Census towns behind Indias missing urbanisation

Written by Yoginder K. Alagh | Updated: Apr 6 2012, 06:16am hrs
The 2011 Census has established that a substantial part of additional urbanisation is in what are called census towns. This phenomenon was there earlier, but was not recognised as urbanisation as it is in the 2011 Census. In 2006, our SK Dey Centenary Memorial published lecture established that there were what we called large villages, which met the Census criteria of towns but were not classified as urban areas by the Government and, at that time, even in the Census (now they are called census towns). This led to a pessimistic perception of urbanisation. We argued then that a part of this pessimistic perception may arise from settlements which are urban by Census definitions not being classified as urban. While the absolute differences on this account may be small, since population projections use first difference methods, small absolute differences can lead to large first differences and may affect the projections seriously. For Gujarat, if a proper classification is made of the villages that were not rural according to the Census definition, but were not classified as towns, the first difference doubles. Thus, the rate of change in urbanisation would be twice that currently planned for, which is a serious matter.

The original work was rediscovered in the 2011 Census. In Gujarat, the 2006 projections have turned out to be accurate for 2011. We also show the magnitudes in an agriculturally-advanced state, namely Punjab, to contrast with industrially-advanced Gujarat. These magnitudes are also discussed in a relatively backward state, namely Bihar. Policymakers have been forced to recognise this phenomenon for 2011 but are still resisting its implications for the future, which is a terrible mistake.

In my lecture in 2006 at the National Institute of Rural Development, I had argued that urbanisation in Gujarat was clearly underestimated. There were more than 122 large villages in Gujarat in 2001 that had, according to the 2001 Census, all the characteristics of towns but were not measured as such, and that the actual growth of urbanisation was around 5% and not half of that. We were right. In Gujarat, urbanisation went up from 37.4% in 2001 to 42.6% in 2011, and was not, as the official projection, at 40.4%. In Gujarat, the urban population was 42.6% of the total population. This was around 2.57 crore persons. But the projections of the urban population by the Technical Group on Population Projections after the 2001 Census was 2.4 crore and so, for almost a decade, policies were ignoring around two million persons in Gujarat and their needs.

When you grow at 7% in per capita terms, you need a lot of agricultural and rural products and services. The farmer will provide them and he and she (for in many cases the farmer is a lady) will move to markets to sell. Will we develop the market towns, the roads, the communication links, the skills, the health facilities, the financial products and a lot else with which the farmer will do this or will we leave him/her to the capricious mercies of the market, a great hand maiden but a cruel master if the lessons of economic history and our own freedom movement are to be believed The two very popular ideas, that employment in crop production is not falling and urbanisation is not rising fast in states like Gujarat, are not correct.

Urbanisation in Punjab is much less than in Gujarat. The urban population was more than 50% in four districts, namely Ludhiana (59.14%), SAS Nagar (55.17%), Amritsar (53.64%) and Jalandhar (53.18%). Only Ludhiana (2.06million), Amritsar (1.34 million) and Jalandhar (1.16 million) have an urban population of more than 7 lakh persons as compared to a very large number of such districts in the more urbanised states. But it is an advanced agricultural state and the phenomenon of census towns was present there also. In 2011, Punjab counted the Punjabis who had shifted to urban areas correctly. The urban population was 104 lakh as against the projected 107 lakh; 37.5% of the population was urban in 2011. Urban population grew by 25.7% (2001-2011). But it was found out that for ten years, the Punjabis were not migrating to what they called towns but places they did business in. They converted large villages to small towns, but were missed out. There were 143 statutory towns (municipalities, corporations, cantonments and notified area committees). These were on the radar, but the Census 2011 discovered 74 census towns (Seema Jain, IAS, Census Commissioner, 2011). The people of Punjab were creating these towns, but nobody knew of that and were not worrying about them. Out of the 20 lakh additional Punjabis who moved to urban areas, perhaps 8 lakh went to these towns they had created.

Bihar is a poor state in terms of per capita income. Its urbanisation rate in 2001 was 10.46% of the total population. The Technical Group on Population Projections (Government of India, 2006) projected a near stagnant urbanisation rate in 2011. Their projected figure was 10.5%. However, in 2011, the actual rate of urbanisation was higher. It was 11.3%. The population experts, policymakers and planners missed out the fact that Bihars urbanisation was growing. In fact, the growth rate of urban population at 35.1% in the period 2001-11 was higher than in the country. In a large state, that meant a lot of people. The missing Bihari urban people were 1.5 million in number. They were, in fact, going to places where the infrastructure was poor. Including census towns, urban growth of more than 50% in the period 2001-11 took place in rural Champaran, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Munger and Bhojpur.

The period of high growth is that of problems and opportunities. This is bound to be so as it is a period of transition in a rural-urban continuum. Change is inevitable and fast and the only question is if it would be benign or of the cruel kind in the early history of the industrial revolution. Millions of farmers, agricultural workers and artisans are moving from smaller villages to larger villages, from larger villages to smaller towns and from there to larger towns. They are doing so for better opportunities, and that is good. But if we create institutions to support them, the process would be benign, otherwise the change and transition would inevitably take place but it would be of a cruel kind. The numbers our policymakers use are leading to the bad options.

The author is a former Union minister