GS-1, Uncategorized

Responding to rapid urban expansion

India’s urban population is expected to reach 600 million by 2031. However, much of this growth will not be in the core city but on its peripheries.

Major concern: ‘Urban Sprawl’ phenomenon

Population growth will not be in the core city. It will mainly be concentrated in semi urban or rural areas surrounding or adjacent to the core city – a phenomenon called ‘urban sprawl’.

  • Urban sprawl is basically another word for urbanization. It refers to the migration of a population from populated towns and cities to low density residential development over more and more rural land. The end result is the spreading of a city and its suburbs over more and more rural land (i.e. dispersed outgrowth of areas outside the city’s core, engulfing many villages around it).
  • A 2013 World Bank report, Urbanization Beyond Municipal Boundaries, found that rural areas adjacent to municipal boundaries are generating higher economic growth and employment than the city.




However, this ‘urban sprawl’ phenomenon poses many economic, ecological and institutional challenges.

  • These areas are often characterized by the absence of basic infrastructure and services like water, sanitation, electricity, roads and transportation.
  • With changes in land use, as seen in the commercialization of agricultural land, theecosystem of the region is also threatened.
  • In the midst of such a transformation, the livelihoods of people in peri-urban areas is increasingly become precarious (insecure or unreliable).
  • Peri-urbanization areas are characterized by private developer-led growth and this only leads to the development of certain pockets like gated communities, with no attention paid to public infrastructure.

These areas are turning more dystopia rather than Utopian

Utopian” describes a society that’s conceived to be perfect. Dystopian is the exact opposite — it describes an imaginary society that is as dehumanizing and as unpleasant as possible.

For instance,

  1. The recent water-logging crisis in Gurgaon demonstrates how untrammelled development without the provision of basic urban amenities like a proper drainage system can result in anurban dystopia.
  2. In Bengaluru, the civic woes of peri-urban areas like Whitefield have arguably gotten worseafter its amalgamation with the municipal corporation in 2007.

While the area of the corporation grew by almost four times, its institutional capacity to respond to the needs of the newly added areas remains weak.


What should the state’s response be to such a phenomenon?

Initially, the state’s response was to discourage urbanization and contain the outgrowth of cities. While there are many benefits in keeping cities compact, urban expansion has become inevitable.

“The key question hence is not how to contain urban expansion, but how to respond to the challenges posed by it”.

  1. Proper planning:
  • Agricultural land in the urban periphery is acquired for mega-projects from farmers at very cheap rates and then transferred to various business and commercial units.
  • The landowners and cultivators are left out of the development process and are often made to relocate.

Therefore, with Indian cities growing outwards, we need a policy response that goes beyond callous neglect, hasty amalgamation and brazen land acquisition.

Instead of merely amalgamating peri-urban areas with the city or giving real estate developers a free rein over these areas, a better approach is to plan for the future by identifying areas for growth and taking steps to ensure that these areas are first provided with basic urban infrastructure and services.

  1. Apply principle of providing urban amenities first
  • In India, the Union government’s National Rurban Mission (and its earlier avatar, Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas or PURA) seeks to provide high-growth rural areas with infrastructural amenities, economic activities and planned layouts similar to those available in cities.
  • While the Mission aims to develop 300 “rurban” growth clusters, the same principle of providing urban amenities first can be applied to peri-urban areas adjacent to India’s mega-cities which may not administratively come under an urban local body (ULB).
  • An interesting venture in this regard is the Urban Expansion Initiative, a project housed at New York University’s Stern Business School, which promotes a “making room approach” to urban expansion by identifying areas that are projected to urbanize and procuring land for public amenities beforehand.
  1. Good urban governance and sound institutional framework:

We need an institutional framework that adopts vibrant urban governance and planning processes to address the challenge of increasing urban expansion.

  • However, even after the passage of the 74th constitutional amendment which sought the empowerment of elected municipal governments, India’s urban governance and planning regime remains paralysed.
  • Though the amendment tasked the ULBs and the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) with urban planning, various ‘development authorities’ working under the state governments continue to perform this function in most cities.
  • For responding to a phenomenon like peripheral urban growth, an institutional framework that provides for a metropolitan-level planning and governance mechanism is essential.
  • But to ensure that these processes do not get overly centralized, it needs to be supplemented by appropriate mechanisms at the city and neighbourhood level.

Hence, each level of urban governance—ward, zone, city and region—needs to be fortified. A useful framework for multi-scale urban planning is provided under the Union government’s Model Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law, which provides for planning at state, metropolitan and local level.


  • Thus, an institutional framework that provides for the formulation and implementation of plans and policies at multiple scales can ensure that the vision of overall development of the metropolitan region as well as the needs of specific localities are in sync or settled through an inter-institutional dialogue.
  • Hence, the challenges posed by urban sprawl can be better addressed by an institutional framework that establishes multi-scale governance and a policy approach that prioritizes the provision of urban amenities in peri-urban areas.

Connecting the dots:

  • What do you mean by urban sprawl? Discuss the recent trends in urbanisation in India and briefly describe the main characteristics and problems of the major Indian cities.
  • “The city of future is the future of city”. Comment.
  • The story of Indian cities is nothing but growth without commensurate civic infrastructure. Do you agree? In this context, what role can the Smart City projects play? Analyze.

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