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India is 50% urban, Govt of India's 33% estimate based on stringent classification: World Bank-supported report

By Rajiv Shah
A new high-profile report supported, among others, by World Bank, has said that the Government of India estimate that the country’s urban population, 420 million or 33% of its total population in 2015, undervalues the “true extent” of urbanization in the country.
The report, titled “Better Cities, Better Growth: India’s Urban Opportunity”, blames this on India’s official classification of urban areas as being “more stringent than in most other countries”, pointing towards “long delays in the redrawing of municipal boundaries for fast-growing new areas on the edges of existing metropolitan areas.”
Quoting World Bank studies to arrive at a globally comparable definition of urbanization, the report estimates that “India is already over 50% urbanized”, adding, “Such a finding would underline even more emphatically the central importance of urbanization for India’s development.”
Apart from the World Bank, those who have partnered for preparing the report include World Resources Institute, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Coalition for Urban Transitions and University of North Carolina, US.
Released amidst the Government of India’s “array of initiatives” to tackle issues of urban growth and liveability, including 100 Smart Cities, Clean India Mission, 500 Cities Fund, Urban Infrastructure, Heritage Cities, and “Make in India” programmes, the report says, “In terms of absolute numbers, urbanization in India is occurring on a scale second only to China.”
Sticking to the existing conservative calculation of urbanization in India, the report adds, “Between 2000 and 2014, India added nearly 127 million new residents to its towns and cities; over the next 15 years its urban population is projected to grow by a further 177 million. Between 2001 and 2015, the number of cities in India with a population of a million or more increased from 35 to 53.”
The report believes, a major reason for a sharp spurt in urbanization in India is that an “an Indian household moving from a small rural area to a large urban area is able to double its per capita household expenditure due to the change in location, holding other household characteristics constant.”
However, the report warns, the fast pace of unplanned urbanization adds to huge infrastructure costs. “Land regulations restrict the construction of tall buildings and availability of built-up space, with pervasive, harmful consequences, including severe overcrowding”, it says.
Especially blaming congestion on household transport because of the “model” in India which “encourages private vehicle ownership”, the report says, “Ownership and operating costs average Rs 125,000 per year for a car, and Rs 20,000 per year for a two-wheeler.”
“In contrast, a typical commuter by public transport in India may pay Rs 2,000–10,000 annually for fares, and a bicycle user typically Rs 2,000–4,000 annually”, it underlines.
Providing a comparison of four cities, the report suggests, the cost would be particularly high in Surat, where there is just 1% share of trips by public bus, compared to 28% in Bangalore, 13% in Pune and 9% in Indore.
Added to this are related problems such as significant increase “vehicle crash” frequency, traffic congestion, air, and noise pollution costs, increased health risks, reductions in open space, potentially leading to reduced agricultural productivity and environmental benefits, growing external fuel costs, and so on, the report says.
In aggregate terms, the report says, these costs could be a whopping US$330 billion to US$1.8 trillion per annum by 2050, which is equal to 1.2–6.3% of GDP.
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Download report HERE

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