EMERGING PATTERN OF URBANIZATION
AND THE CONTRIBUTION OF MIGRATION
IN URBAN GROWTH IN INDIA
R. B. Bhagat and Soumya Mohanty
As India has embarked upon economic reforms during the 1990s, published data from the 2001
Census provides an opportunity to study the country’s urbanization process with reference to
regional inequality and to the contribution of the components of urban growth, namely, natural
increase, emergence of new towns, and the net contribution of rural to urban migration. India has
more than 4000 cities and towns, which comprise 28 per cent of India’s population of 1028 million
as enumerated in 2001. However, about two-fifths of India’s urban population live in only
35 metropolitan cities. The rate of urban population growth slowed down during the 1990s
despite the increased rate of rural to urban migration due to a significant decline in natural
increase in urban areas. This has led to an observable slowdown in the pace of India’s
KEYWORDS: census; cities; natural increase; migration; urban population projection
Historically, the process of urbanization intensified in the wake of the Industrial
Revolution in the Western world, which led to increased rural to urban migration. In the
non-Western world, however, urbanization is more a defining feature of the twentieth
century. A mere 13 per cent of the global population lived in urban areas in 1900; this
proportion increased to 29 per cent in 1950 and to about 50 per cent by the close of the
twentieth century (United Nations 2006). As may be expected, the pattern of urbanization
is found to be unequal between developed and developing countries as the majority of
the population in developed countries lived in urban areas, while the bulk of the
population in developing countries that are concentrated in Asia and Africa lived in rural
areas. An inter-regional comparison in Asia reveals that South Asia is more rural and has
significantly lower levels of per capita income than other regions. Not surprisingly
therefore, the pace of urban change in the South Asian region has been relatively modest,
yet urbanization presents enormous challenges due to the extreme poverty and the
pressure on urban services that it has brought about (Cohen 2004). India has about 28 per
cent or 286 million of its population living in urban areas in 2001.
India adopted a new economic policy in the year 1991 as a result of a severe balance
of payment crisis. The basic features of the new economic policy include streamlining of
governmental expenditures in order to reduce the fiscal deficit, opening up of the
economy for export-oriented growth, removal of governmental controls, and licensing and
Asian Population Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, March 2009
ISSN 1744-1730 print/1744-1749 online/09/010005-16
–2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17441730902790024
encouraging private sector participation to stimulate competition and to promote
efficiency. Both proponents and opponents of the new economic policy believed that
economic reforms would increase urbanization. The proponents believed that the new
impetus from the government would boost the Indian economy and create job
opportunities, which in turn would lead to increased pull factors conducive to accelerated
rural to urban migration. However, the opposing view held that economic reforms would
adversely affect village-based cottage industries and impoverish the rural population,
thereby leading to increased rural to urban migration (Kundu 1997). Although there was
considerable success in achieving economic growth, the impact of such growth on
urbanization and urban population increase needs to be carefully studied. The latest
census of 2001 reveals several interesting implications with respect to the pace of
urbanization, its regional patterns, and the contribution of demographic components like
migration and the reclassification of settlements into rural or urban areas. This paper
summarizes the emerging trends and patterns of urbanization, and the contribution of
migration to urban growth in India in light of the 2001 Census.
From a demographic point of view, the level of urbanization is measured by the
percentage of the population living in urban areas (Davis 1962). An area is classified as
rural or urban depending upon various criteria such as population size, density,
occupational composition and civic status. During British rule in India, every municipality
regardless of size, every cantonment, all civil lines not included in municipal limits, and
every other collection of houses permanently inhabited by not less than 5000 persons
could be considered urban as long as it exhibited an urban character even when such an
area was not under municipal government. This definition was carried through the 1961
Census. Since the 1961 Census, an urban area was determined based on two important
criteria, namely: (i) statutory administration; (ii) certain economic and demographic
indicators. The first criterion includes civic status of towns, and the second entails
characteristics like population size, density of population, and percentage of the workforce
in the non-agricultural sector. The towns identified on the basis of the first criterion are
known as statutory or municipal towns, and those defined on the basis of the second
criterion are termed census or non-municipal towns. The non-municipal towns constitute
nearly 27 per cent of all towns as per the 2001 Census (Bhagat 2005).
Specifically, the criteria that define a place as urban, as mentioned in the recent
census reports, are as follows:
(i) All places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area
(ii) All other places which satisfy the following criteria:
(a) minimum population of 5000;
(b) at least 75 per cent of the male working population engaged in non-agricultural
(c) a population density of at least 400 persons per square kilometre.
In some cases, the directors of census operations in states or union territories, in
consultation with the concerned state governments, union territory administration and
6R. B. BHAGAT AND SOUMYA MOHANTY
the census commissioner of India, were allowed to include some places having distinct
urban characteristics within the urban category even if such places did not strictly satisfy
all the criteria mentioned earlier.
While the Census of India applies the demographic and economic criteria in
identifying towns at every census, it is the state governments that decide on the civic
status of a settlement. The settlements which are granted urban civic status qualify as
towns in the census as per the first criteria. In every census, several new towns are added
to or removed from the roster of towns if they do not satisfy the earlier-mentioned criteria.
As many urban residents also live outside the municipal boundary, the Indian
Census uses the concept of an ‘urban agglomeration’ (UA) to measure urban population at
the town and city level. A UA consists of the population of a core urban centre living
within its municipal boundary, as well as the population of contiguous towns and
adjoining urban outgrowths (OGs). OGs are areas around a core city or a statutory town
that are fairly large and already urbanized such as a railway colony, university campus, port
area, military camp, among other examples, but are not included within the municipal
boundary of the core city or town. The municipal boundaries are also changed from time
to time as decided by the state government, but it is a time-consuming process as
notification has to go through the offices of Deputy Commissioners and District
Magistrates for due processing. However, in the absence of changes in the municipal
boundaries, the application of the concepts of UA and OG by the Census takes into
account any spillover of urban population outside the municipal boundary.
Trends and Patterns of Urbanization
The urban population in India at the beginning of the twentieth century was only
25.8 million, constituting 10.8 per cent of the total population in 1901. In 2001, the
number had increased to 286.1 million, comprising 27.8 per cent of the total population.
The urban population, like the total population, did not grow much until 1921. The level of
urbanization even showed a decline in 1911 owing to a devastating plague in that year,
which spread mainly in the urban areas and brought about an exodus of urban population
to the rural areas. After 1921, the level of urbanization grew consistently and rapidly,
especially during the decade 19411951 when the decennial urban growth rate was
recorded to reach as high as 41.4 per cent, a growth attributed to the partition of the
country in 1947 (Census of India 1991b). The decline in the growth rate during 19511961
was a result of the change in the definition of the term urban in the 1961 Census. About
800 towns were declassified in the 1961 Census (Mohan & Pant 1982). Table 1 shows that
the peak in urban growth was observed during 19711981 when the decennial growth
rate reached 46.1 per cent*the highest ever during the last century. After peaking,
growth has slowed down but was never less than 30 per cent up to the 2001 Census.
It may be further noted that from 1921 to 2001, the total population grew by four
times, while the urban population increased by 10 times, though the number of towns
only doubled during the same period. The net addition in urban population was five
million during 19211931, and then rose to 18 million during 19411951, and to a sharp
increase of 50 million during 19711981. The 2001 Census shows that the net addition was
69 million during 19912001. Absolute changes in urban population on the one hand and
the percentage urban population on the other hand are the two facets of urbanization
that are linked to urban problems in a country. India’s level of urbanization is still relatively
URBANIZATION AND MIGRATION IN INDIA 7
low, and the pace of urbanization has slowed down during the last two decades; however,
the absolute increase in urban population has kept rising due to the large base of urban
Figure 1 shows the level of urbanization at the state/UT level in 2001. Goa tops the
list with nearly 50 per cent level of urbanization; it is followed by Mizoram with 49 per
cent, Tamil Nadu with 44 per cent and Maharashtra with 42 per cent. Although
Maharashtra was the leading state with 35 per cent urbanization in 1981, it has slipped
to fourth position in 2001 as Goa and Mizoram had faster urbanization during the 1980s,
and Tamil Nadu during the 1990s. However, the share of Maharashtra in India’s urban
population kept increasing and was 14.3 per cent in 2001 followed by Uttar Pradesh (12.8
per cent) and Tamil Nadu (9.6 per cent). States like Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Orissa, Bihar
and Uttar Pradesh are the least urbanized states with urbanization levels varying from 10
to 21 per cent, i.e. much lower than the national average of 27.7 per cent in 2001. The
relatively low urbanization (26 per cent) in Kerala is an artefact of the ruralurban
definition problem. Making the distinction more difficult in Kerala is the high density of
population everywhere in the state (Visaria 1997) and the disinclination of the state
government to grant municipal status to large villages. However, the level of urbanization
in some UTs, such as the National Territory of Delhi, Chandigarh and Pondicherry, appears
very high due to the fact that their rural population is very small. Other UTs like
Lakshadweep (44.5 per cent), Daman Diu (36 per cent), and Andman and Nicobar Islands
(32.6 per cent) also have higher levels of urbanization than the national average
(for detailed information on state level pattern and urbanrural growth differentials, see
Trends in urbanization in India, 19012001.
(in million) Per cent urban
growth rate (%)
growth rate (%)
1901 25.85 10.84 **
1911 25.94 10.29 0.35 0.03
1921 28.07 11.17 8.20 0.79
1931 33.46 11.99 19.20 1.76
1941 44.15 13.86 31.97 2.77
1951 62.44 17.29 41.42 3.47
1961 78.94 17.97 26.41 2.34
1971 109.11 19.91 38.23 3.24
1981 159.46 23.34 46.14 3.79
1991 217.18 25.72 36.19 3.09
2001 286.12 27.86 31.74 2.76
As the 1981 Census was not conducted in Assam, the 1981 population figures for India include
interpolated figures for Assam. The 1991 Census was not held in Jammu and Kashmir. The 1991
population figures for India include projected figures for Jammu and Kashmir as projected by the Standing
Committee of Experts on Population Projections. The total urban figures of 2001 include the estimated
urban figures for Kachchh district, Morvi, Maliya-Miyana and Wankaner talukas of Rajkot district, Jodiya
taluka of Jamnagar district of the Gujarat where the population enumeration of Census 2001 could not be
conducted due to natural calamity.
Figures up to 1991 are taken from Census of India (1991a); Census of India (2001).
8R. B. BHAGAT AND SOUMYA MOHANTY
Size Class of Cities and Urban Growth
The cities and towns in India are classified into a six-fold classification. The first size
class, known as cities, comprises places having a population of 100,000 and more, and the
last category consists of tiny towns with a population less than 5000. For a meaningful
comparison of the changes in population across size class of cities and towns, the
categories of towns comprising population less than 20,000 are grouped together and
shown as small towns (Census of India 1991c). Further, cities with population of a million
and more deserve a special category in India’s urbanization because of their large size and
economic dominance in the country. Such cities are called million plus or metropolitan
Table 2 presents the percentage distribution of urban population by size class of
cities and towns in India over the last century. As the 1991 Census was not held in Jammu
and Kashmir and the 1981 Census could not be held in Assam, the town-level population
figures are not available for these states for the 1991 and the 1981 censuses, respectively.
Therefore, to provide comparable data over time, these states are excluded from all census
years. It may be seen from Table 2 that about five per cent of the population lived in
Level of urbanization in India, 2001.
URBANIZATION AND MIGRATION IN INDIA 9
million cities in 1901, with the figure rising close to 20 per cent in 1951 and to nearly
40 per cent by 2001. The number of million cities has also gone up from one in 1901 to 35
in 2001 (see Table 3 for distribution of cities and towns). Kolkata was the only city which
fell into the million cities category at the beginning of the twentieth century, then Mumbai
joined the rank of million plus cities in 1911. For nearly four decades, there were only two
million cities, and then Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad joined the rank of million cities in
1951, increasing the total number of million cities to five. In 1981, the million cities
Percentage distribution of urban population by size-class of urban centres, India, 19012001.
(one million &
(50 to 100
(20 to 50
1901 5.86 20.11 11.29 15.64 47.10
1911 10.89 16.74 10.51 16.40 45.46
1921 11.30 18.40 10.39 15.92 43.99
1931 10.34 20.86 11.65 16.80 40.35
1941 12.19 26.04 11.42 16.35 34.00
1951 19.07 25.57 9.96 15.72 29.69
1961 23.34 28.08 11.23 16.94 20.41
1971 26.02 31.22 10.92 16.01 15.83
1981 26.93 33.49 11.63 14.33 13.62
1991 33.18 32.01 10.95 13.19 10.66
2001 37.85 30.78 9.73 12.29 9.36
Excludes Assam where the 1981 Census could not be held, and Jammu and Kashmir where 1991
Census was not held.
Census of India (1991c); Census of India (2001); data from Census website www.censusindia.net
and compact disk.
Number of urban agglomerations/towns by size-class in India, 19012001.
Census year All classes
towns (50 to
towns (20 to
(less than 20
1901 1811 1 23 43 130 1614
1911 1754 2 21 40 135 1556
1921 1894 2 27 45 145 1675
1931 2017 2 33 56 183 1743
1941 2190 2 47 74 242 1825
1951 2795 5 71 91 327 2301
1961 2270 7 95 129 437 1602
1971 2476 9 139 173 558 1597
1981 3245 12 204 270 738 2021
1991 3609 23 273 341 927 2045
2001 4199 35 350 392 1137 2285
Excludes Assam where the 1981 Census could not be held and Jammu and Kashmir where the
1991 Census was not held.
Census of India (1991c); Census of India (2001); data from Census website www.censusindia.net
and compact disk.
10 R. B. BHAGAT AND SOUMYA MOHANTY
numbered 12. By 1991, 11 more metropolizes were added to the list, increasing the total
number to 23. During the last decade 19912001, 12 more million plus cities have been
added, increasing the total number of million plus cities to 35. As a result, the
concentration of urban population in million plus cities increased significantly in the
last decade from about one-fourth in the 1970s to 1980s to almost two-fifths in the 1990s.
Among the metropolitan cities, six cities that have a population of more than five million,
namely Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore, constitute one-fifth of
the total urban population. When we look at all cities or territories with a population of
100,000 and more, one-fourth of the total urban population lived in cities in 1901. This
went up to 45 per cent in 1951 and further increased to 69 per cent in 2001. It is
worthwhile to note that the increasing concentration of population in cities, as well as in
million cities, has been a striking feature of India’s urbanization during the last century.
The increasing concentration of population in cities sometimes gives the impression
that cities are growing much faster than small- and medium-sized towns; however, this is
not true when the growth rates of population across size-class of cities and towns is
considered. In fact, cities and towns are growing at about the same rate. This has been
confirmed by a number of studies using data from various censuses (Bhagat 2004; Census
of India 1991; Mohan & Pant 1982; Visaria 1997). However, the promotion of cities from
lower size-class status over the decades skews the share of cities in the rise of the total
urban population. For example, from 1991 to 2001, nearly 100 towns acquired city status.
At the state level, the increasing concentration of population in cities reaches as high as
83 per cent in West Bengal, 80 per cent in Maharashtra, and 76 per cent in Gujarat and in
Andhra Pradesh. The distribution of cities and their share in the total urban population of a
state shows the nature of the hierarchy among urban places, and the extent of dominance
of cities in a state’s economy. Punjab, Orissa and several other smaller states show a more
balanced distribution of population across size-class of cities and towns or lesser
dominance of cities in their regional economy. However, this is not true for several other
large states. A wider perspective will show that it is not only the cities that dominate
India’s urban structure; rather, it is the metropolitan cities that have the greater influence.
Trends and Patterns of Migration
Urbanization is crucially linked to migration. Whether migration is a strong or a weak
force in the urbanization process depends upon the nature and pattern of migration.
Apart from economic reasons, migration occurs due to a host of socio-cultural and other
factors. Before the contribution of migration in urban growth is discussed, it would be
worthwhile to mention the nature and sources of migration data in India.
In India, migrants are not required to be registered either at the place of origin or at
the place of destination. However, the Indian Census counts the migrants and provides
data on migration based on place of birth (POB) and place of last residence (POLR). If the
POB or POLR is different from the place of enumeration, a person is defined as a migrant.
The census does not, however, provide any information on the number of movements
that were made by a migrant. A village in a rural area and a town in an urban area is the
lowest administrative unit used in defining the POB and POLR. This makes it possible to
identify intra-district, inter-district, and up to inter-state migration. However, the move-
ment within a village or within a town or city is not considered migration (Srivastava 1972).
The POLR data have been available since the 1971 Census. As the POLR item is able
URBANIZATION AND MIGRATION IN INDIA 11
to capture the return migrants unlike the POB, the former is generally used in the study of
migration in India. Also, the POLR data on migration provides information on the duration
of migration, which makes it possible to segregate the inter-censal migrants in estimating
the contribution of migration in India’s urbanization. However, the census data mostly
permit estimation of migration for people who have changed their residence either on a
permanent or semi-permanent basis, which is appropriate for the estimation of the
contribution of migration to urban growth. However, the census definition does not seem
very appropriate as an aid in understanding the total mobility pattern, including seasonal
and temporary migration that often occurs between the rural to rural and rural to
urban areas. In 19992000, the National Sample Survey Organization (2001) estimated
10.8 million seasonal and circular migrants who have stayed for 60 days or more in another
place in the preceding year. Also, the commutation from the rural areas to the nearby
urban centre is an important phenomenon, but this form of spatial mobility along with
seasonal and circular migration shows more the magnitude of ruralurban linkages rather
than significantly influencing urban growth.
As per the 2001 Census, the total number of internal migrants based on the POLR
was 309 million, constituting nearly 31 per cent of the total population. It may be recalled
here that several researchers who have analysed the past census data on migration have
pointed out that India’s population mobility since the 1950s has been stable (Davies 1962;
Kundu 2007; Skeldon 1986). It is important for the number of internal migrants to be
disaggregated into the different migration streams in order to assess the role of migration
in urban growth. The streams of migration include rural to rural, rural to urban, urban to
rural, and urban to urban areas. Rural to urban migration adds to urban population,
whereas urban to rural depletes the urban population; the net balance of the two streams
is the actual contribution to the process of urbanization. Table 4 shows the streams of
migration by intra-state (intra-district and inter-district) and inter-state movements broken
down according to migration streams. The rural to rural stream of migration constituted
Size and growth rates of migrants by streams of migration in India (09 years duration).
Growth rate (%)
1000 females) 1971
Rural to rural 48.8 60.6 257 14.8 0.2 12.2
Rural to urban 14.2 17.6 842 47.8 6.7 7.3
Urban to rural 5.2 6.5 651 29.4 4.8 1.0
Urban to urban 9.8 12.1 796 50.0 11.2 23.6
Rural to rural 4.4 26.6 648 12.1 3.4 54.0
Rural to urban 6.3 38.2 1480 22.8 20.1 76.5
Urban to rural 1.0 6.0 984 14.1 9.6 11.2
Urban to urban 4.4 26.7 970 18.0 6.0 24.3
Census of India, Migration Tables from 1971 to 1991; D-2 Table for the 2001 Census available on
compact disk; migrants unclassifiable by ruralurban streams are excluded.
12 R. B. BHAGAT AND SOUMYA MOHANTY
61 per cent of all intra-state migrants, and 27 per cent in the case of inter-state migrants.
The rural to rural migration stream is dominated by marriage migration of females who
change their parental residence and move to the place of husband’s residence after
marriage (Srivastava & Sasikumar 2003). This is evident by the sex ratio of migrants
presented in Table 4. However, rural to urban migration, which forms 18 and 38 per cent of
intra-state and inter-state migrants, respectively, is predominantly a phenomenon among
It may be seen from Table 4 that males are preponderant in inter-state rural to urban
migration as number of male migrants goes as high as 1480 per 1000 female migrants. The
growth rates by streams of migration show that there was a significant decline from the
decade 19711981 to 19811991, but it picked up during 19912001. The decade 1981
1991 also experienced a slowdown in the rate of urbanization, and the acceleration in the
growth of migration during the 1990s did not reverse this decline. It may also be observed
from Table 4 that both intra- and inter-state urban to urban and rural to rural migration
during the 1990s show much higher rates. These are the streams that do not contribute
directly to the urban growth. However, the intra-state rural to urban migration, which is
twice as much as the inter-state rural to urban migration in 19711981 remained stagnant
during the 1990s. The inter-state rural to urban migration showed an accelerated growth,
but its volume was not enough to stall the declining trend in urban growth during the
Figure 2 presents the major inter-state migration flows during 19912001. The most
prominent feature is the large net outflow from the state of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state
which harbours nearly one-fifth of India’s population, and which experienced a net loss of
2.7 million during the period 19912001. People from Uttar Pradesh have migrated to
almost every state. The main destinations are Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Punjab
and Madhya Pradesh. Similarly, Bihar also lost migrants to almost every state; the net loss
during 19912001 was 1.7 million. For the out-migrants from Bihar, Delhi is the most
important destination followed by West Bengal and Maharashtra. It may also be noted that
both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have very low levels of urbanization (see Figure 1).
However, more urbanized states, like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab, are attracting
large numbers of migrants. The state of Maharashtra experienced a net gain of 3.2 million
during the decade 19912001. The pull factor is strong in Maharashtra (where Mumbai is
located) as it attracts people from almost every state. The major origin states among
migrants are Uttar Pradesh followed by Karnataka, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Along with Maharashtra, the national capital territory of Delhi has been an important
destination for migrants from almost all states of India. During the period 19912001, Delhi
gained a net addition of 1.7 million people coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. After
Maharashtra and Delhi, Gujarat follows as the favoured destination among migrants.
Gujarat is where the largest net migration (0.67 million) during 19912001 occurred, with
most migrants coming from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Orissa. However, it is
important to mention that Gujarat is the only state to which Maharashtra lost a substantial
number of people during 19912001. This shows the dynamic pattern of migration
emerging in western India. It may be seen from Figure 2 that two regional migration
systems are emerging in western and northern India surrounding the mega cities of
Mumbai and Delhi. On the whole, the inter-state flow of migration shown in Figure 2 is
consistent with the level of urbanization shown in Figure 1. However, the precise
URBANIZATION AND MIGRATION IN INDIA 13
contribution of migration to urban growth could be known only after assessing the other
components of urban growth presented in the following section.
Components of Urban Growth
In many developing countries, the lack of adequate data on rural to urban migration
as well as reliable data on natural increase precludes the disaggregation of urban growth
by its various components (Brockerhoff 1999). There are four main components of urban
growth, namely: (i) natural increase; (ii) net migration to urban areas; (iii) reclassification of
settlements as towns or its declassification as a result of changes in the nature of
economic activities and acquisition of urban characteristics; (iv) the extension of
boundaries of cities and towns.
In many developing countries including India, the natural increase in urban
population remains very high and has not declined until recently. The trend in the
natural increase for the last three decades up to the year 2000 is presented in Table 5. The
natural increase in urban areas remained at 19 per 1000 persons during 19701980 and
19801990. Furthermore, natural increase in rural areas also slightly increased during this
Major net migration ﬂow (duration 09 years) in India, 2001.
14 R. B. BHAGAT AND SOUMYA MOHANTY
period. The reason for the constant natural increase in the urban areas until 1990 is that
urban birth and death rates have declined in the same magnitude. During the 1990s,
however, urban birth rate declined faster than urban death rate. As a result, the natural
increase in urban areas declined to 15.8 per 1000 persons during the 1990s compared to
the rate of 19.3 per 1000 persons observed during the 1980s. This phenomenon
has certainly contributed to the slowdown in the urban growth rate during the period
19912001. In the future, urban growth is likely to slow further because the urban birth
rate of about 22 per 1000 persons observed during 19902000 is projected to decline
further, whereas the urban death rate of seven per 1000 persons observed during the
same period may not decline.
Table 6 presents the estimated contribution of the four components of urban
growth for the decades 19711981 to 19912001. The natural increase in urban areas of
the initial population as well as of the inter-censal migrants continues to be the largest
contributor to the urban growth (58 per cent) during 19912001, although its share has
declined by about five per cent compared to the previous decade. The estimation of
natural increase includes the natural increase of inter-censal migrants as suggested by
Visaria (1997). A recent study by Premi (2006b) did not take this factor into account, and as
a result, the contribution of natural increase was underestimated at 53 per cent during
19912001. Further, Premi’s use of the provisional population figures of the 2001 Census
resulted in an overestimation of the contribution of the net reclassification from rural to
urban areas (14 per cent compared to 12 per cent in the present study). However, in both
studies, the net contribution of migration is estimated based on the POLR data derived
from migration tables and the results are similar.
Table 6 shows that the contribution of migration towards urban growth remained
stable at around 20 per cent during the last three decades. It may be seen that in spite of
decline in the growth of migration during 19811991, its share remained almost static
from 19711981 to 19811991. This is because while rural to urban migration had declined
during the 1980s, the counter stream of urban to rural migration had also declined
drastically. As a result, the net migration to urban areas increased from 9.3 million in the
decade 19711981 to 10.6 million in the decade 19811991. Thus, the contribution of
Birth, death and natural increase by ruralurban residence, 19711980 to 19912000, India.
Rate of natural
increase (per 1000)
Rural 35.8 15.8 20.0
Urban 28.5 9.2 19.3
Rural 33.9 12.6 21.3
Urban 27.0 7.7 19.3
Rural 29.4 9.9 19.5
Urban 22.3 6.5 15.8
Sample Registration System Bulletins of various volumes published by the Office of the Registrar
URBANIZATION AND MIGRATION IN INDIA 15
migration to urbanization remained unaffected in the 1980s and indeed remained stable
over the last three decades. The slowing down of urbanization could be more correctly
attributed to the reclassification of towns and to some extent, to the limited geographical
expansion of the existing towns by jurisdictional changes during the 1980s. The share of
net reclassification (population of new towns minus declassified towns compiled directly
from census sources) has declined from nearly 19 per cent in the decade 19711981 to
17 per cent in the decade 19811991. Also, the contribution of jurisdictional changes
(estimated here as residual) declined from 13 per cent in 19711981 to nearly two per cent
in the decade 19811991.
During the 1990s, the slowing down of urbanization could be attributed to the
decline in the share of natural increase as well as to the reduction in the share of net
reclassification of settlements. Although the number of new towns has gone up from 856
in 1991 to 1138 in 2001, the number of declassified towns has also increased from 93 in
1991 to 445 in 2001. Thus, the net addition of new towns was 693 in 2001, lower than the
net addition of 763 towns in 1991. This shows that the role of the net reclassification of
settlements in lowering the urban growth increased during the decade 19912001.
However, the jurisdictional changes declared by the respective state governments or by
the Census of India recasting towns into urban agglomeration forms gained importance in
India’s urbanization as early as the 1970s (Shaw 2005). Although the share of jurisdictional
Contribution of the components of urban growth, India, 19712001.
Population in million Percentage distribution
Urban increment 49.9 56.8 68.2 100.0 100.0 100.0
Natural increase (of initial
population plus inter-
24.9 35.4 39.3 50.0 62.3 57.6
Net reclassification from
rural to urban
9.3 9.8 8.4 18.6 17.2 12.3
Net ruralurban migration 9.3 10.6 14.2 18.6 18.7 20.8*
6.4 1.0 6.3 12.8 1.8 9.2
(i) Census was not held in Assam in 1981 and in Jammu and Kashmir in 1991. The decade 1971
1981 excludes Assam; the decade 19811991 excludes Assam and Jammu and Kashmir; and the figures of
19912001 exclude Jammu and Kashmir. (ii) Net reclassification means population of new towns minus
declassified towns. The figures up to 1991 are taken from Census of India (1991a, p. 37). The figures for
19912001 are derived by the same procedure using data on new and declassified towns based on Census
of India (2001). (iii) Net rural to urban migration figures are derived from Migration Tables of the respective
years based on place of last residence with duration 09 years. See Census of India (1981); Census of India
(1991b); Census 2001 migration data are available on compact disk. (iv) Natural increase is estimated
exponentially by the authors based on the natural increase given in Table 5.
*There were 2.9 million migrants unclassifiable by rural and urban streams of migration with duration 09
years in the 2001 Census, 1.8 and 1.1 million of them located in rural and urban areas, respectively. On
the assumption that 1.1 million enumerated in urban areas belong to rural to urban streams, the share of
net rural to urban migration would increase to 15.3 million during 19912001 and the contribution of
migration will go up to 22.4 per cent. Consequently, the residual showing jurisdictional changes in urban
areas will decline from 9.2 per cent to 7.7 per cent for the decade 19912001.
16 R. B. BHAGAT AND SOUMYA MOHANTY
change has declined in the 1980s, it has re-emerged as a significant factor in the 1990s.
The 2001 Census shows that as many as 221 towns were merged with the neighbouring
towns and cities during the 1990s. Such mergers are significant in the process of areal
expansion of adjacent cities and towns, often involving the incorporation of rural areas
between them. It may not be incorrect to point out that India’s future urbanization would
be much more influenced by this factor given the sluggish emergence of new towns, the
low contribution of migration, and the declining trend in the natural increase in urban
The contribution of net migration in urban growth during the 1990s at the national
level is estimated to be nearly 21 per cent. Out of this, about eight per cent was
contributed by inter-state net migration, and the remaining 13 per cent is added by the
net intra-state migration in the urban areas. At the state level, the share of migration in
urban growth is observed to be much higher in some of the smaller states and UTs.
Among the major states, Gujarat tops the list with 36 per cent of urban growth
contributed by migration, closely followed by Maharashtra and Haryana. The state of
Punjab stands on par with the national average in terms of the contribution of migration
to urban growth. Most of the northern and north-eastern states reveal much lower
contribution of migration than the national average. The most important fact emerging
from the analysis of the components of urban growth of major states is that the less
urbanized states are growing mostly through natural increase, whereas the contribution of
migration continues to be higher in more urbanized states, though even in these states, it
contributes not more than one-third of the urban growth.
It is very difficult to predict the future level of urbanization for a country like India
because the urbanization level depends not only upon demographic trends, but on
economic and political factors as well. As such, many of the short-term projections by the
Indian government were not fulfilled. The Planning Commission of India projected the
urban population to be at 30.5 per cent of the total population for the year 2001 based on
the 1991 Census data (Planning Commission 1992) but the 2001 Census came out with a
lower proportion of urban population at 27.8 per cent. Hence, expectations from the new
economic policy launched in 1991 and the concomitant higher economic growth during
the 1990s did not come into fruition. Although the rural to urban migration has increased
more during the 1990s compared to the 1980s, it had negligible impact in increasing the
contribution of migration to urban growth. As such, the arguments forwarded by the
Planning Commission regarding the impact of economic reforms were only partly true in
so far as the increased role of migration towards urbanization is concerned, but they
proved to be incorrect in forecasting urban growth as the entire demographic spectrum of
urban growth, particularly the role of natural increase, was missed. It was also expected
that there would be extensive reclassification of localities or large villages into towns. As
Visaria pointed out, ‘it would be a mistake to presume that urbanization will continue to
be slow during the 1990s and beyond’ (Visaria 1997, p. 269). However, the 2001 Census did
not show massive reclassification of villages into towns; rather, its net contribution even
declined during the 1990s.
At the national level, the contribution of migration towards urban growth remained
stable at around one-fifth in the last several decades. It has been observed that the growth
URBANIZATION AND MIGRATION IN INDIA 17
of migration has significantly accelerated during the 1990s after a considerable
deceleration in the previous decade. But the acceleration was more prominent in rural
to rural and urban to urban streams, which do not directly contribute to the urban growth.
However, growth in intra-state rural to urban migration remained stagnant and although
inter-state rural to urban migration accelerated, it only contributed about 10 per cent to
In the future, urban to urban migration is likely to accelerate in India due to
changing labour market demand (Dyson & Visaria 2004), but this would have no impact as
far as urban growth is concerned. However, it is possible that intra-state rural to urban
migration will accelerate, but inter-state rural to urban migration, where movement is
directed towards only a handful of metropolitan cities, may not significantly increase the
contribution of migration in urban growth. On the whole, the contribution of migration is
likely to be stable, and unless accompanied by increased reclassification of villages into
towns, urban growth is most likely to decelerate further in the future as natural increase in
urban populations is on the path of accelerated decline. A recent projection by the
Registrar General and the Census Commissioner puts the urban population of India at
358 million by the year 2011. This approximation presumes an addition of 72 million in the
urban areas for the decade 20012011, an estimate that is very close to the urban
population increment of 69 million recorded during 19912001 (Registrar General and
Census Commissioner 2006). The projected percentage of urban population against the
total population would be about 30 per cent by the year 2011, and the average annual
urban growth would decline to 2.2 per cent during 20012011 from the 2.7 per cent
observed during 19912001. This projection also follows closely the projection made by
the Population Division of the United Nations (United Nations 2006). The 2011 Census of
India is just a few years away, and will enable us to detect any new developments in
urbanization and assess the accuracy of the aforementioned projections.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the PAA Annual Meeting 2008 held in
New Orleans. The authors are thankful to PAA for travel grants. Thanks are due also to the
three anonymous referees for their helpful comments, and to Professor Gavin Jones for
his suggestions in revising this paper.
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R. B. Bhagat (author to whom correspondence should be addressed), Department of
Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences,
Mumbai-400088, India. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Soumya Mohanty, Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute
for Population Sciences, Mumbai-400088, India.
20 R. B. BHAGAT AND SOUMYA MOHANTY