Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Managing Urban India (III) (Why pace of urbanization is slow?)

Dr. Devendra K. Kothari
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

No doubt, India is urbanizing, but very slowly. Some forty-year ago, I raised and analyzed this question in my doctoral dissertation – Patterns of Rural-Urban migration: A case study of Four Villages in Rajasthan, India. 1 Even today, it is a puzzling question. A recent paper, titled Urbanization, Demographic Transition and the Growth of cities in India, 1770-2020 by Chinmay Tumbe, gave some useful insights on this issue. 2

What explains the tepid growth in urbanization in India? It can be explained better by analyzing the four components of urban growth, namely (i) natural increase (births-deaths), (ii) net rural- urban migration, (iii) reclassification of rural settlements into urban, and (iv) expansion of boundaries of existing towns/cities. An assessment of their relative contributions is very important to understanding the dynamics of urban growth.

From Table 6, it is clear that natural increase has been the most prevalent source of urban population increase except in 2011 when inclusion of new towns and expansion of urban boundaries combined with net rural- urban migration have caused the maximum increase. There could be some role of international migration especially from Bangladesh in urban growth. The emergence of a large number of new towns in 2011 supports the emerging scenario. The number of towns at the national level increased from 5,161 to 7,935 – a net addition of 2,774 towns in 2011 compared to the 2001 Census.

Table 6: Disaggregation of total growth in urban population into components 1961-71, 1971-81 1981-91, 1991-01 and 2001-11
Total Increase (Million)
Share of components (in per cent)
Natural Increase on base year population and on intercensal migrants
Net rural- urban migration
Population of new towns less declassified towns
Increase due to expansion in urban areas and merging of towns
Sources: * Kundu, A. (2007): Migration and Urbanisation in India in the context of the Goal of poverty Alleviation, The International Conference on “Policy Perspectives on Growth, Economic Structures and Poverty Reduction”, 7-9th June, 2007, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. **. Computed by the author based on the data obtained from Census of India, 2011.

During doctoral research, I found that seasonal migration or semi-permanent nature of migration from rural areas is responsible for slow progression towards urbanization. Tumbe lists a similar reason “counter-intuitive”, which is responsible for holding back India’s urbanization speed. It is the freedom to keep on migrating from villages to cities and then back to villages which is acting as a fetter on speed of urbanization in India. He finds that migration from India’s rural areas has always had a gender bias and male workers leave their families in rural areas to look for employment opportunities in urban areas. As time passes, older cohorts go back to the villages to live with their families only to be replaced by younger ones. The process is facilitated by the important role of kinship ties in getting such jobs. Given the fact that there is neither any restriction on rural-urban movement of labour, nor is there adequate infrastructure for women migrant workers in cities, the net effect is a slowing down of India’s urbanization pace.

There has been a decline in the rate of migration to urban areas since 1981. Table 6 shows that the contribution of net rural-urban migration has gone down from 39 per cent in 1971-81 to 20 per cent in 200-11. This is really surprising in spite of rural poverty. Further, a majority of the population in the working age group of 15-59 years is residing in rural areas is alarming.

Lower increase in contribution of migration to rise in urban population suggests that there has not been enough additional space and opportunity in the cities to absorb or attract more rural population on a permanent basis.

Due to the increasing cost of living in large cities, the rural migrants have adopted a different strategy; in spite of migrating to the cities on the permanent basis, they have started commuting. A population is usually broken down into two categories—the residents, who permanently stay in an area for a considerable amount of time and are part of the official population count, and the floating types, who are in the area but do not live there permanently and are not considered part of the official census count. The incidence of floating population in form of commuting (daily and/or weekly) is very much in mega and million cities.

Half the people using public transport in Vasai Virar travel more than 20 km-one way. In Mumbai, around 31 per cent of commuters take train, while in all other cities bushes come next. Chennai and Bengaluru have a high proportion of two wheeler users. Such findings can be gleaned from a data set obtained from the Census 2011 on the mode of transport that “other workers”- those not engaged in household industry or agricultural occupations—use to commute daily to work and the distance they travel. 3

A survey conducted by the author in Jaipur in 2011 revealed that more than 125,000 people come to Jaipur in morning from nearby places for work and go back to their respective villages and/or towns in the evening. Among those 125,000 workers who do commute for work, the distances tend to be quite small. A half of commuters travel less than 10 kms on one way to work and another one forth travel between ten to twenty kms. And remaining of them has a commute over 20 kms. Over one-tenth of workers in Jaipur commute to work on foot, followed by cycle, moped or motorcycles and bus and train. Fewer than five per cent take cars or vans. 4

Planning in most cities does not take into account the realities of Indian commuting and that is one of main reasons, why our cities face transport, water and power and other problems.

It does not mean that role of permanent migration to urban areas is going to decrease further. Migration and in particular, net rural-urban migration, is expected to pick up speed in coming years with the onset of economic reforms and acceleration in economic growth as well as urban reforms.

People move into cities to seek economic opportunities. A major contributing factor is known as "rural flight". In rural areas, often on small family farms, it is difficult to improve one's standard of living beyond basic sustenance. Cities, in contrast, have strongly emerged as the prime engines of the Indian economy and generators of national wealth, the future is inescapably urban. In addition, an increase in agricultural productivity will push rural people to urban areas with better qualification.

A similar phenomenon was noted during my doctoral research. It was observed that there is a positive relationship between level of rural development and amount of rural-urban migration. In other words, rural development pushes people from rural areas to urban centres.5

With declining urban fertility (Table 7), and simultaneously increase in number of urban centres, it is predictable that the contribution of migration will increase in coming decades, especially when 70 per cent of working population age group in rural locations are looking out for opportunities.

Latest data suggests that urban fertility has fallen sharply in recent years and is already at the ‘replacement level’ needed to keep the population stable. Urban fertility is now at levels seen in developed countries and in some places among the lowest in the world.

In the 1970s, natural growth rates in urban and rural India were identical. Since then, they have dramatically diverged with rural natural growth rates currently standing substantially higher than urban natural growth rates. This is mainly due to higher birth rates in rural areas as death rates have converged between rural and urban settings.

Table 7: Trends in fertility 1971-2013
Total Fertility Rate (number of children per woman)
Source: Registrar General of India

As a result, the rural-urban migration is expected to pick up speed in coming years with the onset of economic reforms and acceleration in economic growth. In some countries, notably China and Indonesia, migration and reclassification has accounted for 70 to 80 percent of urban growth in the recent decades. The same could be seen in India in coming years.

The next post discusses: Urban problems and smart city concept.

1 Kothari, Devendra K. 1980. Patterns of Rural-Urban Migration: A case study of Four Villages in Rajasthan, India, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis in Demography, The Australian National University Canberra, Australia. In this field-based study, rural-urban migrants were traced from the four villages to selected destinations like Mumbai, Ahmadabad, and Udaipur among others.
2 Tumbe, Chinmay. 2016. Urbanization, Demographic Transition and the Growth of Cities in India, 1870-2020, working paper, C35205-INC-1, International Growth Centre.
3 Refer at: http://www.thehindu.com/data/india-walks-to-work-census/article7874521.ece
4 Kothari Devendra. 2011. Increasing level of commuting in Jaipur city and its consequences, FPA Working Paper no. 13, Forum for Population Action, Jaipur.

5 Kothari, Devendra K. 1980. Patterns of Rural-Urban Migration: A case study of Four Villages in Rajasthan, India, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis in Demography, The Australian National University Canberra, Australia


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