Did you know that 9 million people were added to urban areas in India in the noughties (2000 to 2009)? But what do we mean when we say ‘urban India’? Is the strip of land between Delhi and Alwar or Mumbai and Pune ‘urban’?

Currently, India uses three broad ways to classify an area as urban1.

Outgrowths are viable villages adjoining statutory towns; they possess urban infrastructural facilities and are governed by village panchayats. Census 2011 enumerated 981 such outgrowths in the country.

But could India be more urban than what has been contained within these definitions?


When a settlement is declared ‘urban’, it is subjected to the application of rules and regulations, building by-laws, development controls and taxation.

However, in the absence of a proper urban classification, areas with urban characteristics are often left out of planned growth and witness an increase in inequality, informalisation of employment and deterioration in the quality of work and life. 

Issues of air pollution, depreciating and absent infrastructure, and natural resource mismanagement result when proper governance and finance are not complemented with the changing characteristics of geography and demography.

Additionally, resource allocation decisions, including government support, are contingent upon the level of urbanization of an administrative area.


The growth of urbanisation in China is partly attributable to the changes it made to its urban definition in 1990, 2000 and 2010. This becomes especially important when India is depicted as a ‘low urbanised country’.

India might like to follow the example of some developed nations that use indicators like mobility, nightlights and settlement pattern to determine the level of urbanisation. Satellite images of night-time lights indicate the presence of economic activity while commuting patterns generate an understanding of integrated labour markets.

  • 1. Statutory towns are declared as per the statutes of the respective state government and necessarily have elected urban local bodies (ULBs). As per the Census 2011, there were 4041 statutory towns. Census towns are areas with a minimum population of 5000, a population density of at least 400 people per square kilometre and more than 75 percent of the male working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuit. Census towns doubled from 1362 in 2001 to 3894 in 2011. Interestingly, these ‘towns’ are governed by village panchayats.