September 04, 2015

Chasing Definitions in India

Vaidehi Tandel and Komal Hiranandani  report on an IDFC Institute study in Mint:


"The Union government’s practice of organizing schemes and regulations based on rural-urban categories has created high stakes in these labels... 

Our Census Towns are assuredly urban in nature given their stringent criteria, but are eligible for rural schemes and are exempt from some taxes. People residing here are often deprived of basic urban planning, which panchayats are ill-equipped to provide. Statutory Towns fall under the 74th amendment to the Constitution—which created urban local bodies as another layer of government—enabling their local bodies to include representatives with skills in municipal administration, and entrusting their local bodies with functions including land-use planning, building regulations, and fire services, which is not required of panchayats.

Hence, we may be faced with dangerous situations wherein Census Towns have safety requirements of urban areas, but are unable to provide them. Amending the 74th amendment to set a high minimum threshold beyond which a settlement must be administered by an urban local body could mitigate this problem...

Urban definitions across countries vary widely, from administrative criteria to size and density standards. As part of an IDFC Institute study, we calculated how urban India would be if we used a population criterion of 5,000 or more, as used by countries including Ghana and Qatar, and a population criterion of 2,500 or more, as used by Mexico and Venezuela. We found that India is 26% administratively urban, 31% urban by India’s Census definition, 47% urban by the 5,000 population criterion, and 65% urban by the 2,500 population criterion. 

Since perfect definitions remain elusive, we can at least reduce their relevance...

And if we are prepared for a real leap of imagination, we can even question the merit of rural versus urban classifications. If we instead acknowledge settlements as having varying levels of populations and densities, we can think of them as places where different levels of governance will be appropriate— smaller areas need fewer safety norms like access roads for fire trucks, and some municipal services are financially viable only if they serve a minimum population and density. Then, the only thing separating settlements will be how feasible it is to supply such services and the degree of safety measures required—a true departure from rural and urban constructs that allow for play on perceptions and rules, enabling exploitation of these categories for personal, economic and political ends."


Read the full article here.


Topic : Transitions / In : OP-EDS
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