Urbanization and Migration

Previous Year Questions

  • Discuss the various social problems which originated out of the speedy process of urbanization in India. (2013)
  • Discuss the changes in the trends of labour migration within and outside India in the last four decades. (2015)
  • With a brief background of quality of urban life in India, introduce the objectives and strategy of the ‘Smart City Programme.”(2016)
  • “The growth of cities as I.T. hubs has opened up new avenues of employment, but has also created new problems”. Substantiate this statement with examples. (2017)
  • “The ideal solution of depleting groundwater resources in India is water harvesting system.” How can it be made effective in urban areas? (2018) 

What is Urbanization?

Urbanization is a process of switch from spread-out pattern of human settlements to one of concentration in urban centres. There are three stages in the process of urbanization.

  1. Stage one is the initial stage characterized by rural traditional society with predominance in agriculture and dispersed pattern of settlements.
  2. Stage two refers to acceleration stage where basic restructuring of the economy and investments in social overhead capitals including transportation, communication take place.
  3. Third stage is known as terminal stage where urban population exceeds 70% or more. At this stage level of urbanization remains more or less same or constant.

It is hardly possible for the growth in rural sector to match the productivity increase in urban sector. In such situation urbanization might be looked upon a solution rather than a problem. However, a majority of policy makers resists urbanization rather than welcome it. Although there are huge urban problems like proliferation of slums, congestion and overcrowding, air pollution, urban crime and violence and host of other problems in many parts of the developing countries, the question is whether to stop urbanization or to harness it?

Causes of urbanization in India:

The main causes of urbanization in India are:-

1. Expansion in government services, as a result of Second World War.

2. Migration of people from Pakistan after partition of India.

3. The Industrial Revolution.

4. Eleventh five-year plan which aimed at urbanization for the economic development of India.

5. Employment opportunities are very important reasons for people moving towards cities.

6. Infrastructure facilities in the urban areas.

7. Growth of private sector after 1990.

Features of Indian Urbanisation:

  • Lopsided urbanization induces growth of class-I cities.
  • Urbanization occurs without industrialization and strong economic base.
  • Urbanization is mainly a product of demographic explosion and poverty induced rural-urban migration.
  • Rapid urbanization leads to massive growth of slum followed by misery, poverty, unemployment, exploitation, inequalities, degradation in the quality of urban life.
  • Urbanization occurs not due to urban pull but due to rural push factors.
  • Poor quality of rural-urban migration leads to poor quality of Urbanization
  • Distress migration initiates urban decay.
  • Urban centres in India are characterized by extreme heterogeneity in terms of their socio-economic characteristics.
  • Most of these cities using capital intensive technologies cannot generate employment for these distressed rural poor. So, there is transfer from rural poverty to urban poverty.
  • Urbanization is generating social and economic inequalities which warrant social conflicts, crimes and anti-social activities.
  • Class I cities have reached saturation level of employment generating capacity. Since these cities are suffering from urban poverty, unemployment, housing-shortage, crisis in urban infrastructure, these large cities cannot absorb these distressed rural migrants i.e poor landless illiterate and unskilled agricultural labourers.
  • An additional characteristic of urbanisation in India is the degree of urban sprawl that is observed.

Peculiarities of Indian Urbanisation:

Slow urban growth in population despite better economic growth:

Analysis of India’s urbanization pattern and of economic growth over the past two decades gives somewhat surprising results. On the one hand, these decades have been characterized by relatively rapid economic growth, much higher than previous decades; on the other hand, these very decades have exhibited a rather surprising slowdown in urban growth in terms of population. In other countries, both historically and at present, urban growth typically accelerates at this stage of development. India is also atypical among developing countries.

The deceleration in urban growth may be seen as a very welcome development by many. However, it as a rather disturbing signal suggesting that the urbanization process in India is, perhaps, handicapped by some inadequacy in economic policy. The economy seems to have generated too few jobs in the urban economy; and inadequate urban infrastructure investment could also have exacerbated the situation. The lack of jobs compounded by a perceived worsening quality of life may have discouraged would be rural migrants searching for better livelihood in urban areas.

Marginal Improvement in urban quality of life corelating with economic development:

In India, urbanization is still viewed by many as a disease, and a trend that needs to be reversed. Urban areas instead of being seen as an opportunity are seen as entities that are a burden, unruly and chaotic. A closer look at urbanization and basic urban infrastructure provision in the Indian context however reveals a different picture. It is indeed a fact that the urban quality of life has improved for large sections of the population, in the last couple of decades but, perhaps, not enough. Most of the indicators of basic amenities show positive correlation with those of economic development across the states. The percentage of households with flush toilets, for example, exhibits a very strong relationship with per capita income. For other amenities, like drinking water, toilets and electricity, the correlation is positive but not always statistically significant. This implies that the economically developed states are doing fairly well in providing their people access to basic amenities.

Migration not the dominant component of urban population growth:

Although rural to urban migration has been the dominant component of urbanization in the western countries, India has experienced rapid urban population growth as a result of higher contribution of urban natural increase. As pointed out earlier, the gendered nature of rural-urban migration (male-dominated) for work and eventual return migration considerably slows down the pace of urban growth and urbanization.

Service Sector Urbanization:

Between 1901 and 2016, the share of the manufacturing sector in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in India rose from less than 5% to around 15% while the share of the service sector rose substantially from 25% to nearly 70%. Virtually all Indian districts have over 50% of the main urban workforce engaged in the services sector with the average crossing over 80% . Formal sector manufacturing plants appear to be moving to rural locations.

Regional patterns in Urbanisation:

The regional dynamics within India lead to the apparent North-South paradox of rapid urban growth and slow urbanization in the North versus slower urban growth and rapid urbanization in the South. That is, northern cities are growing faster than southern cities on account of higher fertility rates but urbanizing slower than the south because northern villages are also growing much faster than southern villages. The dynamics of urbanization therefore requires a careful examination of urban and rural conditions as rural prosperity is demographically linked with greater urbanization. Boosting agricultural productivity and rural literacy levels in the northern hinterlands would arguably lead to greater urbanization, not less, by narrowing the rural-urban fertility differential.

The developed states attracted population in urban areas due to industrialisation and infrastructural investment but this was largely in and around large cities and upcoming industrial centres. Interestingly, the backward states too – particularly their backward districts and small and medium towns – experienced more rapid urban growth. This can be partly attributed to government investment in the district and taluka headquarters, programmes of urban industrial dispersal, and transfer of funds from the states to urban local bodies through a needs-based or what is popularly known as ‘gap-filling’ approach.

Changing labour relations:

Given the nature of industries experiencing rapid growth after the launch of liberalisation programmes, it is not surprising that employment in the organised manufacturing and service sectors has shown negligible growth. There has been a steady decline in the proportion of regular/salaried male workers, as reported by the NSSO survey.

Formalisation’ of informal activities:

It may be argued that the informal sector in recent years has experienced some formalisation, leading to regular employment of more people. This is easily understandable. Entrepreneurs seeking to take advantage of the emerging global market have come to recognise that they would fail in competition unless they standardise their products, meeting the specifications of the customers, respect delivery schedules and organise production and marketing activities on a somewhat formal basis. In order to take advantage of this global market, they have resorted to a model of ‘informal formalisation’ in the unorganised sector. Many of the rapidly growing sectors of the urban economy – in small-scale manufacturing, trade, commerce and entertainment activities – have tended to employ workers on a regular basis. Employment of domestic help and other supporting services too has followed a similar pattern, as the men and women working in global sectors need a regular support system at home in order to meet the time requirements of these sectors.

The Problems and issues of urbanization in India:

 Since in our country, urbanization is unplanned due to both uncontrolled migration and natural increase of urban population. Due to unplanned urbanization, India is dotted with issues like unemployment, pollution, improper sanitation facilities, increasing slums, decrease in standard of living in urban areas, also causing environmental damage. Following problems need to be highlighted.

1. Urban lounge:

Urban sprawl or real expansion of the cities, both in population and geographical area, of rapidly growing cities is the root cause of urban problems. In most cities the economic base is incapable of dealing with the problems created by their excessive size. Massive immigration from rural areas as well as from small towns into big cities has taken place almost consistently; thereby adding to the size of cities.

2. Overcrowding:

Overcrowding is a situation in which too many people live in too little space. Overcrowding is a logical consequence of over-population in urban areas. It is naturally expected that cities having a large size of population squeezed in a small space must suffer from overcrowding. This is well exhibited by almost all the big cities of India.

 3. Housing Poverty:

Housing provision for the growing urban population is the biggest challenge before the government. The growing cost of houses comparison to the income of the urban middle class has made it impossible for majority of lower income groups and is residing in congested accommodation and many of those are devoid of proper ventilation, lighting, water supply, sewage system, etc., “Housing Poverty” refers to “Individuals and households who lack safe, secure and healthy shelter, with basic infrastructure such as piped water and adequate provision for sanitation, drainage and the removal of household waste”.  

4. Sanitation:

The poor sanitation condition is another gloomy feature in urban areas and particularly in slums and unauthorized colonies of urban areas. The drainage system in many unorganized colonies and slums do either not exist and if existing are in a bad shape and in bits resulting in blockage of waste water. These unsanitary conditions lead too many sanitation related diseases. Unsafe garbage disposal is one of the critical problems in urban areas and garbage management always remained a major challenge.

5. Squatter Settlements:

No clear-cut distinction can be drawn between slums and squatter settlements in practice except that slums are relatively more stable and are located in older, inner parts of cities compared to squatter settlements which are relatively temporary and are often scattered in all parts of the city, especially outer zones where urban areas merge with their rural hinterland. Normally, squatter settlements contain makeshift dwellings constructed without official permission (i.e., on unauthorized land).

6. Environmental concern:

According to UNDP 70 % of Indian population is at risk to floods and 60% susceptible to earthquakes. Vulnerability to risk is higher in urban areas owing to density and overcrowding. Urban areas are becoming heat islands, ground water is not being recharged and water crisis is persistent. Here making, water harvesting compulsory will be beneficial.

7. Poverty:

Today roughly one third of the urban population lives below poverty line. There are glaring disparities between haves and have-nots in urban areas. The most demanding of the urban challenges unquestionably is the challenge posed by poverty; the challenge of reducing exploitation, relieving misery and creating more human condition for urban poor. There is rise in urban inequality, as per UN habitat report, 2010, urban inequality in India rose from 34 %to 38 % based on consumption in period of 1995 to 2005.

8. Transport:

More private vehicles in cities are causing traffic jam, which in turn decreases the efficiency of public transport. Also, minimal penetration of public transport with poor accessibility for disabled adds to the problem. There is also lack of infrastructure and poor maintenance of existing public transport infrastructure.

9. Unemployment:

The problem of unemployment is no less serious than the problem of housing mentioned above. Urban unemployment in India is estimated at 15 to 25 per cent of the labour force. This percentage is even higher among the educated people.


What is one of the most essential elements of nature to sustain life and right from the beginning of urban civilization, sites for settlements have always been chosen keeping in view the availability of water to the inhabitants of the settlement. However, supply of water started falling short of demand as the cities grew in size and number.

11.Trash Disposal:

As Indian cities grow in number and size the problem of trash disposal is assuming alarming proportions. Huge quantities of garbage produced by our cities pose a serious health problem. Most cites do not have proper arrangements for garbage disposal and the existing landfills are full to the brim. These landfills are hotbeds of disease and innumerable poisons leaking into their surroundings.

12.Urban Crimes:

Modem cities present a meeting point of people from different walks of life having no affinity with one another. Like other problems, the problem of crimes increases with the increase in urbanization. In fact, the increasing trend in urban crimes tends to disturb peace and tranquillity of the cities and make them unsafe to live in particularly for the women.

Way forward:

In India, both earlier and recent studies confirm that there is a close relationship between urbanization and economic development. About 65 percent of GDP accrue from urban areas that comprise of one-third of India’s total population (31 % urban according to 2011 Census). Hence there is an urgent need to address negative effects of Urbanisation with steps below:

1. Reducing real estate transactions costs,

2. Managing better public urban space such as streets and sidewalks,

3. Auditing institutional land holdings in urban areas, putting back on the market grossly underused land, and

4. Increasing the share of the fiscal revenue of cities directly linked to the prosperity of its real estate industry.

5. The reform of Floor Area Ratio (FAR), a primary part of building regulation, should be part of a general reform of urban policies.

6. Revamping the state level machinery for urban development is even more crucial than at the central level. At present responsibilities of urban development are fragmented into different departments differing from state to state.

7. Cities should plan with the regional context in mind especially the nearby towns and rural areas that are dependent on it although some cities will be much more connected with their markets abroad.

8. At the national level, the ministry of urban development needs to be strengthened and reoriented if it has to play an effective role in overseeing urban planning and development.

9. The key aim of policies and programs aimed at urban development should be to provide adequate infrastructural support for economic development in the country.

10. Plan resources to be tied to urban policy reform is a very significant step forward for national intervention in the urban policy sphere.

Given the fact that urbanization has emerged as a global force, it is inevitable that countries like India with low level of urbanization is likely to be more urbanized in future. As per UN estimate India’s urban population is projected to be 814 million i.e., 50 per cent of total population by 2050 (United Nations 2015).

In this situation, negative consequences of urbanization might be kept in check, and its potentials for poverty reduction, economic growth and innovations would be harnessed.


Migration has been a historical process shaping human history, economy and culture. It re-emerged as a strong force shaping cities and urbanization and is closely associated with urban transition influencing the demand and supply of labour, economic growth and human wellbeing. However, both migration and urbanization has not been viewed positively by both researchers and policy makers until recently. Migration was seen as a development failure and policy makers were busy in suggesting how to reduce migration. This perspective has been changing of late. Migration, is a flow linking places that are defined as rural and urban.

Recent trends in Migration in Indian Scenario:

  • In-situ Migration – an emerging pattern:

In the decade preceding the Census 2011, net rural to urban classification in India contributed about one-third to urban population growth compared one-fourth by net rural to urban migration. Such characteristic of urbanization often known as in situ urbanization (in-situ urbanization implies that rural settlements and their populations become urban or quasi-urban populations without any significant geographical relocation of their residents). Thus, the emerging pattern of urbanization in India is not simply a rural to urban transfer of labour and populations, but a complex process of changes in the characteristics of human settlements.

  • Internal migration – an engine of growth:

Internal migration in India is closely associated with urban transition. Relatively better off sections of the populace and higher castes migrate from rural areas, the gaps that emerge are likely to be filled by the poor and the lower castes with implications for economic improvement and poverty reduction in rural area. Internal migration can help reduce or prevent households sliding into poverty in both sending and receiving areas.

  • Labour transfer from farm to non-farm sector:

The efficiency of labour use and poverty reduction are the two main outcomes associated with transfer of surplus labour from agriculture to non-agricultural sector.

  • Mobility pattern:

It is also observed that people adopt circular, seasonal and temporary mobility patterns as a part of their livelihood strategies and income security in India. Labour mobility in India is high but is mostly male-dominated, semi-permanent, and remittance-based in nature leading to masculine urbanization with important implications for urban growth and urbanization.

Opportunities of Migration – Four Key Areas

  • Labour Demand and Supply – fills gaps in demand for and supply of labour; efficiently allocates skilled and unskilled labour; cheap labour, disciplined and willingness to work.
  • Remittances – provides insurance against risks to households in the areas of origin; increases consumer expenditure and investment in health, education and assets formation.
  • Return Migration – brings knowledge, skills and innovation (these are known as social remittances).
  • Skill Development – migration is an informal process of skill development. It enhances knowledge and skills of migrants through exposure and interaction with the outside world. New skills are learnt from co-workers and friends at the place of destination.

Apart from the role of migration and remittances in poverty reduction, studies on India show the positive impact on building assets and improving the access to education and health care. It is important to mention that the household remittances sent by internal migrants were twice compared to remittances sent by international migrants (NSSO, 2010).

However, migration is not viewed positively in India and policies are often aimed at reducing rural to urban migration. As a result, there is a lack of integration of migration with the process of development. The Human Development Report by UNDP (2009) highlights that migration is integral to the process of human development. Migration has also emerged as a possible adaptive mechanism in the context of climate change and the occurrence of extreme weather events like floods, droughts, and cyclones etc.,