New Delhi: India’s Census 2011 shows that one in every three Indians now lives in an urban habitat and that the move towards towns and cities has happened mostly in south India, contiguously from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu.
According to the latest census, 31.2% of the total population lives in urban centres compared with 27.8% in 2001 and 25.5% in 1991. Of the 1.21 billion population, 833 million live in rural India while the remaining 377 million reside in urban India.
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The number of towns in the country rose 53.74% to 7,935 in the last decade. The census defines all places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee as a town.
The trend, if sustained, say some experts, will redefine the political economy of the country, forcing a shift in public policy focus towards urban India. Further, the fact that urbanization has gained momentum in the South also opens up new opportunities for the consumer economy.
The biggest trend towards urbanization is in southern India, where all states except Andhra Pradesh have more than 35% of the population in urban centres. While by the earlier census in 2001 more than 35% were already living in urban areas in Tamil Nadu, the latest census has added Karnataka and Kerala to the list, while more than 30% of the population lives in urban areas in Andhra Pradesh.
The southern states also saw the fastest economic growth in the last decade, drawing in associated migration from other states. In 2007-08, the economies of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh grew at 10.42%, 12.92% and 10.62%, respectively.
Among other states, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Manipur have seen faster urbanization than the rest of the country. Gujarat and Maharashtra already had more than 35% living in urban centres by 2001.
In terms of urban population, the top three states are Maharashtra with 50.8 million, Uttar Pradesh with 44.4 million and Tamil Nadu with 34.9 million.
Saloni Nangia, senior vice-president (retail) at Technopak Advisors Pvt. Ltd, said the North and West account for approximately 70% of organized retail. “Both of these are about the same size. The South accounts for about 22% and is a large market attracting a lot of big-box retailers and new investments. The East is the smallest market.” Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai are young, exciting markets comparable with any city in the West or the North, she said.
The new data shows the sex ratio—the number of females per 1,000 males—improved faster in urban India to 926, from 900 in the earlier census. In rural India, it increased marginally to 947 from 946. The child sex ratio—the number of girls in the 0-6 age group per 1,000 boys in that age group—declined faster in rural India than urban India. While the child sex ratio has been declining since the 1971 census, during the latest census the ratio declined to 902 from 906 in the earlier census in urban India, while the decline was sharper at 919 from 934 in the earlier census for rural India.
The literacy rate—the number of literate persons among every 100—grew faster in urban areas at 84.98% versus 68.91% in rural India. The total literacy rate in the latest Census stood at 74.04%, against 64.83% in 2001.
The faster rate of urbanization in the decade ending 2011 may unleash new challenges for planners as well as policymakers.
N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of Centre for Media Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank, said the focus of public policy will shift. “The growth in the urban population is mostly because of the increase in slumdwellers. Governments will have to spend more in the urban areas than they do now. The policy has to be reoriented,” he said.
The delimitation exercise that redrew the boundaries of both the assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in 2008 also recognized the demographic shift. Based on the 2001 census, the exercise resulted in a rise in constituencies in the cities, adding a greater urban flavour to Indian politics. The number of urban Lok Sabha seats increased from around 70 to at least 100.
However, B.D. Ghosh, a senior fellow at Kolkata’s Institute of Social Sciences, said it is unlikely that there could be a shift in policies at least in the northern states. “Although the urban population is growing, in politics the rural side weighs heavier. So it is difficult to expect a change in the current rhetoric on farmers, agriculture and rural sectors in the near future. The rural orientation will continue,” he said.
“However, things may change from state to state. New initiatives will be focusing on urban population in the southern states, especially in Tamil Nadu,” Ghosh added.
The census data showed for the first time since Independence that the absolute increase in population in India in Census 2011 compared with Census 2001 is more in urban areas (91 million) than in rural areas (90.4 million). Uttar Pradesh has the largest rural population of 155.11 million; Maharashtra has the highest urban population of 50.8 million.
Kavas Kapadia, head of the department of urban planning, School of Planning and Architecture, said people move from villages to urban areas because of the infrastructure. “Even though there is a legal provision in urban master plans for street vendors, migratory population and the like, it is rarely implemented, and that strains urban infrastructure. People get used to a lower quality of life due to an inadequacy of resources,” he added.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
Nidhi Misra and Ruhi Tewari in New Delhi, and Sapna Agarwal in Mumbai contributed to this story.