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Photo: Nasa earth observatory/noaa ngdc
Photo: Nasa earth observatory/noaa ngdc

How urban actually is India?

Combining images from Google with other data, a new study finds that the urbanization rate in states such as Gujarat and Rajasthan may be overstated

How much of India is truly urban has always been a matter of debate because the definitions of urban and rural can vary considerably. Urbanization is multi-faceted and thus best defined using a combination of criteria rather than a single definition based on one or two metrics, according to a World Bank study. In the study, Virgilio Galdo and others apply this new methodology to identify urban areas in India.

They start with a subjective assessment of Google images of a sample of places in India. They then combine this with other observable characteristics and data, which include population density, night lights, and other satellite images.

Using this combination of metrics, the authors try to predict the “true" urbanization rate of India. They find that this rate is 29.9%, which is lower than other estimates but close to the official 2011 Census of India estimate of 31.2 %.

The authors find significant differences between their estimates of urbanization rates and official figures at the state level. The estimates of urbanization rate by the authors fall short of official estimates for many states such as Rajasthan and Gujarat. Conversely, their estimates of the urban population exceeded the official figures for Bihar, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh.

There are also important differences at a more granular level. The authors show that many places that are deemed as villages have urban characteristics in practice. At the same time, many places administratively classified as “other towns" and “census towns" could be deemed rural. This could have important implications for the way they are administered as urban and rural governance can differ significantly.

Also read: Identifying Urban Areas by Combining Human Judgment and Machine Learning An Application to India

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