Insight: The (Current) Extent of India’s Urbanization

Throughout its history, the largest percentage of India’s population has lived in rural areas, but this is rapidly changing as the country is experiencing large scale urban growth. The percentage of India’s population now living in cities is at 31%, which is the highest it has ever been, with an estimated growth to 41% in 2030. As presented in the MPI’s report on the Creative Economy in India, many of these rural areas are under serviced in regards to infrastructure such as electricity, food, and even today basic education. On August 30 2013, our research director Kevin Stolarick presented the results of increasing urbanization in India using night time light (NTL) data at the Thinkers 50 conference in Gurgaon. This Insight will present some of the light data from the accompanying paper entitled The (Current) Extent of India’s Urbanization. Previous MPI Insights have looked at the relationship between Night Time Light (NTL) data and urbanization in Sweden, however the changes in light over time are much more apparent in developing nations such as India.

The extent to which India is urbanizing can be seen through the increased population and population densities in many of its cities. This growth is not only happening in cities such as Delhi, but in satellite communities as well, leading to the creation of geographically combined mega regions in which growth in large cities and surrounding communities are merging together. This urbanization can be seen through the growth and intensification of night time lights throughout the country, especially within the large urban agglomerations. Exhibit 1 presents India at night in 1992 and 2010. The data is provided by the U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operation Linescan System that collects images of the world at night. A full description of this data can be found in the paper’s appendix found here.

Exhibit 1: India at night

Exhibit 1: India at Night

Most apparent in the two maps is the increased intensity of urbanization as seen through increased NTL throughout the entire country from 1992–2010. The map of India in 1992 is primarily dark with a few scattered areas of strong NTL. Eighteen years later this has changed as many rural areas that were dark now display NTL and the overall area that is dark is much smaller. What stands out the most is the increase in size and intensity of the light coming from the major cities within India. Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore for example have all increased in size and intensity since 1992. While the intensity has increased in these cities indicating large scale urbanization, the total area that the light encompasses around the city has also grown as the cities are expanding greatly. Delhi is a great example of this growth as the city itself has experienced fast paced increases in urbanization during this time period, but so have the surrounding satellite communities.

Exhibit 2: Dehli (1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)

Exhibit 2: Dehli (1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010)

Exhibit 2 shows the NTL for the Delhi region every two years from 1992 to 2000 (top row and 2002 to 2010 (bottom row). The light is presented on a scale from red indicating highest levels of NTL, to orange, yellow, and green indicating medium light, and then blue indicating very little to no NTL. For a full description click the following (link). Shown in the Exhibit is the growth of urbanization within Delhi as the areas demarcated in red indicating intense NTL has more than doubled in size during this time period. Lights are also visible along the major road routes. Delhi, like almost all metropolitan areas, expands along road access routes until it reaches other cities that become part of the larger metro. In 1992, Meerut, which is northeast of the core, is separate as is the small section Modinagar that is on the Meerut road from Ghaziabad. By 2010, Ghaziabad is indistinguishable from the rest of Delhi; Meerut has grown considerably; Modinagar has stretched out more along the road; and the core-urbanized portion of Delhi continues to grow.

India’s mandate going forward as presented in its 11th Five Year Plan (2007–2012) which is a national economic program monitored by the Planning Commission of India was to accelerate growth and alleviate poverty. One of the ways that the plan intends on doing so is through large-scale investment in infrastructure, especially electricity, roads, and communications. The public and private investment into electricity for example has more than doubled since the 10th plan, with a further increase in this type of investment planned to take place in the 12th plan (2012–2017) (links). The priority investment in electricity could be a cause or effect of the large-scale urbanization-taking place in many areas of the country. Nonetheless the growth in urbanization and investment in electricity infrastructure has been quite substantial within the country, which can be seen through the drastic changes in Delhi in Exhibit 2.

Urbanization is occurring in India at a rapid pace, as the Country’s urban population continues to grow. With this shift, it is important to understand the geographical patterns in which this urbanization is transpiring, as India accounts for about 17.4% of the world’s current population. This Insight and the accompanying white paper have aimed at providing a look using NTL, at where and to what extreme India is urbanizing. The maps have shown how urbanization has increased throughout most of India over the past 20 years, but especially throughout the cities. Delhi was found to be one of the cities that have experienced large urbanization growth during this eighteen-year period, as the concentration of NTL has increased drastically during this short period of time. It is not just the large cities such as Delhi that have seen this type of growth, but smaller cities and neighbouring satellite communities that could become part of a very large metro area. While the implications of this urbanization have yet to be quantified, this Insight has presented the large extent and speed that urbanization is occurring throughout the whole country, which could change the dynamic of the country going for

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The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto‘s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors — location, place and city-regions — in global economic prosperity. We take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.