organizations.. Significantly, the knowledge base on small and medium towns has been prepared through collaborations with local scholars, citizens groups and activists in a bid to create knowledge products that are usable locally and that can strengthen local and regional advocacy efforts around urban issues such as access to water, affordable housing, increasing participation in planning and development works in town as well as opening up spaces for transparent implementation of reforms and inclusive urban governance.  In the present research phase, the Facility is examining the socioeconomic and spatial transformations of small and medium cities with partners, Madras Institute of Development Studies and Prayas, Pune concentrating on four interlinked modules- water, governance, spatial planning and economic development, affordable housing and land.

The three year Subaltern Urbanization in India (SUBURBIN) research programme started in January 2011. It is a collaborative project with researchers of the Centre for Policy Research (New Delhi), the Centre de Sciences Humaines (New Delhi), the Centre for the Study of Regional Development (JNU, New Delhi), the French Institute of Pondicherry, the University of Burdwan, the Department of Regional Planning at the School of Planning and Architecture (New Delhi), and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (Mumbai). This research network involves senior researchers, post-PhD fellows, PhD candidates and several Master Students. The SUBURBIN project positions itself vis-à-vis vision of a World’s urbanisation reduced to metropolitanisation and competition between global cities, or “metrocentricity”. It aims at challenging the usual approach that tends to consider the urban world only through the prism of very large cities – even though half of the world’s city dwellers do not reside there. However, urban research tends to put emphasis on megalopolises, which are considered as the privileged site for the production and concentration of national wealth, innovation and talents, as well as the central location of social movements and environmental problems. This leads to public policies focusing on large metropolitan areas and promotion of economies of agglomeration. The SUBURBIN programme aims to offer additional perspectives on “urban transition” from a multiplicity of disciplines and by linking the macro and micro analysis levels. It questions the restricted representations and existing measures and explanatory models. It also strives to actively contribute to the debates about the plurality of development models, to provide analytical tools to policy makers and to inform public policy debates on smaller towns.

Through this workshop we hope to open up a space for debating and discussing the emerging significance of small and medium cities and towns in India. The workshop will take place on 23rd and -24thApril 2013 at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. The main aim of the workshop will be to

a) share the ongoing research by UIRF and SUBURBIN project in order to build a common understanding and identify existing knowledge gaps.

b) create a longer term engagement on the concomitant challenges and opportunities faced by smaller and medium towns and cities in India

c) contribute to current urban policy debates influencing urban development decisions

d) in the longer run, envisage the potential building a network of researchers who are working on a variety of urban settlements, including smaller cities and towns and exchange critical findings from ongoing research and advocacy efforts on the ground.

The workshop will be organized around   three broad dimensions which constitute a framework for discussion by conference organizers on what are the critical research issues we would like the conference to be organized around. Each of these dimensions is a point of entry to bring together collective research findings. Paper contributions are invited to specify which of these larger topics they will address.

  1. 1.    Scale and substance of urbanization in India:

Currently, the Census of India defines a place as urban if a) it has been accorded the official status of an urban area and thus has an elected urban local body (Statutory towns), or b) if it as an area having a population of more than 5000 population, where more than 75% of the male main workers are engaged in non-agricultural activities, and the density is greater than 400 persons per sq. km (Census Towns). Based on the size of population urban areas are either classified as cities (100,000 or more), medium towns (20,000 to 99,000) and small towns (from 5,000 to 19,999). Although the demographic classificatory system above provides us with a way of categorizing different urban settlements, the distinctiveness of these towns and the specific ways in which they can be distinguished from the larger cities is not sufficiently understood. Further, the 2011 Census data have shown a rapid increase of urbanization in smaller settlements with the designation of 2,532 new Census towns (based on 2001 active population results). This brings about the question as to the role of small towns in the urbanization process and the urban structure. Papers in this section are expected to contribute to better understand (i) the place of medium and small cities and towns in the urbanization process either at the national or at the regional scale, (ii) the explanatory factors behind the rise of new towns or the rapid growth of small and medium cities: What is the relation between the proliferation of small towns and economic processes, i.e., to what extent are these settlements dependent on or autonomous from the metropolitanisation process? Are they just the recipients of diffusion processes and of the (re)-location of low productivity activities or do they have an independent economic rationale? Three related questions assume importance – (i) the extent to which these small towns are engulfed in metropolitan regions or in economic corridors, (ii) the nature of their formation and subsequent development, and (iii) their contribution to the Indian economic growth story. Based on such scale of analysis, one core theoretical question is as to whether the centre-periphery paradigm is relevant or can be probed further?

  1. 2.    Economic, spatial and social changes:

An important question is how do we understand the distinctiveness of urban settlements, particularly those that fall in the range of small and medium towns, and non-metro cities? What are the different trajectories of urbanization for these settlements? How do these trajectories depart from the type of urbanization that we see for metros and megacities? And in reverse, how the focus on small cities can offer a refreshing perspectives on metro and megacities on mega-regions current models? What are the economic, spatial and social changes that take place in these settlements? How far development orientations in small and medium towns are path dependent?

Currently research on urban issues seems to follow a macro perspective which stresses the importance of political economic structures and particularly role played by global economic forces in influencing urban development within cities while at the same time underplaying the role of nation-states and other sub-structures of government in the way policy decisions are undertaken at the local or city level. This has partly been instrumental in the growing research interest around global cities, the competition amongst them and finding out to what extent these are integrated within the larger economic restructuring processes. However, such a macro level perspective is not able to explain local distinctiveness, or why some urban centers follow paths of development that do not comply with the above view. This perspective fails to highlight how, within urban areas, particularly smaller and medium towns and cities, local political actors and interests collude, come into conflict, negotiate the terms of urban development and shape the direction of urban growth. Medium and small town dynamic remain commonly view as passive effect of global growth driven by big cities in a context of economic polarization. This kind of micro perspective clearly examines the role of local political agency in the process of urban development and holds it in tension against the larger backdrop of political economic structures. In the UIRF research a strong emphasis has been to understand both top down processes and larger political economic frameworks of urbanization and focus on the particularities of actors, interests, spatiality and histories of development and planning at the micro or local city level.

Understanding forms of globalization from below also requires delving into the specific economic changes in small and medium urban settlements: what kind of capital do actors in the smaller towns mobilize and for which activities? How do such actors articulate and connect their practices and knowledge to flows at different scales, from local to global? For SUBURBIN, such flows of capital and innovation are not restrictively defined. They encompass non-commoditised practices, social formations and modes of governance. Related to these dynamics are the types of innovations which emerge from small towns or networks of settlements and the role of land capital in contemporary transformation in relation to real estate activities, e.g., the emergence of new clusters of economic activity such as educational institutions. Along with economic changes, the SUBURBIN project is concerned with spatial and social changes. Are small towns sites of social changes and social mobility, of labour relations, of mobility and new forms of urbanity? The dynamics at work are as well strongly influenced by the questions around changes in land use and land assembly. For UIRF, it is about exploring how and in which direction a city grows,  establishing the connections between emergence of informal housing, location of economic activity clusters, siting of industries and spatial as well as infrastructural planning.  Understanding processes and actor networks, particularly  the multiple roles and types of leadership played by state and non-state actors in practices of planning and implementation   of industrial activity, service delivery, housing policy and land use management  are  key factors to map the ongoing complex urban transformations.

  1. 3.    Governing medium and small towns:  institutional changes, public policies and reforms

The UIRF project has  been examining changes in major institutional and legislative structures, by investigating the reform agenda and the forces that have shaped it at the national and state levels, and the particular directions in which urban reforms seem to  be aimed – the state governments as adopting more regulatory and facilitation functions, the entry of private players in provision of basic services and infrastructure, the institutionalization of user charges and leaner administrative functions as well as the monetization of land as a resource for urban development. Yet at the same time, in order to understand how these reforms have actually been understood and implemented at the level of urban local bodies, and what kind of impacts they have had on different  socioeconomic population groups within these urban settlements, and the responses to the reforms –grounded field level case studies of towns have been conducted. Indeed this sort of a micro level perspective has actually served to highlight how in certain instances individual actors (such as charismatic commissioners), or particular local groups such as journalists’ association have played an important role in setting the reform agenda in the town and taking it forward, or how in other cases, active citizens groups have challenged and influenced decision making with regard to user charges for water privatization projects. The focus has been on processes that have shaped the development and growth of these smaller settlements – flows of public investment into urban local bodies, impacts of urban reforms, the complexity of spatial patterns, housing situations and local economic development, decision making structures and identifying local people or networks who have been crucial in influencing major development projects and processes, as well as trying to understand these places within the larger regional political economic contexts and transformations. Though the SUBURBIN project also shares some of these concerns related to the governance of small urban centres (in particular the questions of local finance, local-state relationships and role of elected representatives), it has also focused on the question of the politics of classification, acknowledging the strong reality of a denied and invisible urbanization. In such settlements, which are the forces at the local and state level that explain the classification of settlements as urban or rural? Does this enable us to better understand the cost and benefits associated with the fact of being declared urban and how does it affect or not the governance of physical and social infrastructure?

Structure and audience of conference:

Often, urban research and critical thinking is confined to academic institutions and audiences. In the same manner, narratives of implementation of policies are embedded within the context and often do not inform larger theoretical formulations. In particular, there seems to be a gaping need to highlight these grounded spatial practices, especially those that illuminate diversities, disjuncture, and alternative ways of dealing with urban issues. The need to address the gaps between theories and practices is an important dimension of the framework of the workshop.

This critical dimension therefore enables us to broach larger questions such as what are the conceptual and material challenges of researching smaller and medium cities and towns, what are the visible gaps in existing theories on urbanization and in the cognitive framework of policy makers? How is current research on small and medium towns and cities in India contributing towards building theories of urbanization or adding to the body of research on urbanization in India? What are the emerging debates within this body of research and what are the gaps that need to be examined? How will the research on small and medium towns and cities influence policy making, investment flows, current processes of reform, programs such as the UIDSSMT and governance of small and medium towns and cities? How can research on smaller medium towns and cities in India change current policies that adopt a one-size-fits-all stance? How can informed debates on the scale and substance of urban issues affecting non-metro urban settlements that are based on a constructive understanding of both wider political economic contexts and as well as grounded practices and realities, lead to a more nuanced understanding of the processes of urban transformations?

This two day workshop that will address the questions above, will highlight field based findings as well as policy studies, provide space for debates and discussions. In terms of a structure, it would be designed around 4 sessions that will have 3 to 4 paper presentations along with panel discussions. In addition there will be one open panel discussion with invited speakers to discuss some broader issues around urbanization as a process and the significance of non-metro settlements to the process.

We invite abstract submissions for paper presentations by scholars, independent researchers, academics and urban practitioners for a national level workshop on the significance of India’s small and medium cities and towns to the rapidly changing and complex processes of urbanization in India on the three themes of the workshop define above. We encourage presentations from urban practitioners and scholars who are currently engaged in research in/on small and medium cities and towns. Paper submissions are being sought for all three interlinked themes. This event will be presented in collaboration with the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.

Grant: Small and Medium Towns in Eastern India: The Dynamics of the Economy, Mobility and Governance

We are pleased to announce that our colleague Gopa Samanta (Burdwan University) has been awarded a grant by the Indian Council of Social Science Research in order to expand her research on small and medium towns in Eastern India.

Small and Medium towns, although conceived as the key sector for the development of balanced pattern of urbanization and more rural-urban interaction, have remained neglected in the academic discourse in India. However, in reality, the new age industrial and service sector growths are more and more taking place in small and medium cities. Due to this new expansion of economy in these small cities, they have become the centres of mobility. The social structures of these cities are changing at a faster rate due to in-migration of different community groups. Although the small cities are changing rapidly in economic and social aspects, the governance process and the financial grants of the ULBs are not changing fast to keep pace with the economic and demographic growth and the consequent rise in the demand for infrastructure and basic services.

In the above backdrop, the proposed research would try to understand the current status of small and medium towns in Eastern India with special reference to three states namely West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand. It will explore the politics of rural and urban classification at state level and the policy gaps for the development of small and medium cities. The research would try to identify the links between industrial and commercial growth and the overall development of small cities; the role of migration to the economic growth and social change in small cities; urban governance, municipal finance and basic services in small cities and finally would suggest measures that could be taken up by the policy makers to improve the condition of much neglected small and medium cities. Thus the research would generate new knowledge around a central idea of – How India’s small and medium cities are transforming in Globalizing India?

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.

Workshop on “Subaltern Urbanisation” by Partha Mukhopadhyay

As part of the Urban Workshop Series, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), Delhi conducted the following Workshop on “Subaltern Urbanisation ” given by Partha MukhopadhyayWorkshop, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.

Date: Tuesday, 25 September 2012; Centre for Policy Research

Abstract: India’s urbanisation is following at least two concomitant paths; first, a traditional metro-centric agglomeration process driven partly by the movement of people and second a process involving, inter alia, the transformation of places, which are dispersed across the country, a process that can be usefully compared with in-situ urbanization in China. Subaltern urbanisation refers to the growth of such settlements that are independent of the metropolis and autonomous in their interactions with other settlements, local and global. Analyzing conventional and new data sources “against the grain”, it is claimed that there are many such economically vital smaller settlements in India, contrary to perceptions that India’s urbanisation is slow, that its smaller settlements are stagnant and its cities are not productive. Instead of basing policy on illusions of control, it is necessary to try and understand how agents construct this world, if we are to comprehend the ongoing Indian transformation. This work is part of a larger eponymous project, entitled “SUBURBIN” and entails joint work with many other researchers

Partha Mukhopadhyay is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. His current research interests are in urban development, the development paths of India and China and infrastructure. He has previously been with the Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC), the Export-Import Bank of India, and with the World Bank, in Washington. Partha Mukhopadhyay has a Ph.D. in Economics from New York University and an M.A. and M.Phil from the Delhi School of Economics.


This is the thirty second in a series of Urban Workshops by the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH) and Centre for Policy Research (CPR). These workshops seek to provoke public discussion on issues relating to the development of the city and try to address all its facets including its administration, culture, economy, society, and politics. For information, please contact: Marie-Hélène Zerah at or Partha Mukhopadhyay at



Second annual Suburbin seminar

The seminar will be at the Center for Policy Research in Delhi, the 16th and

17th april 2012

Day 1


9:00-10:30 AM

Introduction – Objectives and orientations after one year (Marie – Hélène and Eric)

Presentation of a paper on “Placing Suburbin” (Eric, Partha and Marie – Hélène) and discussion


11-00:00 PM

Objective of macro analysis after the two meetings – August 2011 and January 2012

Presentation of the approach, main questions and methods:


  1. Chandra: NSS and Indiapolis agglomeration landscape at district level – circular migration and employment
  2. Mainak & Basu: productivity’s disparities and urbanization
  3. Julien: Census 2011 and the quasi-urbanization trend


02:00-4:00 PM


  1. Milap: Remote sensing analysis of small town in Bihar, NCR and Rajasthan
  2. Joan Pérez: On mobility and growth in small and medium cities
  3. Rémi de Bercerol: Public finance and small cities (PhD abstract and prospect)


04:15 – 06:00

  • Agenda and schedule of macrostudies
  • SUBURBIN review of literature
  • Practical questions and schedule for years 2 & 3.
  • documentation and macro meso data, spatial analysis


Day 2


9:00 – 9:30

Return on the discussion held since the beginning of the programme (introduction to the micro day/recall of the discussions held in August 2011)


Then, all the researchers involved in the micro studies will present their preliminary field work and discuss:

  • the relevance of the case study in the framework of SUBURBIN
  • the approach chosen and the methodology applied
  • the first results
  • the next steps


10:00 – 01:00 PM


  1. Venkat & Bhuvana: On Bhavani-Salem region’s industrial and investment dynamics
  2. Gopa: on Barjora, Sonamukhi, Memari, Singur
  3. Kamala & Julien: The stakeholders panorama in Palar Valley, Tamil Nadu


02:00 – 04:00 PM

  1. Sri: Student’s monographs
  2. Mythri: on Pasighat: Land, business, identity and the commons
  3. Solly: on Manipal – Udupi land’s political economy
  4. Diya: Kullu


04:15 – 06:00 PM

  • Thematic focus for SUBURBIN  fieldwork
  • Linkages and feedback macro and micro


The aim is to be able to exchange on the basis of written texts. These do not need to be finalized or even draft papers. However, we would expect everybody to circulate a written paper to ensure better discussions and feedbacks. PPT can be used for the oral presentation.

Mandi Moods in Adolescent Town

by Mekhala Krishnamurthy

Tuesday, 31 January, 2012

A Seminar in the frame of the CPR-CSH Urban Series

organized by: Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH) and Centre for Policy Research (CPR)

At Conference Hall, Centre for Policy Research, Dharma Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi


This paper explores the everyday lives and life histories of an agricultural market in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Mandis or primary agricultural markets are old and ubiquitous institutions across many parts of the Indian economic landscape. Wherever they have formed, they tend to be dense sites of economic and political activity, connecting town and countryside, and local agricultural markets with larger circuits of commerce and consumption. In India, mandis are the most important sites for state regulation of the critical “first transaction” between farmers and the buyers of their produce, vital points of interaction in complex and intricately intermediated markets for a range of agricultural commodities. Widely portrayed and perceived as entrenched, inefficient and unchanging, the last decade has seen growing calls for the dismantling of the mandi system as the key to the liberalisation and growth of Indian agriculture. The paper is part of a larger ethnographic project, based on eighteen months of fieldwork focusing on the experiences of the farmers, traders, labourers, state functionaries and agencies, regional agro-processors, private corporations and their agents and managers who participate in the market and its different activities across marketing seasons. It traces the transformation of the mandi over the three decades from 1980 to 2010, as a number of regulatory and technological interventions in agricultural production and marketing interact with local agrarian contexts and political dynamics, producing a range of effects in the mandi, its spatial and temporal dimensions, material composition, forms of intermediation, and social relations. It looks at the ways in which the money made in the mandi is being spent outside it, changing the bazaar, shaping settlements, unsettling social relations, and influencing mobility in the town and its surrounding villages.

Burdwan workshop 28th february to 3 march 2011

Our meeting started with a short statement on what SUBURBIN is about followed by a discussion on our vision of the program, aims and expectations.

Introduction: First meeting

Our starting point was the first analysis done after Indiapolis geodatabase, which showed that an important part of Indian’s population is living in agglomerates with at least 10,000 inhabitants in 2001 and not in metro-cities or their immediate peripheries. 40% of them are in cities, towns, and big villages with less than 100,000 inhabitants. Many of these smaller human settlements are participating of the urbanization process. This subaltern urbanisation has to be qualified clearly.

So, besides the intense growth of metro-cities, smaller units also expand and emerge. They already attract companies in services and industry and of increasingly in construction and real estate[1]. However, the dynamics of growth in this structure of human settlements remains to be explained. This certainly depends on multiple factors and specific articulation (or confluence) of local and regional factors?

What happens outside of the metro-cities’ world? How does ordinary city grow? Why are small towns and large villages expanding? And, what are these small and medium towns, and big villages? This set of questions seems to be the common focus of research of several colleagues within the program.

Here we agreed that we have to document more clearly the status of localities and the underlying process/politics of classification. For example, the census town of West Bengal and elsewhere in India (Karnataka?) are not becoming ULB; they stay under rural panchayat administration). Regional discrepancies in the urban / rural classification have to be better understood.

SUBURBIN aims to better qualify the role and contribution (notably economic one) of little and middle urban centres to the overall economic development (“growth”) of India (and raise questions for similar countries). Further, we hypothesize that their contribution is certainly more important than often thought’, it might even be contributing more than captured by existing data. Our position is thus in opposition to the dominant New Economic Geography (NEG) theory, which prioritizes solely the unlimited development of huge urban and economic centres. The NEG argument is premised on the benefits of economy of scale, attraction of talents, and innovative environment. While these are certainly important, these are not the only determinants of locational choices made by companies. There are increasing negative externalities of mega-agglomeration as well as incentives to locate in smaller towns or large rural agglomerations

Some questions can be raised about what small towns and big villages represent. It may be equally important to understand what they can potentially represent in term of social development and sustainability:

i) Agglomeration of poverty;

ii) Places of spill-over (diffusion) of large cities externalities;

iii) Dependent on transfers (financial, schemes) – “territorial economy”;

iv) Existing economic dynamics at work (endogenous or linked to larger economies – low tech innovations)?

We insisted on the necessity to better understand the extent and forms of the urban world in Indian context beyond megacities:

  1. To get a better understanding of the urban classification game;
  2. And to clarify the governance mechanisms within the localities (political economy);
  3. To document the redistribution process in the three tiers system;
  4. The fiscal question have to be worked out too;
  5. The play around regulations related to environmental and industrial risks to settle activities within or outside ULB has also to be observed and evaluated;
  6. Of course small and secondary towns’ dynamics have to be analysed  in term of linkages, mobility, circulation, and flows. The linkages question concerns, of course, agriculture, market towns, agribusiness, but also small towns and metropolitan area.

Doing so, we certainly contest the dominant story on the metrocity as a unique motor engine driven by economy of scale. We will aim at highlighting a more complex and balanced story. This narrative will not hide or ignore a large part of the settlement systems. Subaltern urbanization can’t be only considered as a unified passive object of redistribution or spill over. We have to document and conceive alternative models able to better explain the existing spatial dynamics. It’s certainly one of the main focuses of the project.

As the project led by Navdeep was on the local effects of globalization on secondary cities (access to services notably), our research is about the urbanization process of small towns and big villages. What is happening in contexts below metrocities and secondary cities when the metrocity centric growth machine is view as the key to development? What kind of contribution induces by smaller settlements?

Navdeep’s team was looking at cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, whereas our research focuses on smaller localities. But the number of inhabitants is not a major criterion for the selection of localities. We had a discussion on this specific point. The ceiling in the project of cities below 20,000 inhabitants appears as too low, so we agreed upon any settlement between 10,000 to one lakh.

We realized that we should agree on a common vocabulary. It’s particularly crucial when we consider the multiplicity of scientific disciplines represented (economy, econometric, geography, urban studies, anthropology, demography…) and also the diversity of nationality. This diversity implies a permanent translation game of  concepts/words/ideas. It’s inherent to the multiplicity of traditions/practices, reading and work methods. The literature review should lead us also to a clarification of the concept – one word/expression = one definition.

Building a bridge between quantitative and modeling approaches driven by data, and narrative approaches driven by field specific collection of information is a major challenge that we are facing. The dialog of the two is fundamental.

We divided then in two groups – one called macro study and the second one micro – the first engages in quantitative data analysis; the other involves qualitative approaches based on field work, locality monograph.


 1.  What is macro analysis about

1.1 Toward a conceptual framework

The macro group, as the micro one, was requested to come out with a conceptual frame and not on deliberate the objectives of data driven research for SUBURBIN. However, it appeared that the group felt the necessity to start by listing available data, and discuss their limits and potentials. It’s only on the second day, during a second session, that a conceptual note could be drowning after we had fixed again the objective with the micro group.

The issue: The conceptual framework for SUBURBIN is clearly based on a willingness to challenge the New Economic Geography. Are at stake the common narratives of NEG that are used as strong arguments for post 1990-2000 investments policies (that metrocities are drivers of growth and pushing for rapid growth by concentration of means of production to  boost development) – more than the modeling exercise in itself. The modeling will have to be more dynamic than the NEG and able to integrate a multiplicity of settlements small to big, making system.

Our hypothesis of a more distributed growth dynamic encompassing a larger geographical space and set of human settlements has to be checked based on secondary data. Ideas coming from case studies will help to unlock the black box that the modeling will necessarily produce.

There are two main questions that the overall macroeconomic group shall try to answer:

(i)         Can there be agglomeration economies that are associated with a spatial form that is not limited to agglomeration in larger cities?

(ii)        If yes, what are the channels of transmission of growth (redistribution, innovation, productivity and factors of production, clusters, mobility, linkages with other settlements, technical changes)?


Do we see concentration of inputs (pvt and govt) and production driven in priority toward big cities or the extended metropolis? What is the pertinence of metrocity agglomeration for private investments in the context of Indian economy? For most of the economic sectors (industry, IT and BPO) engaged in a global competition reducing cost matters first, much before joining a space favorable to innovation. Reducing costs means looking for access to the cheapest land, lower wage workers (non unionized), weak or absent environment regulation, low urban taxation, weak local government…

Are only big cities connected with the rest of the world matter (NEG hypothesis)? What are the spatial linkages of small cities?

Are outcomes in terms of (inequality?/ environmental costs?) worse off in the big cities compared to small cities? Can we weight the positive and negative externalities? Certainly we have to conceive an “evaluation” of localities which is not limited to the very restrictive economic notion of “growth”. We suggest (hypothesize) that Localities are also places of living and accommodation and thus this space cannot be reduced only to the exchanges, linkages and positive externalities are commoditized – notion of territorial economy. Certainly we have to look more at all the non-accounted form of exchanges and access to resources; but also at local forms of investments of remittances and subsidies.

According to the NEG model, the bulk of the population may be moving to big cities. By contrast, the majority of the Indian’s population is living in non-million plus cities (more than 60%) – population is not moving en masse to urban areas (cf. graph.) –

Regime of mobility has to be documented and understand more precisely: how rising pendulum and temporary circulations are becoming substitute to residence migration and stimulate transformation of local economy?

Analyses of urban dynamics need to look beyond population story -Size class of cities and share of population. Economic data are required and have to be analyzed more seriously. Governance, financial, investments and services distribution dataset has to be also mobilized.

It seems that relying on the existing geo-economic literature on Indian for economic analysis can lead to a limited picture. We have to produce our own analysis encompassing an extended urban system including the small towns.

A major question will concern the connectivity, flows, dependency and capture of diffusion benefits in different settings. A probable schema for inquiry is as follows:

  1. (Physical) Activity in the periphery of big cities – growth in peri-metropolitan areas \ extended metropolitan areas – the Strong NEG (corresponding to the economy of agglomeration model/story);
  2. Growth happens in cities connected with metropolis or distributed growth – Weak NEG;
  3. Future centers of growth, cluster of small innovative localities – space of endogenous growth – level of independence to the NEG, complementary, space of flexibility?
  4. Dead zones, places excluded of redistribution and local potential for economic growth, place of accumulation of exclusion/poverty, only demographic agglomeration without development. Situation of shrinking towns and localities may occur too.

A strong NEG in the context of this report is defined as where the activity is concentrated in the periphery of biggest cities and the growth in peri-metropolitan areas is driven by the metropolis capacity to concentrate activities and wealth. In other words, growth in small town / village landscapes may be seen here as an extension of metropolitan areas

We should be able to suggest a classification of small towns and big villages based on the following aspects: (i) location (near metro, near non Metro, Isolated), (ii) history (old cluster, specialty, market town, temple town…) and (iii) present activities, access to funds and services (investments) and functionality.

After the review of literature on Economic geography, we need to come with some strong hypothesis about what scenarios could be tested and formalized as an alternative to the NEG metro-city polarization story.

1.2 Data issue

We listed potential data, to gather, organize and combine in order to develop an innovative analysis.

Existing data:

  • NSSO/CSO data at district level: migration rates/pattern, occupation, poverty, (1983, 1993, 2004 rounds) – 77 spatial division, possibility of representation at district level (Andhra migration) – 15 agro regions of India; housing amenities
  • CMIE data with location of plants (XY on pin code)
  • Annual Survey of Industry
  • Economic Census data – NIC, number of employees (at least 10 employees), year of creation, zip code
  • NEPA College school opening – story –  proxy for strategy of investment in education and diffusion (private and public), zip code
  • UIDSMT fund 40% 2 states Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh
  • GDP data per district from Planning commission
  • Market towns (mandis) data – Maharashtra (financial transactions), mapping the level of activities – type of documents is available for market à see GRIMMS
  • Census data 2011 is coming
  • Data of amenities 1991, 2001, non agricultural land use extension
  • RBI: Banking and credit data at district level (urban, semi urban, villages) 100 biggest cities
  • UNIDO: development of industrial clusters and towns
  • Financial flow public fund (case studies area) – district level decision
  • Elections commission: election results (central & state)
  • Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) profile of candidates
  • the Town & Country Planning Authority produces a diachronic City profile for 2000 cities since the 6th Plan (1996) – Sri


GIS geodatabase for SUBURBIN

è Indiapolis: agglomeration with at least 5,000 inhabitants with their population from 1961 to 2001 – a basis geocoded to link other geocoded data sets (in process with Elfie link with 2001 services by localities rural and urban; CMIE/IFP data 2010 geolocalised; GDP by district…);

è MODIS / Bhusampada land use / remote censing

They should be organized along a GIS multi-layer perspectives: Milap and IFP team should organize this with the support of Sri and Partha.

  1. Agglomeration (population, housing…)
  2. GDP and investments (activities)
  3. Land use, urbanization of land
  4. Government and schemes
  5. Transport and connectivity


Questions: what kind of data we need to analyse the growth story and explain the growth between different classes of towns? What kind of correlation between the type of local governance and trajectory of localities?

Mainak and Basu affirmed their interest to analyse existing form of linkages within the extended system of towns and cities and to tackle precisely the relation between productivity and the level of agglomeration.

Survey of Industry (SI) and CMIE data will help to analyse activity localization? – Innovation level of technology, scale intensity – link with cluster, spill over, linkage effect, economy of scale, factor of location – 40 years (15 years district level), 1st State level – what drives the economics of small towns?

We can agree that during the first year, this team will have to draw its own landscape analysis of the Indian’s extended urban system (governance, services & activities) in order to better understand the role/function or contribution and diversity of small towns and big villages.

Some meetings/workshops are already planned between the participants (visit of Mainak and Chandra in IFP, Pondicherry), to work on certain questions and making sense of specific databases.

The organization and exchange of data have to be sorted out as the design of a website, possibly through (CPR, Partha) and support of the geo-server of CSRD/JNU and Milap.



 2.  What is the micro about


2.1.   The conceptual framework and methodology

For sure it’s about studying localities, small towns and big villages in different regions and of different types. While in the macro group, a certain divide was perceptible between colleagues looking for a more descriptive and empirical approach (more inductive too – what are data saying?) and those leaning towards model demonstration (mostly deductive), in the micro group, there was a divide between those interested to start with a standardized analytical grid to feed layers of information in order to ensure a certain comparability and those arguing for a narrative approach, thick descriptions and an understanding of the interlink between layers or spaces/stages of action where actor practices and strategies are the key issue (“town stories”).

The discussions were shaped around a number of main points:

i) It appears that nobody wants to work based on a kind of check list; however, there was a consensus that it is necessary to understand the settlements we study as well as to understand their dynamics;

ii) A common concern is to understand how the city works?

iii) To do so, a list of common elements to describe our cities is requested as a first step before each researcher chooses to focus on specific dimensions. A frame has been rapidly devised (see the table below in annex). This will be circulated and needs to be refined. It will serve as a base to a first outcome, of a monographic nature that will provide a baseline for all our “Town story” series.

What is central to our work is to simply describe small towns (there is existing work on this) but to clearly aim at understanding the urban dimension of changes (these can be multifarious). Everybody agree on the centrality of constellations of dominant castes, elites, entrepreneurs and civil servants, eventually local mafias, gathering in ad hoc coalitions of interest. Access to land is a pertinent place to figure out such setting.

Town stories will give a sense of the balance between space of conflicts and stability. Where are, locally, the big issues at stake? How are they connected, induced or dependent, to the regional and national actors – flows of power & material flows – investments and schemes? Mapping political economy from bellow, starting from the locality: is that possible?

In a classical perspective, locality profile can be organized along these 5 categories which have to be reworked and more precisely defined:

  1. Human: social structure (caste, class, gender), population, demography, age, migration, floating population, language, education, sex ratio
  2. Landscape: infrastructure, spatial distribution or land use, topography, public transport, motorization rate
  3. Economy: GDP, informal economy, distribution of employment, land prices, tourism, pilgrimage, temple economy, agriculture linkages, markets, industrialization…
  4. Governance + institution: civil society, public schemes. What is the political economy of town compares to city (municipality, corporation and town VS rural panchayat).
  5. Mobility issues: connectivity improvement and pendular migration increase.

Since this list is done, it appears that we analyse interactions and circulation of resources along the above mentioned  5 dimensions?. This has to be privileged. We discussed how to be able to do this. Various possibilities: mostly, observe conflits to understand the linkages between the various dimensions, or observe causalities. Another manner could be to look at burning issues as expressed by first field visits or forgotten questions. . Mostly these are possibilities to understand Structure, Dynamics and Processes. Doing so, we should arrive to a systematic approach of local dynamics linking the 5 aspects/dimensions.

Sri: Small town and what is urban: How a locality is connected? Sharing and dependency, form of cooptation and flows

Here come the question of the relation between the two groups, between macro and micro?

For sure, global analysis and qualification of the Indian’s extended urban system will help to make sense of the chosen localities. Ideally this could help in the “selection” process. Already Indiapolis analysis shown that the economy of being urban or not has several regional bias that are contrasting with the agglomeration dynamics. Notably, we observed a low official urban recognition for Kerala, West Bengal and Bihar but a huge process of physical agglomeration.

Data and map group can also help to state what is that town?

Should we have an overall methodology? Are we able to have one?


 Methodological Discussions

The methodological question related to choice of selected towns.

Participants agreed on the necessity to find the right balance between town stories and comparison. A realistic perspective has to be adopted taking into account available means and workforce, which will have a bearing on the choice of localities. In addition, each of us has his/her own history of research, other programs and regional/local knowledge will also impinge on the selection of case study localities.


Place of the district and region in the process of polarization – where are the small towns in a meso system?

In the case of non criteria approach, there is a risk that we choose only exception? We can also say that each locality is unique (cf. Ordinary city).

We had a discussion about potential criteria:

  1. Size & population history – growing not growing
  2. Governance – urban-rural divide (status)
  3. Economy – activities and land
  4. Distances and location or connectivity

And type of localities to have in the selection:

  1. Fast growing urban
  2. Slow growing urban
  3. Fast growing urban
  4. Slow growing rural


è Marie-Hélène is working on a synthesis of the elements to collect on the different localities.

Sri and Partha present a grid conceived with students in order to organize a first vision of studied locality (see annex 1). Is that necessary or to restricted. Development and use of such tool has been left open.

Julien Kast advocated for a more systematic approach:

“As far as I am concerned, the theoretic topic to be developed is the adapted kind of governance (including all socio-economical-political factors) to the towns’ sizes (not necessarily in terms of number of inhabitants). Departing from geographical observations that have to be screen through different examples, a general framework can be built up in such a way as to analyse some observations on particular towns and data that have been or will be gathered by our colleagues. For this, it seems necessary to base the different study on a common methodological basis, and, when possible, complete it by theoretical models and instruments”. The idea then is to be able to conceive a model of efficiency of local governance weighing risks and growth potentials. From this it could be possible to draw efficiency a different types of small locality arrangements (governance, coalition…) with regard to metro-city where negative agglomeration effects are more and more difficult to tackle. That supposes to harvest clear information about decision process, type of investments and schemes”.

2.2 On the pre-selection of localities and/or districts

Indiapolis geodatabase associated with demographic and existing service informations will support the choices and exploratory first survey in order to identify the selected case studies.

Colleagues named their interest for some locality:

Marie-Hélène about Farooq Nagar, a market town in the NCR, which is not serving Delhi but certainly more Gurgaon. But yet an exploratory fieldwork is necessary for NCR – to be coordinated with Milap; Mostly will start with the Geopolis database.

Dyia talked about Kulu-Manali pilgrimage and tourism inducing land conflicts and environment/landscape redefinition suggesting a possible comparison with coastal towns’ situation;

Frédéric talked about Mumbai and Nassik-Pune region with an interest for the middle-class emergence, relocation in relation with emergent value and strategy linked with environment values;

Sri mentioned preliminary work on Munnar and his interest to pursue; possibility of Kumli too;

Solly is interested in Coorg region;

Bhuvana, Venkat and Kamala with focus on Tamil Nadu;

Gopa will work on WB, and will first start with the Geopolis data base.

Here, an important is to be made about the absence of poorer States, which are central to our analysis. Suggested states could be Madhya Pradesh, Orissa or Bihar. We shall clearly encourage the two Ph. D students part of the project (and not part of the meeting) to cover on these states too. Sri will have students in Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

2.4 The articulation between micro and macro

We saw three types of articulation:

i)      Macro – Micro: in the help of town selection through the sharing for districts selected of the Geopolis results;

ii)     Macro – Micro: help in defining the town by providing existing data either at the city level or at the district level;

iii)   Macro-Micro (and vice versa): to refine our hypothesis regarding the relevance/adequacy of NEG.


3. literature reviews

As planned in the research project, two literatures reviews are planned and we shall make a collective effort to produce those. One will deal with the macro dimension and one with the micro dimension.

3.1 For the macro one

Mainak is interested to make sense of the NEG literature (with Basu & Vel), and understanding of its mathematic (Kast too?), especially in its mathematics modeling;

Kamala and Eric will provide a lecture of the current critics of the NEG literature (with help of others such as Frédéric, MHZ, Solly, Elfie);

Bhuvana is reading too NEG literature as Partha (?);

3.2 On the micro

Solly will provide a synthesis on Land and locality literature including legal pluralism; later, Solly show interest in bringing comments on the literature on “everyday state politics”, governance context (encroachment); he raised the importance of having a common ground on literature and economic rationale related to trading – economic ethnography; Land issues to enlighten the question of governance in non urban localities.

The Cluster economy literatures shouldn’t be neglected;

Eric can contribute on land and legal pluralism too;

Sri is interested to make sense on literature about peri-urban, governance and local finance;

Rémi can contribute to make sense of finance and decentralization literature;

Bhuvana and Anna can contribute to anthropology of every day state;

MHZ can provide reading of the general literature on small towns;

Dia’s interest is on the historical aspect of small towns (history of urbanism);

Venkat will make sense of the very large set of locality monographs in Tamil Nadu (Arni, Tirupur, Palar valley and the clusters economy…);

Sri and Partha have started to compile a bibliography on small towns in Indian’s University (SPA monograph);

Frédéric will bring the literature of case studies localities lead by agriculture;

Gopa can contribute, notably for West Bengal, to review the existing literature on localities;

Solly underlined that part of the literature pre 1990’ (post liberalization) is eclipsed. We have to take in account these forgotten texts in our reviews. This eclipse is coinciding with a decline of fieldwork in the profit of remote and quantitative analysis – remote biais.

4. Calendar for 2011

The literature review will be done in two steps:

– By July, commented list

– By autumn, first draft of the critical literature review should be ready. A review will follow with the objective of publishing working paper during the winter;

The field study group will start from now a first round of field visits and literature and data review in order to identify suitable case studies;

The field study group will gather data during August/December to define more precisely their methodology and selected the localities;

Exchange of data is starting from now organized by the data group;

Meeting of the micro group in Delhi the week from 22nd to 26th August.

Global analysis of the extended urban system is ongoing and will beneficiate of several sessions of work before summer (Mainak and Chandra visiting IFP);

Partha, Milap and Eric will work on the development of a proper website and websystem of exchange/access of data (databank);


 5. General orientations after Burdwan

May be after Burdwan, we are more between:

i)      quantitative and institutional approaches,

ii)     and qualitative approaches.

They are very much complementary as the first will show a dynamic system (the small town landscape and the small towns in the extended urban system) and the second will contribute to explain and restitute the complexity in actions of the production of such stylized figures; its political economy. The second will inform the black box that the first will necessarily produce in progressing in showing/describing/measuring correlation of facts and trends.

We are sure that our research is about the place, trend, autonomy and contribution of subaltern human settlements, or small agglomerates, in the current dynamic of agglomeration of growth. Is this agglomeration dynamic’s more diffused than the canonic story?

May be if we look at the trend in term of social and political construction (development or social development?) rather than only in terms of economic growth contribution, polarization and diffusion. Another landscape can appear.

[1] Class 3 and 4 tier cities are to be targetted by real estate developers as the returns in metros are flattening (FT?)