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The 400 million mark in urban India

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Urban_India_400million_201405By the end of 2014 June, a group of cities will cross important population thresholds. This upward procession of population numbers – for districts, cities and states – is scarcely observed by administration or by citizens, but continues apace. There is – in India’s 4,041 statutory towns (large cities included) and 3,894 census towns – little by way of monitoring and regular assessment of their populations.

Such an attitude simply means that policies and measures drawn up by administrations, universities, civic groups and voluntary organisations are out-of-date the instant they are final – because they are based on the population recorded in 2011 by the Indian Census of 2011 (which fixes the population in March of that year).

Measures to control and lower growth rates of population has become a subject on which there appears to be an unmentioned taboo, just as the subject of migration has become taboo, for as long cities and urban areas continue to absorb citizens who are forced to consume more, the growth rate of GDP can be maintained.

The implications of India’s urban population rising unchecked are not forecast or discussed by central and state planning agencies, nor is this done regularly by the many think-tanks and academic research units. Industry does so only insofar as estimating the size of various markets, for example the processed food, consumer finance, vehicle purchasing numbers, or dwelling units.

In 2011 March, the Census of India recorded the country’s population as 1,210.2 million – the rural population at 833.1 million (up by 90.47 million from 2001) and the urban population at 377.1 million (up by 91 million from 2001). The population growth rate for India between 2001 and 2011 was 17.64%, but while the rural population grew over the decade by 12.18% the urban population grew by 31.8%.

At the overall urban growth rates, here are the new population marks to be seen in 2014 June for a set of cities that will be familiar to many:

* Rohtak in Haryana will have a population of 406,400 (it was 294,577 in the 2001 Census); Gaya in Bihar 500,800 (394,945); Patiala in Punjab 501,600 (323,884); Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh 502,800 (413,616); Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh 506,400 (335,293).
* Udaipur in Rajasthan 509,900 (389,438; Nanded in Maharashtra 601,800 (430,733); Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh 1,006,400 (641,583); Hubli-Dharwad in Karnataka 1,006,700 (786,195).
* Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh 1,019,900 (669,087); Durg-Bhilai in Chhattisgarh 1,115,600 (927,864); Asansol in West Bengal 1,310,600 (1,067,368); Jamshedpur in Jharkhand 1,430,600 (1,104,713).
* Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh 1,526,500 (1,203,961); Meerut in Uttar Pradesh 1,532,400 (1,161,716); Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh 1,607,900 (1,039,518); Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh 2,067,300 (1,458,416).

These increases show the immense scale of this residential transformation, as every year several million citizens move to cities and towns. For what we consider a bloc of urban population, there is a band – which is imprecise, rather than a particular forecast, which does not take into account variations in the growth rate after 2011 – that lets us estimate the annual addition to total urban population.

The upper bound is the 3.18% annual urban population growth rate of the 2001-2011 decade, while the lower bound is the 1.76% annual total population growth rate of the same decade. In 2014 June, the total urban population of India will be between 399 and 417 million. Here is the result:


An agency that has been specifically given the task of stabilising the country’s population is the Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh, an autonomous society of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The Kosh runs activities aimed that help states and districts find ways to stabilise their populations – this means, halt and where possible reverse the growth rates. But the Kosh is also limited in its aims (and possibly its abilities) by what the central government says is the need of sustainable economic growth, social development and environment protection – that ‘growth’ delusion again has intervened in so serious a matter as controlling population growth.

One of the aims of the Kosh is to “facilitate the development of a vigorous people’s movement in favour of the national effort for population stabilisation”. This cannot be done without a clear and firm statement that indefinite ‘growth’ must be abandoned as a central economic idea, for only then will population growth, environmental degradation and humane urban settlements take shape.

8 Responses

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  1. Just came across your blog today. As an urban practitioner specifically interested in poverty and migration, I find this post very insightful. I tend to agree that we’ve become too taken in with the idea of ‘growth’…


    June 21, 2014 at 15:24

    • Thank you for the appreciative comments and for re-posting this. The movement of populations into our towns and cities is the most disruptive aspect of the sort of macro-economic model India follows. From what I can see, urban planning and urban stud institutes pay a lot of attention to land use, city forms, infrastructure, transport and mobility, and so on, but not to how urban households survive through the year. Other than NGOs who work directly on this aspect, and central programmes such as NULM, RAY, I don’t know of persistent study and interpretation of this subject area.


      June 23, 2014 at 09:45

      • Absolutely. I’m deeply interested in migration, have spent a couple of years looking at this (particularly informal rental housing) and am looking to start a PhD along the same lines. There is also little study on the migrant experiences over long periods of time. Economists assume migration to be beneficial on the basis of surveys, but temporal studies are absent. Also, elements like income and expenditure are not balanced with intangibles like quality of life (shelter, access to services, dignity, belonging, discrimination), so its hard to really get a handle on what human mobility is doing to those who experience it. And to our cities and to the sending regions as well! Thanks for responding so soon. Found many other interesting posts as well on your blog. Congratulations on the good work.


        June 23, 2014 at 17:14

  2. Reblogged this on ramblinginthecity and commented:
    Came across this insightful piece. What do you think?


    June 21, 2014 at 15:25

  3. It seems to be a very important problem. The continue increasing in urban population needs a real studio of the difficulties that generates in the existents towns and to look for solutions that obtain an improvement in the quality of life of their citizens. And the administration cannot look to other side.


    June 21, 2014 at 17:00

    • Dear Rafael, I agree this population growth, change, movement needs to be at least the subject of monthly assessment by society, whether or not government participates. Industry and business of course do so indirectly because the concentration of consumers is good for them, and because they have been doing so for years – processed food retail, small value toiletries and cosmetics in particular – their influence on the factors that encourage greater urbanisation is disproportionate.


      June 23, 2014 at 09:49

      • It is very interesting your point of view. To think that a more sophisticated type of life increases the needs of the population and that the more benefits are obtained with a bigger concentration of consumers is highly right if we only considerate the impact of the transport in final prices. Nevertheless there are many factors that recommend a compact city instead of typologies of more opened cities. First of them may be that a compact city is more sustainable thinking in terms of efficiency, faster movements between home and work, supply networks, sanitation networks, power networks, urbanization in general is more efficient . Of course the dimensions of cities must have human proportion if we don’t want to have problems of overcrowding, road traffic problems, pollution, difficulty of access to parks and gardens, per capita ratio, etc. Yes to the cities, no to the megacities.


        June 24, 2014 at 01:10

  4. […] was, I had estimated last year, that the 400 million mark was crossed for urban India: “By the end of 2014 June, a group of cities will cross important population thresholds. This […]

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