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.
Debarshi Guin, Dipendra Nath Das
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.
by Gopa Samanta – full text here
Review of Urban Affairs, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol – XLIX No. 22, May 31, 2014
Spontaneous urbanisation through the transfer of capital from the agricultural sector to the commercial sector has given rise to a large number of census towns in West Bengal. These settlements are cases of denied urbanisation, where the territory takes an urban shape but infrastructure and services remain poor under rural local governments that lack resources. Some of these towns retain their census town status for decades, and basic services are neglected until they achieve urban status. Based on empirical research carried out in Singur, a census town in West Bengal, this paper looks at the nature of urbanisation in these towns and tries to trace the role of politics in controlling access to urban status. It also explores the complexity of governance in census towns and surrounding urban areas.
A chapter by Gopa Samanta in Challenges of urbanization in 21st Century. Vol. III: Planning and Governance (Eds. Markandey and Lonavath), New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 2013, pp. 360-977.
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.
By Gopa Samanta (Department of Geography, The University of Burdwan)
In WEST BENGAL. GEO-SPATIAL ISSUES
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
This is a paper written by Gopa Samanta for Seminar (August 2012) on the mobility within small and medium towns and the role of cycle rickshaw:
“It is difficult to imagine Indian streets without rickshaws. Three major types of rickshaws – hand-pulled, cycle and auto – remain an indispensable form of mobility in Indian cities. Yet, planners and policy makers continue to see rickshaws as a nuisance on city streets, seeking to either control their number or ban them altogether. Commonly, in the process of city planning, two major arguments are often advanced”.
The full article here