India is rapidly moving towards an urbanized future. While most of the focus is on the large metropolises, an often ignored phenomenon is the role of census towns. New research by Shamindra Nath Roy and Kanhu Charan Pradhan of the Center for Policy Research published in the Economic and Political Weekly suggests that census towns will be central to India’s future urban growth.

A census town is a region that has attained urban characteristics, such as high population density and a large non-farm workforce, but administratively is still considered rural.

For instance, Greater Noida on the outskirts of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh is a census town because it is urban in many aspects but is not administered as a statutory town by the government of Uttar Pradesh. The authors show that between 2001 and 2011, census towns such as Greater Noida contributed more than one-third of India’s urban growth.

Forecasting to the 2021 census, they estimate that census towns will maintain their importance in India’s urbanization, accounting for 18.4% of India’s urban population (slightly lower than 19.1% in 2011). They also predict that most census towns will be on the peripheries of major cities. Census towns have important implications for government policy. As these towns lack municipal governance and several rural schemes may not be applicable in urban settings, the authors argue for a cluster based developmental approach. This could involve merging census towns with their neighbouring cities or grouping closely located census towns into a new statutory town.

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