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Historically, cities have been the driving force in economic and social

development. At present approximately 307 million Indians lives in

nearly 3700 towns and cities spread across the country. This is 30.5%
of its population, in sharp contrast to only 60 millions (15%) who lived
in urban areas in 1947 when the country became Independent. During
the last fifty years the population of India has grown two and half times,
but Urban India has grown by nearly five times. In numerical terms,
India's urban population is second largest in the world after China, and
is higher than the total urban population of all countries put together
barring China, USA and Russia.

Table: 1 India: Urban Population 1901 – 2001

Urban Percentage of Decadal growth

population Urban to total rate
(million) population (percent)
1901 29.9 10.8 -
1911 25.9 10.3 0.4
1921 28.1 11.2 18.3
1931 33.5 12.0 19.1
1941 44.2 13.9 32.0
1951 62.4 17.3 41.4
1961 78.9 18.0 26.4
1971 109.1 19.9 38.2
1981 159.5 23.3 46.1
1991 217.6 25.7 36.4
2001 306.9 30.5 41.0

Source: Ministry of Urban Affairs

At the 1991 census, two-third of the country's urban population lived in

Class-I cities with more than 1,00,000 population.

Table: 2 Distribution of urban population by size class of towns

Class Population Range No. of Share of urban

Towns Population
I 1,00,000 & above 300 65.20%
II 50,000 to 99,999 345 10.95%
III 20,000 to 49,999 947 13.19%
IV 10,000 to 19,999 1,167 7.77%
V 5,000 to 9,999 740 2.60%
VI Less than 5,000 197 0.29%
All Classes 3,696 100%

Source: Ministry of Urban Affairs

About one-third of Urban India (71 million) lives in metropolitan cities

(million plus). The number of such cities in India has increased from 1
in 1901 to 5 in 1951 to 23 in 1991 to 40 in 2001. Out of the total increase
in the country's urban population of 58 million between 1981 and 1991,
44 million were added to Class I cities alone. 28 million persons were
added in metropolitan cities.

Urban areas are the engines of productivity and growth in the country. This is
manifest in the increasing contribution of urban sector to national income.

Table: 3 urban contribution to national income

Year Percentage of Urban to Estimated contribution to

total population national income
1951 17.3 29%
1981 23.3 47%
1991 25.7 55%
2001 30.5 60%

Source : Ministry of Urban Affairs

Growth of employment (main workers) in urban India during 1981-91 was

recorded at 38% against 16% in rural areas and 26.1% in the country as
a whole.

Environmental impacts of Urbanisation

Some of the chief forces driving urbanisation today are shifting of jobs
from agriculture to industry and the concentration of economic
opportunities in the urban areas. Urbanisation is associated with higher
incomes, improved health, higher literacy, improved quality of life and
other benefits. Yet along with the benefits of urbanization come
environmental and social ills. Since with urbanization the concentration
of people is increasing in cities so is the demand for basic necessities
like food, energy, drinking water and shelter. The result is in terms of
poor quality housing, lack of water supply and sanitation facility and
lack of proper waste disposal facility leading to spread of
communicable diseases.

Urbanisation affects the environment in three major ways: implications due

to urban poverty which is a result of migration, stressed infrastructure
and management systems and finally incresing consumerism. These
problems warrant major concerns on three accounts. Firstly the
prevailing pattern and trend of Urbanisation is more material and
energy intensive. Secondly the discharge of pollutants and generation
of solid waste in cities is particularly harmful because it is
uncontrollable and thirdly the financial, institutional, technological and
infrastructure systems available for help to control these problems in
the region at present are inadequate.

Urban waste

Increasing urbanisation is resulting in the generation of increasing

amounts of solid waste. It is estimated that 20-50 percent of the solid
waste generated remains uncollected. In New Delhi, 3,880 tons of
garbage is produced per day, yet only 2,420 tons is collected for
disposal. Even if collected, municipal solid waste remains a problem in
many cities.

As the living standards are rising the organic content in the waste is
reducing and non-biodegradable wastes like metal, plastic and glass
are on a rise (Figure -1). Urbanisation and increasing trend of
consumerism in cities are the main factors leading to generation of
more waste.

Urban water quality

Ever increasing urbanisation and their growing amounts of waste have

over taxed the natural recycling capabilities of local rivers and lakes. Of
the many problems associated with urban effluents, nutrient loading or
eutrophication of local waters is one of the most serious problems.
Poor water resource management too contributes to water problems.

Source : World Bank Urban Development Sector Unit, Solid waste

Management in Asia (1999)

Urban transportation

Transportation systems are a major contributor to the decay of urban

environment and reduced quality of life in the metropolitan areas due to
their contribution to atmospheric emissions, noise and risk of
accidents. Increasing vehicular pollution in major urban centers is
becoming an area of growing concern. Poor maintenance of vehicles,
degraded condition of roads and use of un-pure fuels primarily
precipitate the problems of air and noise pollution arising from
operation of motorized vehicles.

Urban air quality

Urban air quality has deteriorated largely on account of growth in industrial

activity, transportation needs and energy production. In India, ambient
air quality status derived from a network of 290 stations covering 90
towns and cities in recent years indicates that while suspended
particulate matter (SPM) is consistently critical in many cities, the
concentration of nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide is also increasing
and is already transiting from moderate to high to critical levels. As
estimated, 2000 metric tones of air pollutants are emitted into the
atmosphere everyday, vehicular sources contributing the maximum

Source : TERI, 1996

Resource consumption

Energy demand: Urbanisation has profound effect on the amount and type of
energy consumed. Along with population growth, economic development and
industrialisation, urbanisation is one of the principal forces driving the increase in
energy demand (Figure-3). Although the traditional rural societies rely heavily
upon the human and animal energy and on nearby wood or fuel, today urban
societies are characterised by their reliance on fossil fuels and electricity. These
patterns of energy use lead to different environmental impacts.

Source : World Bank 2000, World Development Indicators

Water demand

India although has enormous reserve of water, but it still suffers from urban
water supply problems. The growing demand of water, along with poor water
resource management and mounting pollution levels contributes to water supply
problems in and around cities. Urbanisation is leading to change in lifestyle and
consumption pattern, which is leading to increased demand for water. As number
of people in urban area increases, so does the demand for food and hence for
irrigation in agricultural areas close to cities. These pressures can quickly result
in demand for water that surpass local water supply.

Poor water management practices exacerbate local water shortages. Inefficient

water distribution system is another major source of water loss. Water scarcity is
closely linked with water quality. Freshwater lakes and rivers provide affordable
and easy accessible water, but uncontrolled discharge of domestic sewage and
industrial effluents has left many urban rivers heavily polluted and their water is
unsafe for use. Already struggling with uneven distribution of water resources
and local water scarcity, the total water demand is projected to double by 2025 in


Rapid urbanisation accounts for most of the renewable and non-renewable

resource consumption and waste generation. These long-term ecological
concerns are relevant to urbanisation as they grow and prosper, their
consumption of resources and generation of wastes will rise accordingly, unless
action is taken now to promote the efficient use of resources and minimisation of

The challenge is to seek new management approaches that provide both for the
needs of urban residents and protect environmental resources on which human
life depends. Environmental Management Systems (EMS) is a new management
approach for urban local bodies that can lead cities towards eco-cities.