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Urbanisation in India ON THE RISE

Urban expansion in India will happen at a speed quite unlike anything the country or the world has seen before. It took nearly 40 years (from 1971 to 2008) for India’s urban population to rise by nearly 230 million; it will take only half that time to add the next 250 million. For the first time in India’s history, five of its largest states will have more of their population living in cities than in villages… We find out more…



THE 2018 Revision of World Urbanisation Prospects by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), suggests that currently, 55% of the world population lives in urban areas. This is expected to grow to 68% by 2050. Projections show that urbanization, the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas, combined with the overall growth of the world’s population could add another 2.5 billion people to urban areas by 2050, with close to 90% of this increase taking place in Asia and Africa, according to a new United Nations data set launched today.
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) predicts that future increases in the world’s urban population will be concentrated in just a few countries. India, China and Nigeria are together expected to account for 35% of the projected growth in the world’s urban population until 2050; of these three, the absolute growth in urban population is projected to be the highest in India.

In terms of sheer numbers, the largest urban transformation of the 21st century is thus happening in India, and the Indian real estate and infrastructure industry is a key contributor to this growth.
Together, India, China and Nigeria will account for 35% of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050. By 2050, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million. The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018.

Asia, despite its relatively lower level of urbanization, is home to 54% of the world’s urban population, followed by Europe and Africa with 13% each. Today, the most urbanized regions include Northern America (with 82% of its population living in urban areas in 2018), Latin America and the Caribbean (81%), Europe (74%) and Oceania (68%).

The level of urbanization in Asia is now approximating 50%. In contrast, Africa remains mostly rural, with 43% of its population living in urban areas. India’s real estate sector is expected to contribute 13% to the country’s GDP by 2025 and reach a market size of $1 trillion by 2030.

However, the environmental footprint of the Indian real estate industry is also mounting. Buildings in India account for 40% energy use, 30% raw material use, 20% water use and 20% land use; they also generate 30% of solid waste and 20% of water effluents.

The sector is responsible for 24% of India’s annual CO2 emissions, contributing to global warming and poor air quality. It is therefore critical that India adopts a holistic and sustainable approach to real estate development. Is the world prepared to bear the brunt of unsustainable urban growth in India? India’s urbanization is globally relevant for several reasons:

India is a country in the midst of huge changes. As a developing nation with a GDP ranked 7th globally and a population of 1.3 billion people, India has seen a massive amount of improvements in recent years. However, as the nation’s population continues to expand, India suffers from overpopulation in metropolitan areas, a dynamic known as urbanization.

According to World Bank estimates, India will continue to be the fastest growing major economy in the world, with 7.5% GDP growth predicted in the next two years. It is already one of the most sought-after foreigninvestment destinations and is expected to become the third largest consumer economy by 2025. A young demographic base, growing income levels, expanding (globalized) middle-class and stable democracy has propelled India into the league of major global economic powers. The same UNDESA report suggests that Delhi will become the most populated city and that too in less than 10 years. The population of Delhi’s urban agglomeration will reach 3.7 crores in 2028 against Tokyo’s 3.6 crores. Tokyo is currently the most populated city in the world. So, how will Delhi and its urban agglomeration solve the problems of transport, housing, energy, jobs etc. for its residents? One way to solve a problem is to look at how a similar issue has been addressed elsewhere. For example, Metro rail in India has scaled up after the launch of Delhi Metro. This is because cities could learn for Delhi Metro’s experience and replicate the same. But in the case of urban management at this scale, there is no parallel example.

India’s unique pattern of urbanization is not a corollary, but a driving force of this growth story. Its cities contribute about two-thirds of its economic output and are the main recipients of FDI. Seventy per cent of future employment is expected to be generated in Indian cities, with emerging cities (population less than 1 million) driving consumption expenditure. With 70% of India’s built environment for 2030 yet to take shape, its impending urban transformation also represents significant opportunities for domestic and international investments. However, this urban success story demands a closer look.

Many of India’s metropolises and cities contend with unsustainable levels of stress on infrastructure, resources and public services. To achieve sustainable growth, these cities will have to become more liveable and safe with clean air; adequate infrastructure; reliable utilities; and opportunities for learning and employment. The solution lies in inclusive urbanization processes that prioritize quality of life for all, focusing especially on the needs of vulnerable urban groups for employment, housing, sanitation, healthcare and education. Most importantly, planning must incorporate long-term resource sensitivity and community involvement at every step, while benchmarking smart and measurable outcomes for all stakeholders.

Ninety percent of the world’s urban population growth by 2050 is expected to occur in Asia and Africa, in countries with socio-economic profiles comparable to India. Interestingly, India is currently at a unique tipping point in its journey of urban development, with 300 million new urban residents projected by the same year. A plurality of cultures, languages, climate zones and landscapes, combined with the Indian government’s efforts towards citizen-focused urban development, means that India is poised to establish unique global benchmarks in sustainable urbanization. The study and findings from its rapidly advancing urban agglomerations can help emerging Asian and African countries design policies and strategy to better prepare for their local influx and growth.

The world is now in the third year of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and making Indian cities inclusive, sustainable, resilient and safe is critical to achieving the global 2030 Agenda.

graph for april

We all understand that building cities is capital-intensive and requires long-term planning. However, the way in which India’s cities grow will define how it achieves its SDGs. This “how” must incorporate resilience to mitigate climate risk and productivity loss; ensure inclusivity; and be biodiverse and socially vibrant. This is the vision for India, and the good news is that we are already making sustainable urban development a priority.
Renewable energy. India registered a growth of approximately ~67% in wind power production in the last four years and also recorded its biggest ever solar power capacity addition of 5525.98 MW in 2017-18. Policy-driven urban rejuvenation. Realising the importance of managing the process of urbanization, the government has launched visionary programmes such as Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), 100 Smart Cities Mission, Housing for All (PMAY) and Swachh Bharat Mission. These initiatives seek to ensure that urban progress is accessible to all and quality of life is enhanced.
A “green” built environment. Of the 60 major opportunities related to delivering the UN SDGs, six of them fall in the net-zero energy buildings (NZEB) sector: affordable housing; energy-efficient buildings; resilient cities; durable and modular buildings; smart metering; and water and sanitation infrastructure. India’s green buildings market is estimated to double by 2022, supported by growing awareness and policy provision. The private sector is already a key contributor to the green buildings movement in India and is driving consumer awareness and innovation, via initiatives such as the Mahindra – TERI Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Habitats.

India’s transportation demand has grown by more than eightfold since 1980. We are navigating our way around resulting challenges such as economic loss from pollution, congestion and inefficient fuel use. The magnitude and complexity of our mobility-related challenges is unique to the Indian context and has resulted in a tailored approach. In rural India, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) has focused on building all-weather roads at a rate of 130km a day. At the national level, policies such as the National Urban Transport Policy & the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 seek to provide safe, affordable, quick and sustainable access; and achieve fuel security and leadership in electric mobility. Urban India will need about another 2.4 million homes to be built by 2020 – a massive opportunity for positive change. Our built infrastructure can mitigate environmental impact and transform the way we live, work and play. We must mainstream green buildings, use alternative sources of energy; invest in housing, transportation and waste management, and leverage public-private partnership. The world is watching the growth pathway that India is taking. From my vantage point as an urban practitioner and observer, I believe that India must nurture its urbanization in indigenous ways, dealing with challenges by devising solutions that integrate a broader range of local factors. We must tap into lessons from ancient cities of India, while also drawing upon modern urban best practices that can be adapted in uniquely Indian ways. Understanding key emerging trends in India’s urbanization is imperative to forge a new global framework of sustainable development.

About 34% of India’s population now lives in urban areas, the U.N. World Urbanization Prospects 2018 report has said. This is an increase of about three percentage points since the 2011 Census. One way to look at the growth in urbanisation is by studying the size of urban agglomeration, which denotes contiguous territories with an urban population density.

The number of megasized urban clusters (above 50 lakh population) has remained almost constant over the years. However, the number of smaller urban clusters has been increasing rapidly.

The chart shows the number of urban agglomeration clusters of varying population over the years. Housing projects in India are way behind the targets, but slums seem to have been on the agenda of several state governments show some of the projects initiated this year. Two new research papers too provided an interesting insight on the Indian slums, especially in Bangalore. While the disputes over illegal constructions kept the courts busy, opposition to urban infrastructure projects due to their environmental impacts dominated news reports.

The “Ease of Living Index” launched in September 2018 has been a transformative initiative of the urban ministry to help cities assess their liveability. The seven largest cities in India will become even bigger until 2030. Prospects suggest that the population growth of India ́s capital Delhi will increase about one third within the next decade up to 38.9 million people. We list the major developments of the year:


Urbanization in India began to accelerate after, due to the country’s adoption of a mixed economy, which gave rise to the development of the private sector. Urbanisation is taking place at a faster rate in India.

India needs 30 lakh buses for transport
The total number of buses available for transporting general passengers is less than one-tenth of the requirement, posing an enormous logistical challenge, revealed government data.

The Delhi Metro is the second-most unaffordable in the world among Metro systems that charge less than half a US dollar for a trip, says a study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Mumbaikars can soon commute in environment-friendly buses to be operated on methane, ethanol and electric batteries.

The ministry of power launched the ECO Niwas Samhita 2018, an Energy Conservation Building Code for Residential Buildings (ECBC-R). The implementation of this Code is expected to push for energy efficiency in residential sector.

In order to cement manifestation of Indian government’s mission to go fully electric on roads by 2030, Town and Country Planning organisation has prepared a draft which proposes to amend building by-laws and make it compulsory for residential and commercial buildings and even parking lots, to have electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.


Uttarakhand Urban Local Bodies and Authorities Special Provisions (2018) got approved by the cabinet. It aims at tackling the rehabilitation and resettlement issues and also punishing persons occupying government land illegally.


World Urbanization Prospects
Delhi is projected to become the most populous city in the world around 2028, according to this new United Nations estimates, which said India is expected to add the largest number of urban dwellers by 2050.

Global Cities: The Future of the World’s Leading Urban Economies
Seventeen of 20 fastest growing cities in the world will be from India reveals this annual Global Cities report.

It has forecast significant growth disparities between cities around the globe over the coming decades to 2035 and predicts farreaching changes in the world’s urban order.

Transforming India’s mobility: A Perspective – NITI Aayog
This report calls for efficient and convenient public transport to answer the twin problems of pollution and congestion.

Annual survey of India’s citysystems, 2017 – Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy
It evaluated quality of governance in cities, covering 23

major cities in India across 20 states based on 89 questions. Indian cities scored between 3.0 and 5.1 on 10, with Pune topping the charts for the first time.

The World’s Cities in 2018 – United Nations Department of Economic And Social Affairs (UN DESA)
Close to three in five cities worldwide with at least 500,000 inhabitants are at high risk of a natural disaster, cautions UN DESA in its latest data booklet, The World’s Cities in 2018. Collectively, these cities are home to 1.4 billion people or around one third of the world’s urban population

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