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Responding to rapid urban expansion


Responding to rapid urban expansion



With its urban population expected to reach 600 million by 2031, India should all be geared up to encounter an urban revolution.

How different will this urban revolution be?

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. Interestingly, this has also been confirmed by the World Bank in its report Urbanization Beyond Municipal Boundaries.

Challenges posed by this kind of development?

This kind of urban sprawl 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, the ecosystem of the region is also threatened.
  • In the midst of such a transformation, the livelihoods of people in peri-urban areas will also become precarious.

Why state’s intervention is necessary?

New expansions are largely led by private developers. Hence, the state cannot afford to turn a blind eye to growth led by private developers in these areas as it only leads to the development of certain pockets like gated communities, with no attention paid to public infrastructure. The recent water-logging crises in Gurgaon and Bangalore demonstrate how untrammelled development without the provision of basic urban amenities like a proper drainage system can result in an urban dystopia.

Also, often the agricultural land in the urban periphery that is acquired for mega-projects from farmers at very cheap rates and then transferred to various business and commercial units, leaves landowners and cultivators out of the development process. They are then forced to relocate.

How should the state respond to this change?

  • With urban expansion becoming inevitable, the state can no more discourage or contain the outgrowth of cities. Hence, it is in its best interest for the state 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.
  • 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.
  • Alongside National Rurban Mission, which aims to develop 300 “rurban” growth clusters, the government should also develop peri-urban areas adjacent to India’s mega-cities which may not administratively come under an urban local body (ULB).
  • 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.


The rapid pace of urban development is resulting in social and economic costs to the society and businesses due to a lack of consideration for the social, environmental and economic impacts of urban development activities. However, urban growth is also contributing to economic growth and raising government revenues, although the benefits of this growth are not distributed evenly. Urbanization is a complex and dynamic process, with many actors and systems interacting and influencing each other. And despite the efforts of governments and planning authorities, the outcomes of these interactions are difficult to control and are sometimes unpredictable.