Census 2011 tells us there are 640,930 villages in India. This includes uninhabited villages. Around 600,000 villages can be regarded as inhabited. There are more than 40,000 villages in Bihar, MP, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan UP and West Bengal. Note that Census obtains rural or village population as a residual. There are different categories of “urban”. If there is a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee, this becomes a statutory town and is hence urban. There is another definition of urban, linked to demographic characteristics. If there is a population size of 5,000, 75% of male working population is engaged in non-agricultural pursuits and population density is more than 400 per sq km, this becomes a Census town, regardless of whether it is a statutory town or not. When we think of urbanisation, we usually link it with natural rate of growth in urban areas or rural-urban migration. However, urbanisation also results from reclassification and a large chunk of increased urbanisation between 2001 and 2011 was because of Census towns, not statutory towns. There is also the matter of an urban out-growth, when a village (or hamlet) is physically contiguous to a town and possesses urban features, so that it is treated as an urban agglomeration. Anything other than statutory town, Census town or urban agglomeration is a village.
In that sense, village is residual, regardless of what its population size is. The population can be 10,000 and it can also be 100. I find it odd that NCT (National Capital Territory) shows 222 villages in 2011, though I understand the definitional issue. There is a process for transition to “urban”, but that hasn’t yet occurred for these 222. There is a notification, land is acquired by DDA and during transition from panchayat to municipality, there is understandable speculation on land. You can thus find one side of a road that is “urban” and an opposite side still “rural”. The area near Masoodpur village is an instance. The major road from NH8 to Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road is sometimes referred to as the Mahipalpur-Masoodpur Road, both Mahipalpur and Masoodpur being villages. Mahipalpur is so named because it was established by Raja Mahipal Tomar. Masoodpur is so named because some six centuries ago, the land was originally bought from Masood Khan. Subsequently, DDA acquired some of this land from villagers. Near Masoodpur, you will find malls, institutions and hotels, but you will also find a panchayat bhavan. Many people don’t know JNU was built on Masoodpur land and that a land acquisition (on quantum of compensation) case is still going on.
The acquisition was done in 1961 and 1965. In 2005, Supreme Court granted a special leave petition and observed, “The basic fact of the matter is not in dispute. Two notifications dated 24.10.1961 and 23.01.1965 were issued for acquisition of the lands measuring 1105.04 bighas and 3895.07 bigha respectively situated in village Masoodpur for the public purpose of planned development of Delhi, i.e., for construction of Jawahar Lal Nehru University.” Throughout the country, we want citizens to have access to similar standards of public goods and services, the word “public good” not being used in the classic economist’s sense, but in the sense of goods and services we want government (across all three layers) to provide. There will still be migration and urbanisation, because urbanisation is correlated with different kinds of networks and development. However, we want that minimum threshold to be available everywhere—village with population size 10,000, village with population size 100, Masoodpur-type village, statutory town, Census town. At one level, there is a governance issue. Who ensures those public goods and services—panchayat, municipality? Or is the village stuck in the inter-regnum from panchayat to municipality?
I think the more serious issue is that we use the word “village” too loosely, across a very heterogeneous category. For Census purposes, we have in mind a revenue village. But there may be many clusters of habitations/hamlets within the same revenue village. Inside forest areas, there may be unsurveyed villages. Just as we have habitations as sub-categories of villages, we have gram panchayats as categories higher than villages. Therefore, we have something like 250,000 gram panchayats. There is a table we have from Census 2001, the comparable table for Census 2011 is not yet available. This gives size distribution of villages according to population and in 2001, 91,000 villages had population size less than 200, with almost 13,000 of them in Odisha and around 9,000 in HP and UP. There were 127,000 villages with population sizes between 200 and 499, with a concentration in UP, Odisha, MP and even Maharashtra. Delivering public goods and services in a village with a population size of 10,000, where there is a gram panchayat, is relatively easy. Delivering it in a village with a population size less than 200 is much more difficult. Delivering it in every habitation within the village is even more difficult. I forgot to mention that some villages with small population sizes are in difficult geographical terrain. How has this changed? The only decent answer we have seems to be from ICE (income and consumption expenditure) 2014, undertaken by PRICE (People Research of India’s Consumer Economy). This tells us an expected story of greater integration of larger (population sizes more than 5,000) villages with the mainstream, primarily because of better transport connectivity. The radius of development, so to speak, is getting larger, but there are still the smaller villages.
The author is Member, NITI Aayog. Views are personal