Urbanisation in India – UPSC GS1

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has outlined these priorities as part of its ‘Urban Strategy’ :
  • Increasing ‘Shelter’ for the urban poor.
  • Provision of basic urban services such as ‘Education’, ‘Primary Health care’, ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’.
  • Improving women’s access to ‘Basic Services’ and government facilities.
  • Upgrading ‘Energy’ use and alternative
  • ‘Transport’ systems.
  • Reducing ‘Air Pollution’


Why cities are important?

  1. To make GDP growth of 8 to 10 per cent per annum, which is necessary to improve economic conditions in India and remove/ reduce poverty within a short period, this can only be driven by industry and services sectors, which can grow much faster than agriculture.
  2. After having grown at close to 4 per cent per annum during the Eleventh Plan period (2007-08 to 2011-12), agricultural growth in India has slowed down to less than 2 per cent in more recent years. Undoubtedly, Indian agriculture can and should grow at 4 to 4.5 per cent per annum and, for this, we need to make large investments in research and development, soil and water management and agricultural extension. But rapid growth of GDP will have to be driven by non-agricultural sectors.
  3. Structural transformation: Faster growth of industry and services leads to a decline in the share of agriculture in both GDP and employment.
  4. By generating economies of agglomeration and by acting as centres of knowledge and innovation, they make investments in industry and services more productive.


What do you understand by urban heat island effect? Discuss its causes and consequences.
An urban heat island is the name given to describe the characteristic warmth of both the atmosphere and surfaces in cities (urban areas) compared to their (non-urbanized) surroundings. The heat island is an example of unintentional climate modification when urbanization changes the characteristics of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.
Causes of Urban Heat Island:
  1. Reduced vegetation in urban regions : Reduces the natural cooling effect from shade and evapotranspiration.
  2. Properties of urban materials: Materials commonly used in urban areas for pavement and roofs, such as concrete and asphalt, have significantly different thermal bulk properties and surface radiative properties than the surrounding rural areas. This causes a change in the energy balance of the urban area, often leading to higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas.
  3. Urban geometry: The height and spacing of buildings affects the amount of radiation received and emitted by urban infrastructure. The tall buildings within many urban areas provide multiple surfaces for the reflection and absorption of sunlight, increasing the efficiency with which urban areas are heated.
  4. Weather: Certain conditions, such as clear skies and calm winds, can foster urban heat island formation.
  5. Geographic location: Proximity to large water bodies and mountainous terrain can influence local wind patterns and urban heat island formation.
  6. Human Activities : Air conditioning, manufacturing, transportation, fossil fuel combustion and other human activities discharge heat into urban environments.
  7. Pollution : High levels of pollution in urban areas can also increase the UHI, as many forms of pollution change the radiative properties of the atmosphere.
Consequences of Urban Heat Islands:
  1. Impaired air quality : Warmer air accelerates the formation of smog (ozone) from airborne pollutants like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Elevated demand for cooling energy in the form of Air conditioning and Refrigerator use can also increase the emission of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel power plants.
  2. Impact on Health : Higher air temperatures and lower air quality can cause heat-related and respiratory illnesses,
  3. Effect on Weather : It may also increase cloudiness and precipitation in the city, as a thermal circulation sets up between the city and surrounding region.
  4. Impact on Plants and Forest : High temperatures may create disturbances on ornamental plants and urban forests.
  5. Impact on water bodies : It may increase temperatures of urban water bodies which lead to a decrease in diversity in the water.
To reduce the effect of urban heat island, there is need to decrease anthropogenic heat emissions through energy efficiency technologies in the building and vehicle
sectors. Also there is need to modify vegetative cover and surface properties of urban materials.


Write a note on the concerns that influenced town planning in the nineteenth century in India. (200 Words)
A diverse process of urbanisation occurred in 19th century that helped in town planning in India swayed by different factors which can be enumerated as follows:
  • Strategic importance for business: With growing concern of business and trade including raw materials; the places nearby sea became strategically important for urbanization. Bombay; madras; Calcutta are example.
  • Development of railway: Arrival of railway fuelled to the urbanization process. Every railway station was formed as storehouse of raw materials and gradually it transformed into a urban area. Mirzapur; Zamalpur; Bareilly were examples of railway colonies.
  • Administrative concern: New administrative buildings fortifying the status of British; quarters of officers called ” bungalow” were built spurring the urbanization process.
  • Social disparity: The racial discrimination of British led to differentiate town planning with different building structures as they call the buildings of poor ” black pagoda”.
  • Revenue concern: For revenue concern; British introduced municipal tax establishing municipal authority which initiated a new era of urbanisation.
  • Cotton trade: Industrial revolution and American civil war helped increasing cotton production in India leading to many urban trade centres.
  • Urban planning: For extension of trade and to collect data about social and economic status of people census was begun which was a new concern of urbanisation plan to distinguish people living in rural and urban areas.
  • Emerging middle class: Growing demand was felt for clerks; peons and other officers which facilitated English educational institutions and communication was development for their daily arrival and departure from home to office or institutions.
  • Entertainment: For entertainment purpose; theatre and clubs were established leading to growth of urbanisation with different towns.
  • Sanity: For the concern of spreading diseases from rural to urban areas British took development initiatives in many backward areas.
  • Climatic influence: Due to moderate and healthy climate British started building houses in hill stations like Himachal, Darjeeling etc.
  • Defence: British built St George; fort William and choose hill areas for development process from defense purpose. Cantonments were established in several places.
  • Civil lines: For development purposes British created civil lines clearing rural areas.
  • Lifestyle: A new wealthy class emerged who built houses on British style in urban areas; organized different programs with drink and Western food for influencing the British officials that initiated another process of urbanization.
Thus lots of concern helped the growth of urbanisation in this era.


How an urban region is defined in India? Some commentators argue that considering the flaws in definitions, India has more urban centres than what government estimates reveal. Critically examine why. (200 Words)
In India urban region is defined as having population of above 5000, density over 400 persons/sq. km, and at most 25% people engaged in agriculture.
Adhering to above the urban ratio comes to be 31%. Deficiencies in the above criteria as cited by critics are—
  • economic institutions such as insurance and banking institutions.
  • administrative institutions such as municipal bodies, various departments and their branches, adalats, police stations, various associations, civil society and NGOs headquarters and branches
  • services such as education schools and societies, health care services in the form of hospitals and care centres, water and sanitation supply, proper transport mechanism and widespread communication and information technology penetration
  • networking approach with all the above interlinking into a coordinated sphere.
Leaving aside these aspects one hugely underestimates the urban potential of India.
Mere adhering to the 5000 or more people norm raises the urban ratio to 47% and if 2000 people then ratio surges to 71% which has widespread ramifications –
  • proper targeting of policies
  • various programmes launched will be devoid of inclusivity
  • wrong targeting results in inefficient results
  • planning process gets hampered relating to urbanisation, industrialisation, setting up various institutions, various policies such as PURA
  • building up of smart cities and digital India programmes can be affected
It is clear that urbanization based on the agricultural criteria needs to wither away, as many villages with high agricultural participation by people have good institutions with leading luxurious lives. This westernized concept imitating needed to be stopped and an indigenous way has to be recognized and formulated that better suits Indian lands.


Why slums are considered as “problems” in urban regions? Examine why slums have developed in many Indian cities and also critically comment if they should be treated as important stakeholders in urban economy or should be eliminated to beautify cities. (200 Words)
Slums are considered as problem in urban regions for multiple reasons:
  • Poverty: This section is extremely poor and doesn’t have even basic amenities like toilet facilities, as a result they use public places for their daily living
  • Crime and Diseases: They are generally breeding ground for crime, delinquency and diseases
  • Low human development index and illegal migrants: These areas have abysmally low human development levels as well as occupied by many illegal immigrants, which is often threat to safety and security of urban population.
The slums have developed in many Indian cities due to following reasons:
  • Unplanned Industrial development: The Urban areas are not planned in India, most of the industry have flourished in limited areas only. As a result, to many people have started living around limited habitable place.
  • Migration: Due to very few urban places, there is a heavy migration happening in limited industrial places.
  • Bad transport and Infrastructure: Due to slow and bad transport facilities, the clustered population can’t be spread in wider and open spaces
  • Government policy and politics: Most of the Governments have turned a blind eye towards slum due to political gains, vote bank and unwillingness to put any effort rehabilitate the slum population.
The slum population is very important for urban economy for the following reasons
  • Economic centre: they are the hub of many small and micro urban industrial activities, e.g.. Dharavi leather market
  • Labour force: These areas provide labour force for many manufacturing and other urban industries
However, there is a need to uplift this marginalized and vulnerable section of the society through proper education, rehabilitation, providing amenities, health facilities and spreading awareness like birth control. NGOs like Teach for India, Pratham and institute like TISS can be the back bone for such changes.


Plastic, the major municipal solid waste, is posing big threat to world’s water bodies. Examine the magnitude of pollution caused by plastic and remedies to address adverse effects caused by its dumping. (200 Words)
Immense uses of plastic in day to day life and its other qualities of durability etc. though may appear appealing but plastic has become the most notorious problem for waste management leading to multiple environmental and health hazards
  1. Photo degradation of plastics : makes plastics small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms thereby entering the food chain.
  2. floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT,
  3. facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems.
  4. On the macroscopic level, the physical size of the plastic kills fish, birds and turtles as the animals’ digestion cannot break down the plastic
  5. toxic chemicals such as biphenyl A and polystyrene can leach into waters from some plastics.
  1. Harmful for terrestrial animals as ingestion leads to chocking and death
  2. Landfills pollutes the water sources and may clog drains leading to flooding by rain water
  3. Acts as an adsorbent for various chemicals which further increase its toxicity
Burning of plastics produces harmful toxins which pollute the air. Plastic once generated ,in itself becomes a polluter since the avenues of proper disposal of plastic are very few. Even though recycling appears to be an option, still it is not a remedy for this Frankenstein monster. Various methods include:
  1. Using alternatives to plastics in packaging like tetra-packs etc.
  2. Generating minimum plastic waste
  3. Researching and clean up measures for Indian ocean and pacific ocean garbage paths like the 2012 5 gyres Asia pacific expedition
  4. A global responsibility and initiative towards controlling the use and disposal of plastic wastes
  5. Small steps in daily life to replace plastic items like carry bags etc. with other alternatives
The final solution for the problem lies in saying “NO” to plastic and keeping its generation to the minimum. No amount of legislations and initiatives will be sufficient unless each individual takes a leap forward.


Recently it was proposed to create Special Entertainment Zones (SEZ) in Mumbai where designated night zones (open 24 x 7) will be created and allow people to entertain themselves securely. Do you find this proposal socially, culturally and economically good for cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and other metros? Can this idea be extended to tier-2 cities? Critically comment. (200 Words)
Today’s demographic is younger generation dominated. With time, ideologies of society as a whole changes and this is visible by changing activism by Young generation toward rights, security, freedom of speech, filtering adult content in internet, LGBT biasness etc. These all are led by young generation. Today they are demanding for Special Entertainment Zones(SEZ) in Mumbai, which needs to be analysed on various perspective:
  1. Socially viable: It is very good step, because often a section of society think that bar, pubs, discos pollutes social environment. SEZ being localised geographically will solve this. It will also solve problems of noise pollution, traffics, crime, catching drugs racket, stopping rapes etc. because it will be easy to provide security to small area than dispersed over whole cities. It is to be allowed for all people not only for young people.
  2. Culturally: India has always welcomed mixing of new culture and changed with time. But it also to be taken care that SEZ should not invite anti-national, pro-religion or violent videos/games activities in guise of fun.
  3. Economically: It is much beneficial for providing new business opportunity, it will also bring creativity, world class theatres and facilities for which Indian’s go abroad.
This idea can’t be extended to tier-2 cities because of economic unviability, orthodox society, lesser security, small in size and lack of target audience with deep pockets. But, with time, they can be extended to smaller cities.


A recent survey has shown that urbanisation is not a panacea for concerns about public safety. Rather, cities must invest in the “right kind” of urbanisation, with the sort of infrastructure seen in the largest cities. What in your opinion is “right kind” of urbanisation that ensures public safety, especially safety for women? Discuss. (200 Words)
‘Urbanisation’ in India is today unplanned and random. This leads to crowding and development of slums. When it comes to ‘public safety’ especially ‘safety of women’, present infrastructure in urban spaces is extremely inadequate to deal with it.
‘Right kind’ of urbanisation with respect to ‘public safety’ should include –
  1. Enough lighting on the roads.
  2. Continuous patrol by security forces i.e. police
  3. CCTV cameras spread throughout the cities.
  4. Proper registration and regulation on city transport operators especially taxi and bus drivers, so that cases such as Delhi rape do not occur again.
  5. Regularisation of slum areas and improvement in their condition.
  6. Sensitization of youth towards women in general and towards good values in particular and special care for their education.
  7. Community policing
  8. Use of technology to connect public with security forces, such as distress signal app in smartphones.
  9. Strict laws and severe punishment against crime perpetrators, so as to serve as effective deterrent against such crimes.
  10. Economic uplifting of weaker sections of society, and reducing the gap between rich and poor i.e. inclusive development.
So, ‘women safety’ in specific and ‘public safety’ in urban plans can be ensured this way.
According to Indian Government, up to 2035 AD, more than 50% of Indian population will live in urban areas. So, looking at ‘safety’ aspect is compulsory for ‘safe’, ‘peaceful’ and ‘secure’ future in our country.


In the light of recent political trends, critically examine the impact of urban politics on urbanization and urban development in India’s major cities. (200 Words)
Urbanisation is at a rapid pace in today’s India. Many reasons like economic opportunities, better social standards, better knowledge etc. are pushing the rural India towards the Metros and other major cities. Urban politics too have significant contribution in urbanisation process and the recent resurgence of AAP as the largest party in Delhi is a true evidence of this.
Delhi can be a case study for impact of urban politics on urbanization. It is a cosmopolitan society with varied classes, religious people living. Decline in Caste based politics, awareness among the urban residents, increase in literacy rates, change in demographics with more youth arriving at metros etc. are in a way responsible for the change in thinking of average urban resident and his decisions to wards elections and leaders. This impacted the politics of urban areas and in turn establishing  accountability of politician towards common man. It further increased urbanisation and is slowly turning out as a vicious cycle.
The usage of RTI, discussions in media and public forums, accessibility to information, anti-corruption movements by common people etc. have raised expectations of people from politicians and the real need for development of cities is felt by all including politicians. Despite central sponsored development like Metro trains, roads, airports etc. there is a growing pressure from citizens on governments in major cities like Kolkata, Hyderabad etc. for better delivery of services, reduction in corruption, improvement in day to day administration.
With the rise of middle class and youth in India coupled with Urbanisation, Indian cities are becoming the real engines for galvanising the growth trend.

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