Urban Definitions

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According to the 2011 Census, India is 31% urban – a statistic that is much-relied on to shape development strategies and perceptions about the country. The percent of India governed as urban – that is, administered by urban local bodies such as municipal corporations – is even lower at 26%. We compare the urbanisation rate of India using the two government definitions – the administrative definition and Census definition – which can be discretionary in nature, with two alternative definitions that make use of objective population threshold criteria. We find that while India is 47% urban by the 5,000 population definition, and 65% urban by the 2,500 population definition. We also conduct a state-level comparison of the relationship between urbanisation rates as measured by the administrative, census, and alternative definitions, and poverty rates, per capita net state domestic product, and share of working population engaged in agriculture and cultivation. We find that the census definition and 5,000 population definition have a stronger relationship with these characteristics as compared to the administrative definition. We also argue that alternative definitions are better suited than the administrative definition used by the government to determine policies like eligibility for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).

The team has published a working paper and several opinion pieces and blogs based on the research done for this project.


Team Lead
Vaidehi Tandel

Former Junior Fellow

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