1. Urbanization is progressing in an uneven manner in India. According to the 2011 census, more than 31% people now live in urban areas. Almost a quarter of this urban population is concentrated in the nine cities recognized as metropolitan cities (each having a population of more than 4 million). But there has also been a significant increase in areas designated as census towns (having a population of more than 5,000, with more than 75% male workers involved in non-agricultural pursuits and a minimum population density of 400 per sq. km.) which are not yet recognized as statutory towns with municipal structures. Between 2001 and 2011, while the number of statutory towns increased marginally from 3,799 to 4,041, the number of census towns almost trebled from 1,362 to 3,894.

2. With 54.4% urban population, Tamil Nadu is the most urbanized among India’s states followed by Maharashtra (46.2%) and Gujarat (40.3%), but in terms of overall size of urban population Maharashtra tops the list followed by Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The extent of urbanization in Tamil Nadu is clearly linked to the depth of the manufacturing sector in the state – it has the highest number of factories in the country and also the biggest contingent of industrial workers.

3. Metropolitan cities are the biggest centres of accumulation of wealth and operation of capital. But given the increasingly capital- and technology-intensive nature of production in both manufacturing and service sectors, jobs are becoming increasingly scarce. In fact many urban areas and townships that were once known mainly as industrial centres have now been taken over by high finance and real estate. The new jobs being generated are almost invariably contractual and require multiskilling and the working people migrating from rural and semi-urban areas find it extremely hard to eke out a living in this difficult and unfamiliar urban setting.

4. There have been two major reform measures in urban development and governance in the last two decades. The first was the 74th Amendment to the Constitution of India which brought about a uniformity and regularity in urban local bodies and the second was the launching of the high-profile Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in 2005. Launched with the express purpose of making Indian cities investor-friendly, JNNURM has actually subverted the democracy promised in the 74th Amendment by linking funds to reforms like repeal of urban land ceiling act and promotion of public-private partnership. Formally the mission had two sub-missions – one for infrastructure and the other for provision of basic services to the poor, but it is the former which has got all funds and priority while the latter has been utterly neglected. And now the government has planned a more ambitious JNNURM-II to unleash a still more aggressive drive to privatize and commercialize every aspect of urban governance.

5. Another major project launched recently by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation is the Rajiv Awas Yojana with the lofty goal of making India slum-free. In the name of bringing all existing slums within the formal system, the government has actually stepped up the slum demolition drive, even as slums are being handed over to developers for what the government calls affordable housing projects. There are also reports of widespread irregularities with the affordable houses passing into non-deserving hands while slum-dwellers are evicted without any rehabilitation. A quarter of India’s urban population is estimated to be living in slums and the state is desperate to clear this land and hand it over to real estate barons.