Redefining cities

GS 2 – GOVERNANCE Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation


     Urban planning is a technical and political process that is focused on the development and design of land use and the built environment including:

  • air
  • water
  • the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas
    • transportation
    • communications
    • distribution networks.

  • After COVID19, we have been forced to redefine issues so that we can make the most of what lies ahead.
  • In policymaking and the consequent activities of legislative and executive responses and budgetary allocations,the fundamental step that decides the course of action.
  • Statutory town,includes all places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee.
    • defined by state governments and place India’s urbanisation rate at 26.7%.
  • Urban- Census adopts three criteria to define:
    • A minimum population of 5000.
    • At least 75% of the male working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits
    • A density of population of at least 400 persons/sq km.

India’s urbanisation rate at 31%

Total number of towns— 7933.

Together constituting a 377-mn population.

  • This definition skews the policy maker’s attention and budgetary allocation.
    • not in tandem with the ground realities.
  • Urban planning lost ground substantially during the 1980s and the 1990s.
  • To a large extent, this was due to the spread of neoliberal ideology of market-led development paradigm.
  • In India and in other developing countries, it was also due to
    • The inability of the urban planners to emerge out of their preoccupation with archaic land use control regulations.
    • adopt more strategic and participatory approaches.

Need to change the definition of Urban Areas:

  • There is evidence mostly from satellite imagery that India is way more urban than the 2011 Census estimate.
  • This is quite plausible because there is a large sum of money allocated for rural development.
  • It is in the interest of state governments to under-represent urbanisation.
  • Census’s stringent definition was first carved out in 1961 by census commissioner Asok Mitra.
    • do not reflect the realities of the 21st century.
  • Many countries (China, Iran, the UK), have changed the definition of ‘urban’ from one census to another.
  • India,is also not alone in facing the challenge of defining what constitutes urban.
    • Worldwide, there are a fairly large set of thresholds being used to define an urban area.
  • India is one of the only four countries to use a combination of administrative, economic and density for urban definition.

New definition:

  • Taking a more liberal and realistic approach in the upcoming census to define urban areas.
  • Many think-tanks have highlighted this issue.
    • if we just use the population density criteria like 37 other countries,
    • with the 400 people/sq km threshold,
      • we will add around 500 mn people to the urban share of the population.
      • pegs the urbanisation rate at over 70%.
      • have a rare opportunity in Census 2021 to redefine what constitutes as urban.
    • becomes more important in the wake of Covid-19
      • considerable share of the migrant population has moved back to either smaller cities or their villages.
      • If they do not move back to cities soon enough, this will reflect in the 2021 census.
      • the urban areas will get even lower funding, limiting their ability to invest in developing urban areas.


  • The budgetary allocation will reflect the reality and scales will balance between rural and urban areas.
  • The urban areas will not be governed through rural governance structures of Panchayati Raj Institutions.
  • Can avoid the trap existing cities face, devoid of basic urban infrastructure.
  • Some Services can be provided in areas otherwise would continue to operate as rural areas.Such as:
    • The sewerage networks
    • fire services
    • building regulations
    • high-density housing
    • transit-oriented development
    • piped drinking water supply.
  • Post-COVID-there is an urgent need to expand our investments in the urban areas
    • housing
    • transport
    • medical facilities
  • Newly defined urban areas could act as a new source of revenue for funding local infrastructure development through municipal finance sources such as property tax and development rights.
    • would ease pressure on state finances.
  • Will open them to new infrastructure such as 
    • railway lines
    • DISCOM services
    • highway connectivity
    • creation of higher education institutes 
      • which will together increase the connectivity and resource capability at the local level.
  • Boost the local economy.
  • Ease pressure on bigger cities.
  • Help in cluster level development.


       We showed such agility while undertaking reforms in the agriculture sector. There is no reason why we cannot do it for urbanisation.

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