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Towns of India: Demography, Economy and Social Structures, and the Status of Basic Infrastructure and Housing

An increasing number of people live in small and medium-sized towns in the periphery of large cities as the world completes its process of urban transition. India is no exception to this phenomenon.  It is in these towns where national economies are to be built, solutions to global challenges such as inequality and the impacts of climate change are to be addressed, and future generations are to be educated.  The reality in India, however, suggests that the small towns are not fully integrated in the urban fabric of the nation.  They have enormous backlogs in economic infrastructure, weak human capacity, high levels of under unemployment and unemployment, and extremely weak local economies.

However, with their growing numbers – there are more than 2,500 new towns added in the last Population Census– the role of small and medium-sized towns in the national economy will have a significant influence upon the future social and economic development of larger geographic regions.  If these towns were better equipped to steer their economic assets and development, the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could be increased, with significant benefits reducing rural poverty in the hinterlands.

The present report is a culmination of research conducted at the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), New Delhi, under the HUDCO Chair project. It analyses the trends of urbanisation, basic infrastructure, housing and levels of the social indicators in small towns, those below 100,000 population. The central message of the report is that in such towns where the demographic growth rates have increased in the past decade the quality of housing and infrastructure is poor as compared to the Class I and other metropolitan cities. Also, such towns are seldom able to mobilise financial resources on their own or access government or institutional funding. The new census towns, which have come up in significant numbers in the last decade largely fall in this category. Importantly, these towns, although urban by definition, are still under rural governance and report larger deficiencies as compared to their statutory counterparts. Adequate investments have to be made in these towns to improve the condition of housing and basic infrastructure.