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Urban Development, Infrastructure Financing and Emerging System of Governance in India: A Perspective - Discussion Paper No. 48
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Management of Social Transformations - MOST

Discussion Paper No. 48

The Scout Report for Social Sciences Selection
April 3, 2001
Volume 4, Number 15

Urban Development, Infrastructure Financing and
Emerging System of Governance in India: A Perspective

Amitabh Kundu

This paper analyses the recent trends and structure of urbanisation in India, examines the validity of the projections made by various international and national organizations and discusses the implications of the concentration of demographic and economic growth in and around a few large cities. The availability of basic amenities such as water supply, toilets and electricity are analysed across the states and size class of urban settlements, reflecting an accentuation of regional imbalances. The impact of tapping capital market through a credit rating system and the launching of innovative borrowing instruments by the local authorities are also examined. The author argues that the initiatives for a new system of governance are likely to result in a top-heavy urban structure wherein a few large cities would claim much of the economic activity. Furthermore, it is argued that the recent changes in urban governance, including the Constitutional Amendment, may not effectively empower the smaller bodies, particularly those in the less-developed states, to undertake development responsibilities.

The basic contention is that the issues concerning the hierarchy of urban settlements has not received adequate attention in contemporary development research. Given the wide disparity in economic strength of Third World towns and cities and their unequal access to capital market and public institutions, a liberal economic environment would facilitate a few large cities to corner much of the advantages from the system. The indifference on the part of the research community towards issues relating to urban structure is likely to institutionalise the existing inequality and accentuate regional imbalances.

    Introduction *

    Urbanisation and migration in the post-independence period: trends, explanations and projections *

    Changing structure of urbanisation and fragmentation of space within cities *

    Level of basic amenities – an analysis across states and size class *

    Changing system of infrastructure financing *

    Empowering local bodies to make investments in basic services and infrastructure *

    Conclusions and proposals for balanced urban development *

    Appendix *

    References *

    Notes *


According to a United Nations study (1995), by the year 2015, ten of the world's fifteen largest cities will be in Asia (excluding Japan); three of these will be in India. In 1950, this same region claimed only three of the world's fifteen largest cities, whilst India claimed only one. These projections suggest that demographic growth in India's large cities will be high, partly due to national population growth and partly due to immigration. The logistic model used by the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international agencies for the projection of urban population world-wide suggests that India is poised for rapid urbanisation, along with several other countries in south and east Asia.

The structural reform and the associated development strategy formally launched in India in 1991 are expected to accelerate rural urban (RU) migration and boost the pace of urbanisation. The proponents of the strategy believe that linking India with the global economy will increase the inflow of foreign capital and facilitate indigenous investment, resulting in rapid development of infrastructure and industries. This is likely to give impetus to the process of urbanisation since much of the industrial growth and consequent increase in employment will be within or around the existing urban centres. Even when industrial units are located in rural settlements, in a few years time, the latter acquire urban status.

Critics of the new development strategy, however, point out that employment generation through industrialisation may not be high. Reduced investment in public sector infrastructure and industry, necessitated by the need to keep budgetary deficits low, would slow down agricultural growth and its labour demand. This, coupled with open trade policy, would be likely to destabilise the agrarian economy, causing high unemployment and exodus from rural areas. This would lead to rapid growth in urban population. Thus, both protagonists and critics of structural reform in India seem to agree that urban growth in the post liberalisation phase would be high. Interestingly, the policy documents of the government of India also reflect this "optimism" with regard to urban growth.

On the structure of urbanisation, too, there seems to be a general convergence of opinions. Scholars with different ideological perspectives tend to share the view that urban industrial growth in future years is likely to be regionally concentrated. A few large global centres will emerge, attracting much of the infrastructure and industrial investment. Most of the new manufacturing units will find that locations around these global cities are optimum for administrative convenience. Considerations of commercial profitability and efficiency in governance would not allow multinational or indigenous corporate investment to be spread thinly over a large number of small and medium towns. Thus, the demographic and economic growth in India is likely to be concentrated in and around fifty to sixty large cities with populations of about a million or more.

An apparent unanimity of perspectives on the trends and structure of urbanisation in India is partly due to inadequacy of research on the subject. One may attribute this to deliberate neglect of the spatial dimension of urbanisation in national as well as international research agenda. Despite differences in the projections by international agencies, not many cross-country studies have been undertaken to examine the impact and implications of the liberal economic policies on the rates and pattern of urban development. This lack of concern for the structure of urbanisation and the differences in the socio-economic base of the urban centres in different states and size categories, facilitates, to an extent, advocating a uniform system of governance as a solution to most of the urban problems in the Third World.

A large section of planners and policy-makers has indeed argued that there exists no serious urban problem that can not be tackled through management solutions. All that is needed is to restructure the system of governance in such a way that the standard reforms can be implemented. Reduction of public sector intervention, ensuring appropriate prices for infrastructure and urban amenities through elimination or reduction of subsidies, development of capital market for resource mobilisation, facilitating private and joint sector projects, simplification of legislative system to bring about appropriate land use changes and location of economic activities, etc. are being advocated as the remedial package (World Bank 1995, Expert Group on Commercialisation of Infrastructure 1996, World Bank 1998). The para-statal agencies (Housing Boards, Water Supply and Sewerage Boards, Development Authorities, etc), that were created in the post-independence period and had taken over many of the functions of local bodies, have come in for sharp criticism on the grounds of inefficiency, lack of cost effectiveness and continued dependence on grants for sustenance. Some kind of "financial discipline" has already been imposed by the government and Reserve Bank of India, forcing these agencies to generate resources internally and borrow from development cum banking institutions, and, in a few cases, from capital market at a fairly high interest rate. This has restricted their areas of functioning and, what is more important, changed the thrust of activities. Solutions are being found also in terms of efficient and transparent management of urban projects. With the passing of the 74th Amendment to Indian Constitution (Ministry of Urban Development 1992) and corresponding legislation, amendments, ordinances, etc. at the state level, decentralisation has become the keyword in governance. The vacuum created by the limited withdrawal of the state in the provision of urban infrastructure is sought to be filled up also through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs), besides the local authorities.

The enthusiasm for the above package of solutions, among both international and national organizations, is the reason why issues concerning hierarchy of urban settlements have not received adequate attention from researchers. Understandably, given the disparity in economic strength of the towns and cities and their unequal access to capital market and public institutions, this pro-liberalisation perspective would enable the larger cities to corner much of the advantage from the system. The indifference on the part of the research community on issues relating to urban structure might, therefore, contribute to institutionalising the existing inequality and accentuating regional imbalances.

In the light of this dominant perspective and criticisms thereof, it would be useful to examine empirically whether high urban growth – as stipulated by several national and international agencies and also accepted in the Ninth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) of the government of India – will actually materialise. Also, it is important to examine whether the initiatives for launching a new system of governance would make the urban structure increasingly top heavy with a few large cities claiming much of the economic activity and, if so, what its spatial implications would be. The present paper attempts to do this, taking into consideration the recent changes in labour and capital market, land management and development practices and commercialisation of infrastructure and basic services.

The following section analyses the recent trends and structure of urbanisation in India, using the data from the Population Census. The validity of the projections of urban growth and their implications at the national level, made by various international and national organizations, are also examined. The subsequent section focuses on the growth dynamics of urban centres in different size classes and examines the implications of the emerging urban structure. The concentration of demographic and economic growth in and around a few large cities and reorganization of urban space within these cities are also discussed in some detail. The fourth section analyses the availability of basic amenities such as water supply, toilets and electricity in urban areas across different states and settlement size classes. The fifth section overviews the changes in the organizational and financing system for the provision of infrastructure and basic amenities introduced during recent years. The issues concerning tapping the capital market through a credit rating system and launching innovative borrowing instruments are also discussed in the context of balanced urban growth. The sixth section analyses the recent changes in urban governance, including the (74th) Constitutional Amendment, to assess how effective these will be in empowering local bodies in different size classes to undertake the responsibility of development. In the last section, an attempt has been made to tie up the empirical results within a framework and to assess the implications of the changing policy perspective for local bodies in fulfilling their socio-economic obligations. It also outlines a strategy for a balanced urban development in India.

Urbanisation and migration in the post-independence period: trends, explanations and projections

India experienced a high rate of urban growth, viz. annual exponential rate of 3.5 per cent in the 1940s. However, the high urban growth reported in the 1951 Census – the first after the country’s independence in 1947 – has been largely attributed to problems of non-standardisation of the concept of "urban centres". It is also explainable in terms of massive immigration due to the partition of the country and rehabilitation of refugees in and around a few urban centres. Nevertheless, this high demographic growth had started a debate on over-urbanisation in India as also in other countries in south and south east Asia (1) (Turner 1962 and Sovani 1966). The Census of 1961, which made a bold attempt to standardise the concept, recorded the low rate of 2.3 per cent. This again can be explained in terms of declassification of several towns due to the adoption of a more stringent definition of an urban place. The growth rate picked up a bit during 1961-71 – reaching 3.3 per cent per year. This might have been even higher but for the Green Revolution in the early and mid 1960s and industrial recession in the late 1960s – both factors dampening the impetus to RU migration.

The country recorded the fastest urban growth rate of the twentieth century during the 1970s. The high rate of 3.8 per cent has been attributed to an increase in population in the existing urban centres and also to the emergence of a large number of new towns – about 1,000 in number. In contrast, the Census of 1991 recorded a decline in the growth rate of urban population. The rate came down to 3.1 per cent during 1981-91, which is one of the lowest of the century. It is important to note that natural population growth has remained stable during the past three Census decades at about 2.1 per cent. Also, the increase in new towns during the 1980s – 850 in number – is substantial, higher than during any other decade in the twentieth century except the 1970s. The deceleration in urban growth has, therefore, been attributed basically to the decline in migration into urban areas. Accordingly, the myths regarding urban explosion and accelerating RU migration in India stand seriously discounted.

The contribution of RU migration in the process of urbanisation has declined significantly over the recent decades. Net RU migration along with the factor of extension of municipal boundaries account for 34 per cent of the incremental urban population in the 1970s which declined to 21 per cent in the 1980s (Premi 1991). It would be reasonable to assume that the factor of boundary extension has not changed much over the decades and thereby stipulate that the migration factor has become less important in explaining urban growth in the 1980s. If one considers male migration only, for the purpose of focusing attention on mobility for economic reasons (2), one notices that the percentage of intercensal migrants in urban areas came down from 23.8 to 16.9 and that of lifetime migrants from 37.5 to 32.4 during 1961-81. The figures went down further to 11.7 per cent and 26.0 per cent respectively by the two definitions in 1991 (Kundu and Gupta 1996).

Decline in the rate of RU migration may be explained in terms of growing immobility of the Indian population which, in turn, may be attributed to growth of regionalism and other social prejudices in recent years. The regional sentiments are common not only among the poor and casual workers but are also shared by people at higher rungs in the employment hierarchy. This is likely to affect migration across the state boundaries. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that the share of lifetime migrants from across the states among the male population in urban areas has gone down drastically from 12.3 per cent in 1961 to 8 per cent in 1991.

It would be useful to analyse the RU migration trend in relation to the changing employment structure in India. Given the nature of industries, the rapid growth they have experienced recently and the development of new technology, employment in the organised sector is unlikely to grow rapidly. This is confirmed by very little growth in the absolute number of workers in registered factories as per the data from the Annual Survey of Industries. Also, the proportion of regular/salaried workers has gone down steadily over the past decade and a half as per the National Sample Survey (NSS) data (Kundu 1997). The sectors, wherein income levels have grown rapidly through the 1990s, are those that have high capital intensity and low potential for employment generation. All these have resulted in a decline in the share of manufacturing employment.

The growth of employment in the manufacturing sector in urban areas has also been low because of the location of large units outside the municipal limits, thanks to the emergence of environment lobbies in the cities. Furthermore, the capacity of unorganised or informal activities to absorb migrants as casual or self-employed workers also seems to be drying up over the years (Kundu and Basu 1998). In view of all this, the industrial growth in the late 1990s and beyond, even if goes up to 6 or 7 per cent per annum, is unlikely to generate massive employment or bring a large number of migrants into the cities and towns.

Many of the proponents of economic liberalisation argue that per capita income or average earning per worker is likely to increase at a faster rate in urban than in rural areas in future years. Importantly, however, the volume of migration would be determined not by the difference in average income but by that between the poor in rural and urban areas. Despite urban income growing much faster than that in rural areas, the disparity in the earnings of the marginalised groups has narrowed down, because of accentuation of inequality in urban areas. Indeed, the gap between the real wages of urban and rural casual workers (who figure importantly in the migration stream) became smaller in the 1990s (Sen and Ghosh 1993). This, too, results in slowing down the rate of in-migration to urban areas.

Urban poverty was lower than rural poverty by at least six percentage points in the 1970s and early 1980s. Currently, it is at a par with or marginally below rural poverty. Also, the rate of unemployment in urban areas is higher than that in rural areas, both for males and females. Economic differentials between urban and rural poor have, thus, narrowed down, and consequently there is no basis for the stipulation that urban growth will accelerate in future years.

The rate of urbanisation could be high if the process of RU transformation is expedited through sector diversification such as increase in secondary and tertiary activities in large villages, helping the latter acquire urban status. In India, there are about 3,000 villages with a population of over 10,000, and their being brought into the urban-fold would immediately increase the percentage of urban population by five percentage points. It may, nonetheless, be pointed out that, to acquire urban status in the Population Census of India, it is necessary for a settlement to have 75 per cent of the male workers outside the primary sector, besides satisfying other demographic criteria like population size and density. Unfortunately, the share of non-agricultural employment in these 3,000 large sized villages was less than 40 per cent in 1991. It is, therefore, quite unlikely that a large majority of these would become urban places by the year 2001. This is particularly so because the process of shifting of workforce from agriculture to non-agriculture has slowed down in recent years.

The official sources in India are highly "optimistic" with regard to urban growth in future years, despite evidence to the contrary. The Expert Committee for Population Projections for the Eighth Plan had noted the annual growth rate to be 4.4 per cent during the 1980s and 4.1 per cent during the 1990s. The Eighth Plan (Planning Commission 1992) lowers the estimate of urban population by the turn of the century since the Census of 1991 reported a much lower rate of urbanisation than anticipated by the Expert Committee. The Approach Paper to the Ninth Plan (Planning Commission 1997) does not mention an exact figure but anticipates "higher rate of growth of urban population". The Expert Group on the Commercialisation of Infrastructure Projects (1996), too, has implicitly assumed a rapid pace of urbanisation as a consequence of new economic policy.

The UN study noted above stipulates that the percentage of urban population will rise from 25.5 in 1990 to 28.6 in 2000 - a difference of only 3.1 percentage points. However, it predicts that in the first two decades of the twenty-first century, the increases will be of larger magnitudes: 5.2 and 7.5 percentage points. Thus, by the year 2020, 41.3 per cent of the Indian population will be residing in urban areas. The parameters of the model used for the projection exercise in the UN study, make the increase in the percentage of urban population low in the initial years, subsequently rising, then ultimately coming down when there is a high level of urbanisation.

The projected growth rate of urban population during 1991-2001 as per the UN model is just less than 3.0 per cent per annum, which is similar to what was observed during 1981-91. It may, nonetheless, be noted that maintaining this growth rate in the 1990s would mean substantial increase in the share of RU migration. This is because the overall growth rate of the Indian population is expected to go down from 2.1 per cent per year during the 1980s to about 1.8 per cent during the 1990s.

The urban growth rate during the period 2000-10 as projected by the model is 3.2 per cent. This is expected to come down systematically over the years - reaching only 2.8 per cent during 2020-25. Importantly, even with an urban growth rate of 2.8 per cent, the share of RU migration in the incremental urban population must be 54 per cent (see Appendix I for the methodology of computation) since, according to the projections, the growth rate of total population would be less than 1 per cent. This share is much above that of the 1970s, the decade that recorded the fastest urban growth of the century. Given the past trend and the contemporary developments in the economy, it is unlikely that RU migration would be of this order.

Changing structure of urbanisation and fragmentation of space within cities

The dynamics of urban development in India can be analysed by looking at the interdependence of the level and pace of urbanisation in relation to indicators of economic development, taking the 25 states in the country as the units of observation. The correlation of per capita income, industrialisation, infrastructure, etc. with level of urbanisation at different points of time in the post-independence period are strongly positive (Kundu 1994). This is understandable. The growth process during the colonial period in India was marked by spatial inequality wherein a few states that had large cities, access to sea routes, etc. attracted much of the industry and infrastructure capital. Urban growth after independence, however, shows a weak but negative relationship with economic development. This is because the pace of RU migration and urbanisation are high in many of the backward states and regions that seem to be stuck in the vicious circle of poverty. It is, therefore, difficult to view the urban processes as healthy, leading to balanced regional development in India since it is often linked to push factor out-migration from rural areas.

The distribution of population in different size class of settlements, as defined by the Census (3), has become highly skewed over the years. The share of Class I towns or cities, with population size of 100,000 or more, has gone up significantly from 26 per cent in 1901 to 65 per cent in 1991. The percentage share of class IV, V and VI towns, with less than 20,000 people, on the other hand, has gone down drastically from 47 to 10 only. This is largely due to the fact that the towns in lower categories have grown in size owing to population growth and entered the next higher category. Unfortunately, however, there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of urban centres, especially at the lower levels, through transformation of rural settlements. During the period from 1901 to 1991 the number of urban centres doubled while urban population has increased eight-fold. Indeed, the absence of a process of graduation of large-sized villages into towns, through growth of industrial and tertiary activities, remains the major problem in India’s urbanisation.

The second reason for the urban hierarchy becoming top heavy is that the larger urban centres have experienced faster demographic growth as compared to smaller settlements. The class I cities, for example, registered an average annual growth rate (4) of 3.0 per cent during 1981-91, which is higher than that of lower order towns (5). More important, the class I cities exhibit a lower disparity in their growth rates, measured through coefficient of variation, compared to those in other size classes. Scholars have argued that the former experience relatively high and stable demographic growth because they are linked to the national and sometimes international market (Nagaraj 1987, Kundu 1983 and Bhalla and Kundu 1982). In the smaller towns that are mostly rooted in their regional economy, however, population growth tends to be low and fluctuating over time and space. This provides a basis for the proposition that in India, there exists a dual urban structure wherein the larger cities are integrated with the higher order system and are part of a growth dynamics, which, by and large, is absent in the smaller towns.

The demographic growth in urban centres in different size categories across the states shows a significant imbalance, which corroborates the thesis regarding dualism. In the less developed states, the small and medium towns – with population below 50,000 – have grown at a relatively rapid pace, similar to or even higher than that of the class I cities. In the developed states, however, these towns exhibit a lower growth. Detailed empirical analysis reveals that the growth of small and medium towns in the less developed states is not backed up by manufacturing and commercial activities or infrastructure facilities (Kundu 1994). More than a quarter of the workers in these towns is engaged in agriculture that can hardly yield any revenue to the civic authority. They have a small proportion of workers engaged in manufacturing – about half that of class I cities, and this share has declined significantly in recent years. Rural poverty, stagnant agriculture, absence of sector diversification, etc., emerge therefore, as possible explanations for the imbalance.

Importantly, the recent changes introduced in the system of urban governance and planning have serious implications for the pattern of urban growth. During the 1950s and 1960s, physical planning controls on location of economic activities and urban land-use, imposed through Master Plans, etc., had put some kind of ceiling on the absorptive capacity of large cities. These, to an extent, had constrained RU migration. Presently, however, a strong lobby is emerging, particularly in these cities, pleading to disband all zoning restrictions, building laws and bye-laws, and to make them relatively independent of state and central level controls. It is stipulated that decisions regarding location of industries, change in land-use, etc. should be taken expeditiously at the local level. The decentralisation of responsibilities for development planning, which the 74th Constitutional Amendment sought to introduce, is helping this lobby through empowerment of local governments in large cities that have relatively strong economic bases. As a consequence, a few of these cities will be able to attract both capital and labour and record a high population growth. The small and medium towns, on the other hand, are unlikely to benefit from this changed policy regime. This is likely to make the urban structure more top-heavy in future years.

Many of the state and city governments are trying hard to create a few "global centres of the future", wherein they can attract local and international investment. Land is being provided at preferred sites to upcoming industrial and commercial houses both through government intervention and by activating the land market. Steps are being taken to facilitate changes in land-use pattern through simplification of legal and administrative procedures and by enabling the market to push "low valued" activities out of the city core. The low income and slum colonies are the obvious candidates for relocation in city peripheries. The shift is being carried out by the state or local governments, often directly through eviction of slum dwellers, hawkers, pavement dwellers etc. Sometimes, it is done indirectly and discreetly through slum improvement schemes, "rehabilitating" them outside the city limits. Unfortunately, that has been done mostly without making any provision for alternative employment opportunities for the displaced workers (6). This can only lead to high disparity in population density and quality of life, and segmentation of the cities into rich and poor colonies.

These prospective global cities are currently facing two problems in attracting foreign and Indian business houses and industrialists. One is scarcity of land within the central city and other prime locations; the second is deficiency of infrastructure. An ingenious method has been worked out by some of the local governments to solve this twin problem. The agencies like World Bank, USAID, etc. have recommended that the Floor Space Index (FSI) in the central areas of the city should be increased so that multi-storied structures can come up, providing space for business houses, commercial activities and high-income residential units. The policy of giving permission for vertical growth at a high price or selling of extra FSI in central and business districts has been welcomed by many local bodies as an easy way of generating resources for infrastructure development. There is further incentive to this since sanctioning of loans by the international agencies is often contingent on the acceptance of a higher FSI in the central city by the local authorities. This would lead to the creation of a few high-density business and high-income residential districts, pushing out households that could not afford the costs.

A large number of the industrial units in the post liberalisation phase have come up in the villages and small towns around the big cities. The reasons for moving out of the large cities are easy availability of land, access to unorganised labour market and lesser awareness or less stringent implementation of environmental regulations. The poor are able to find shelter in the "degenerated periphery", get jobs in the industries located therein or commute to the central city for work (Kundu 1989). The entrepreneurs, engineers, executives, etc., associated with modern industries and business, however, reside within the central city and travel to the periphery through rapid transport corridors. This process of segmentation, manifested in different variants in different cities, would bring the large part of rural migrants into the peripheral zones.

Further, a clause in the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act would make it possible to provide differential levels of amenities in large cities, at the level of ward committees, based on willingness of the users to pay. This is likely to institutionalise disparity in the availability of civic amenities. This process, operated through the market and backed up by governmental programmes, is likely to affect the pattern of population absorption in the cities. Elitist preference for low density and clean micro-environment would ensure no illegal encroachment and only selective new construction in core areas and high-income colonies. Consequently, most of the incremental population would be absorbed in slums, low lying and other marginal lands and city peripheries. A switch from a centralised to a decentralised system of decision-making may, thus, result in high disparity in demographic growth within and around the cities and reinforce the process of segmentation into rich and poor colonies.

Level of basic amenities – an analysis across states and size class

A fairly high rate of urbanisation coupled with a low rate of investment in urban development, in the public as well as the private sector, are responsible for a serious deficiency in the availability of infrastructure and basic amenities (Expert Group on Commercialisation of Infrastructure 1996). Despite various declarations by international organizations to cover the total population through civic amenities and the policy perspectives and targets set by the Government of India, the percentage of households with a safe drinking water facility (7) in urban areas increased only from 75.1 to 81.4 during 1981-91, according to the Population Census. The corresponding figures for electricity are 62.5 and 75.8 while those for toilets are 58.2 and 63.9 respectively.

The NSS reports an interesting pattern of improvement over time. The percentage of households without latrine declined significantly from 36.8 to 31.1 during the period from 1983 to 1988-89. The figure, however, went down only marginally to 30.6 per cent in 1993. Correspondingly, the percentage of households with a flush system moved up from 20.1 to 26.9 during the first period. The increase over the second period, however, was very modest, going up to only 28.5 in 1993. This pattern is observed also for households with access to septic tanks (toilets) (8). Furthermore, as opposed to an increase of 6.3 percentage points (Census) in the coverage of safe drinking water during 1981-91, the NSS reports that the figure remained static at 88 per cent during the period from 1986-87 to 1993. Thus, one could argue that the progress in providing basic amenities, which was reasonably high in early and mid-1980s, has slowed down in the post-liberalisation phase.

Most of the indicators of basic amenities show positive correlation with those of economic development across the states. The percentage of households with flush toilets, for example, exhibits a very strong relationship with per capita income. For other amenities, like drinking water, toilets and electricity, the correlation is positive but not always statistically significant. This implies that the economically developed states are doing fairly well in providing their people access to basic amenities. Furthermore, improvements in the availability of these amenities during the 1980s and early 1990s also tend to be somewhat higher in the relatively developed states (Kundu et al. 1999).

The variation in levels of basic amenities across size class of urban centres shows much greater regularity and a distinct pattern. The percentage of households covered by each of the three amenities goes down systematically as we move from higher to lower size class of urban centres, except for the lowest class. The exception occurs because many among these class VI towns enjoy a special status, as mentioned above, and consequently have a higher level of amenities. It is, nonetheless, very disturbing that in class V towns (with populations between 5,000 and 10,000), the percentage of households not covered by toilet, electricity and drinking water was as high as 61, 41 and 28 respectively in 1991. The corresponding figures for cities with more than half a million people were 22, 17 and 14 per cent only (Kundu et al. 1999).

These findings are surprising in view of the fact that much of the current policy debate, media discussion, etc. on the problems of slums and deficiency of amenities are restricted to a few large cities. It is, nonetheless, very much in consonance with the spatial incidence of poverty across size class of urban centres. The data from the NSS reveal that the incidence of poverty is low in class I cities, particularly the metropolises. The percentage of people below poverty line increases systematically as one goes down the population size categories (Dubey and Gangopadhyay 1999). The anomaly of giving greater attention to larger cities in the policies and programmes for poverty alleviation and provision of amenities, therefore, is due to strong vested interests in larger cities. Also, the fact that these cities are chosen for slum improvement and poverty alleviation programmes by international and national agencies can be attributed to reasons of greater visibility. Further, if larger cities are selected under the programmes it is easier to cover a larger number of poor households in absolute terms because of the size factor.

Changing system of infrastructure financing

Management of urban infrastructure and the supporting financing system changed significantly during the second half of the 1980s and 1990s. The Eighth Plan (1992-97) envisaged building cost recovery into the municipal finance system. This is being further reinforced during the Ninth Plan period (1997-2002) with a substantial reduction in budgetary allocations for infrastructure development. The metropolitan and other large cities are expected to make capital investments on their own, besides covering the operational costs for their infrastructure services. Most of the development projects are to be undertaken through institutional finance rather than budgetary support. A strong case has been made for making the public agencies accountable and financially viable. The costs of borrowing have gone up significantly, and as a consequence, they can no longer lend money at a rate below that prevailing in the market. This has come in their way of taking up socially desirable schemes that often turn out as financially unrenumerative. Projects for the provision of water and sanitation facilities, improvement of slum colonies, etc., that generally require a substantial component of subsidy, have, thus, received a low priority in this changed policy perspective.

The Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO), set up in the 1960s by the Government of India to support urban development schemes, has tried to give an impetus to infrastructure projects by opening a special window in the late 1980s. Availability of loans from this window, generally at less than the market rate, has made the state and city level agencies, including the municipalities, borrow increasingly from HUDCO. This is more so for projects in cities and towns with less than a million population since their capacity to draw upon internal resources is limited.

HUDCO finances up to 70 per cent of the costs in the case of public utility projects and social infrastructure. For economic and commercial infrastructure, the share ranges from 50 per cent for private agencies to 80 per cent for public agencies. The loan is to be repaid in quarterly installments within a period of 10 to 15 years, except for private agencies for whom the repayment period is shorter. HUDCO is also the premiere financial institution for disbursing loans under the Integrated Low Cost Sanitation Scheme of the government. Both the loans and the subsidy components for different beneficiary categories under the scheme are released through the Corporation.

In the early 1990s, HUDCO loans were available for upgrading and improving the basic services in slums at a rate lower than the normal schemes. These were much cheaper than similar schemes proposed by the World Bank. However, such loans are no longer available. In addition, the Corporation previously charged differential interest rates from local bodies in towns and cities depending upon their population. For urban centres with less than half a million population, the rate was 14.5 per cent; for cities with population between half to one million, it was 17 per cent; and for one million plus cities, it was 18 per cent. No special concessional rate was, however, charged for the towns with less than a hundred and fifty thousand people that were in dire need of infrastructure improvement, as discussed above. It is unfortunate, however, that even this small bias in favour of smaller cities has now been given up. Furthermore, HUDCO was financing up to 90 per cent of the project cost in the case of infrastructure schemes for "economically weaker sections"; this, too, has been discontinued in recent years.

The interest rates for HUDCO loans vary from 15 per cent for utility infrastructure of the public agencies to 19.5 per cent for commercial infrastructure of the private sector. The range is less than it was originally, when HUDCO opened the infrastructure window. This, to an extent, is understandable, as its average cost of borrowing has gone up from about 7 per cent to 14 per cent during the last two and a half decades. Given the stoppage of equity support from the government, increased cost of resource mobilisation, and pressure from international agencies to make infrastructure financing commercially viable, HUDCO has responded by bringing down the amounts advanced to some of the social sectors. Most significantly, the rate of interest for the projects in these sectors has increased, resulting in reduction in the interest rate differentiation and dilution of its social concern.

An analysis of infrastructure finances disbursed through HUDCO shows that the development authorities and municipal corporations that operate at the city level have received more than half of the total amount. On the other hand, agencies like the Water Supply and Sewerage Boards and Housing Boards, that have the entire state within their jurisdiction, have received altogether less than one third of the total loans. Municipalities with less than a hundred thousand people or local agencies with weak economic bases often find it difficult to approach HUDCO for loans. This is so even under the central government schemes that carry a subsidy component, like the Integrated Development of Small and Medium Towns, routed through HUDCO. These towns are generally not in a position to obtain state government guarantee due to their uncertain financial position. In many states, the central government and the Reserve Bank of India have proposed restrictions on giving guarantees to local bodies and para-statal agencies, in an attempt to ensure fiscal discipline. Also, the states are being persuaded to register a fixed percentage of the amount guaranteed by them as a liability in their accounting system. More importantly, in most states, only the para-statal agencies and municipal corporations have been given state guarantee to the total exclusion of smaller municipal bodies. Understandably, getting a bank guarantee is even more difficult, especially, for cities in less developed states and all small and medium towns.

The Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (ILFS), established in 1989, has come up as an important financial institution in recent years. It is a private sector financial intermediary in which the Government of India owns a small equity share. Its activities have more or less remained confined to the development of industrial-townships, roads and highways where risks are comparatively less. It basically undertakes project feasibility studies and provides a variety of financial as well as engineering services. Its role, therefore, is that of a merchant banker rather than of a mere loan provider as far as infrastructure financing is concerned and its share in the total infrastructure finance in the country remains limited.

ILFS has helped local bodies, para-statal agencies and private organizations to prepare feasibility reports of commercially viable projects, to detail out the pricing and cost recovery mechanisms and to establish joint venture companies called Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV). Further, it has become an equity holder in these companies along with other public and private agencies, including the operator of the BOT project (Mathur 1999). The role of ILFS may, thus, be seen as a promoter of a new perspective of development and a participant in project financing. It is trying to acquire the dominant position for the purpose of influencing the composition of infrastructure projects and the system of their financing in India. Understandably, the projects for the provision of basic amenities in slums or low income areas, not having clear stipulations for total cost recovery within a reasonable period – undesirable to private or joint sector companies – would not find favour with this organization either.

Mention must be made here of the Financial Institutions Reform and Expansion (FIRE) Programme, launched under the auspices of the USAID. Its basic objective is to enhance resource availability for commercially viable infrastructure projects through the development of a domestic debt market. Fifty per cent of the project cost is financed from funds raised in the US capital market under the Housing Guaranty fund. This has been made available for a long period of thirty years at an interest rate of 6 percent, thanks to the guarantee from the United States Congress. The risk involved in the exchange rate fluctuation due to the long period of capital borrowing is being mitigated by a swapping arrangement through the Grigsby Bradford and Company and Government Finance Officers' Association for which they would charge an interest rate of 6 to 7 percent. The interest rate for the funds from the US market, thus, does not work out as much cheaper than that raised internally.

The funds under the programme are being channelled through ILFS and HUDCO who are expected to raise a matching contribution for the project from the domestic debt market. A long list of agenda for policy reform pertaining to urban governance, land management, pricing of services, etc. has been proposed for the two participating institutions. In order to provide loans under the programme, the two agencies are supposed to examine the financial viability or bankability of the projects. This, it is hoped, will ensure financial discipline on the part of the borrowing agencies such as private and public companies, municipal bodies, para-statal agencies, as well as the state governments that have to stand guarantee to the projects.

Funds are also available under the Employees State Insurance Scheme and Employer's Provident Fund. These have a longer maturity period and are thus more suited for infrastructure financing. However, there are regulations requiring the investment to be channelled into government securities and other debt instruments in a "socially desirable" manner. The Government, however, is seriously considering proposals to relax these stipulations so that the funds can be made available for infrastructure financing, in accordance with the principle of commercial profitability.

Unfortunately, among the urban infrastructure projects in India which have been perceived as commercially viable, few can have municipal bonds issued in the market. The weak financial position and revenue sources of the urban local bodies make this even more difficult. As a consequence, a new type of credit instrument has been designed to enable the local bodies to tap the capital market. "Structured debt obligations" (SDOs) are arrangements through which bonds are issued on the condition that the borrowing agency pledges or escrows certain buoyant sources of revenue for debt servicing. This is a mechanism by which the debt repayment obligations are given utmost priority and kept independent of the overall financial position of the borrowing agency. It ensures that a trustee would monitor the debt servicing and that the borrowing agency would not have access to the pledged resources until the loan is repaid.

There are several other international actors that are active in the urban sector and whose share in total infrastructure investment increased in the 1990s. The governments of the United Kingdom (through the Department for International Development), Australia, and the Netherlands, for example, have taken up projects pertaining to urban infrastructure and basic amenities under their bilateral co-operation programmes. Their financial support, although a small fraction of the total, has generally gone into the areas that are unlikely to be picked up by the private sector and that may have problems of cost recovery. The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (Japan), on the other hand, are the agencies that have financed infrastructure projects that are commercially viable and potentially reproducible on a large scale. Their share of the total funds coming into the urban sector is substantial. The problem here, however, is that funds have generally been made available when the borrowing agencies are able to involve private entrepreneurs in the project or mobilise a certain stipulated amount from the capital market. For international agencies, this has proved to be a major bottleneck in the sponsoring or launching of a large number of projects. Several city administrators have had long periods of negotiation and in many cases the negotiations or agreements have failed at different stages of formulation or implementation of the project. This has been primarily due to the former's incapability to meet the strict conditions laid down by international agencies.

The most important development in the context of investment in infrastructure and amenities is the emergence of credit rating institutions in India. With the financial markets becoming global and competitive and the borrowers' base increasingly diversified, investors and regulators prefer to rely on the opinion of these institutions for their decisions. The rating of the debt instruments of the corporate bodies, financial agencies and banks are currently being done by institutions such as Information and Credit Rating Agency of India (ICRA), Credit Analysis and Research (CARE) and Credit Rating Information Services of India Limited (CRISIL), etc. The rating of the urban local bodies has, however, been done so far only by CRISIL, and that only since 1995-96.

CRISIL claims to be rating the debt instruments of the municipal bodies and other agencies at local level on the basis of (a) functions and managerial capabilities including the legal and administrative framework, (b) existing financial position and (c) the economic base of the service area, as well as aspects relating to the project under consideration. Unfortunately, the indicators selected for these dimensions and the weightages assigned to these have neither been precisely defined nor made adequately transparent. No document issued by CRISIL specifies the relevant indicators and their weightages for the benefit of their prospective clients or the planners and policy-makers.

Given the overwhelming control of the state governments over these bodies, it is not easy for any rating agency to assess their individual functioning or managerial capabilities in any meaningful manner. The assessment of the performance of para-statal agencies and development authorities poses a similar problem. Furthermore, the financial position of an agency at the local level in no way reflects its strength or managerial efficiency. There could be several reasons other than administrative efficiency for the per capita revenue income, expenditure and budgetary surplus of certain local body to be high. It could be due to large sums being received as shared taxes or as compensations for certain taxes abolished in the recent past, or simply grants from the state government. Even the amount collected under a specific tax that exists in most states can not be a basis for cross-sectional comparison since the rates determined by the state governments may vary. Besides, there is a lot of arbitrariness in defining the underlying concepts and building the indicators since the budgetary information is compiled differently by different municipalities.

More important than the problems of database is the choice of a development perspective. It is difficult for CRISIL to decide whether to go by financial performance indicators like total revenue or tax revenue (in per capita terms) or to build appropriate indicators to reflect the economic base of the service area. One can possibly justify the former on the grounds that for debt servicing, what one needs is high income, irrespective of its source or managerial efficiency. This would, however, imply taking a very short-term view of the situation. Instead, if CRISIL considered the level of managerial efficiency, or the structure of governance or economic base in a long-term context, it would be able to support potentially successful projects with short-term debt repayment problems. The indicators that it may then consider would pertain to the provisions in state legislation regarding decentralisation, stability of the government in the city and the state, per capita income of the population, level of industrial and commercial activity, etc. All these have a direct bearing on the prospect of increasing tax and non-tax earnings of the municipal body in the long run. The body, for example, would be able to generate higher revenues through taxes and user-charges (and revise these periodically), if the per capita income levels of its residents were high.

CRISIL has, indeed, taken a medium or long-term view, as may be noted from the observations in the Rating Report on Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, the first Corporation which floated municipal bonds. It has based its rating on a host of quantitative and qualitative factors, including those pertaining to the policy perspective at the city and state level and not simply a few measurable indicators (9). The only problem is that a great deal of ambiguity surrounds both the details of all these factors and the specific procedures by which the qualitative dimensions have been brought within the credit rating framework.

One can, therefore, conclude that the cities with a strong economic base that are attracting private sector investment both from within as well as outside India, are able to get a disproportionate share of the subsidised funds from HUDCO and other public and semi-public institutions. Also, the requirements of the capital market for issuing bonds enable only these few cities to mobilise resources and make it extremely difficult for small and medium towns to stand up as potential beneficiaries. Further, financial intermediaries including credit rating agencies are trying to ensure that infrastructure investment takes place in projects with assured cost recovery and they want to introduce an appropriate legal and administrative restructuring, at the state and city level, for their commercial viability. This would seriously restrict the choice of projects, rendering the launching of schemes that yield a low rate of return, such as provision of water and sanitation facilities for the poor, slum improvement, etc., virtually impossible (Kundu et al. 1999).

Empowering local bodies to make investments in basic services and infrastructure

The resource scarcity being faced at central, state and local levels, and the relative reduction of current and capital expenditures on infrastructure and social sectors in recent years have created serious uncertainty with regard to provision of basic amenities to the urban population, particularly the poor. Previously, the role of central and state governments in local affairs was not clearly defined. It consisted of ad hoc and fragmented efforts at programmatic level. Since the mid 1980s, however, a process of shifting the responsibility to the local level has manifested clearly. Unfortunately, transferring responsibilities to the local bodies, without examining their economic base and resource-raising capacity or making provision of adequate transfer of funds, may have serious consequences. It would be unwise to leave this issue unexamined or bury it under a set of assumptions, notwithstanding the present zeal and enthusiasm for "empowerment of local bodies" and giving "powers to the people".

Several studies have highlighted the significant disparity that exists in the income of local bodies and its various components across size class of urban centres. A study by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP 1995) reveals that the per capita (own) revenue for D Class cities, with a population above five hundred thousand, was more than three and a half times that of A class towns, with a population below one hundred thousand, in the early 1990s (10). The tax and non-tax revenue together constituted 90 per cent of the total revenue in the case of the former while the figure for the latter was 70 per cent only. Correspondingly, the percentage share of grants in total revenue for the D class cities was only 5 per cent while that for the lower class towns was as high as 18 per cent. The high dependence on external grants for the smaller towns is a major handicap in undertaking the development responsibility on their own. The capacity of these smaller towns is further restricted since about twenty percent of their total expenditure is on general administration as compared to a figure of 12 per cent for D class cities. Thus, one may argue that the larger cities are financially stronger and can take up public works and social infrastructure projects on their own, whilst this is not the case for smaller towns.

Unfortunately, the NIPFP study does not consider the size classification followed by the Population Census and therefore fails to give further break-ups for class-A towns. Also, the sample does not include many towns with less than 50,000 people and none with less than 10,000. When these towns are included in the sample, the disparity in revenue earnings across size class of urban centres becomes much sharper (National Institute of Urban Affairs 1983). A large majority of these towns have come to depend increasingly on grants-in-aid, primarily due to their poor economic base and incapacity to mobilise adequate tax and non-tax revenues. With the decline in central or state assistance in recent years, it is not surprising that most of these towns do not make any investment for improving infrastructure and basic services. This has compounded their problems of inadequate basic amenities.

People in small and medium towns in India, particularly those with less than 50,000 people, have low per capita income due to lack of employment opportunities in the organised sector, low incidence of other secondary activities, poverty induced growth of tertiary employment, etc. Instability in their economy is reflected in the high fluctuation/ variation in their demographic growth over time and across regions, as noted above. Understandably, many of the small and medium towns are not in a position to generate funds to provide civic services to all sections of population and stabilise their economic base. The Constitutional Amendment, making the civic bodies increasingly dependent on their own tax and non-tax resources, will further increase the disparity in the level of services and economic infrastructure across size class of urban centres. This will adversely affect the level of basic services in these towns and their capacity to absorb future growth of population or attract new economic activities. These towns, particularly those located in less developed states, should, therefore, be the major focus of government policy in the context of provision of basic amenities.

The 74th Amendment has been hailed as a panacea for the problems of urban management in India. It basically attempts to achieve two objectives: one, to enable local bodies to undertake the responsibility of planning and development; and two, to transfer powers such that they themselves might generate adequate tax and non-tax revenue for this purpose.

A recent study by the National Institute of Urban Affairs (1998) reveals that up to the end of 1996, not more than 5 out of 15 major state governments, for which the survey was conducted, had issued the notification regarding transfer of powers and responsibilities of development planning to the local bodies. Several scholars have argued that the local bodies are simply not equipped to take up the responsibility of planning and especially of launching capital projects on their own. Indeed, considerable expertise is required to identify the infrastructure and industrial projects appropriate for the growth of the city or town, to assess their environmental implications and to mobilise resources. Given their difficult financial situation, it is unlikely that these bodies will be able to strengthen their planning departments by recruiting technical and professional personnel in the immediate future.

Planning assistance is unlikely to come from state government departments since they too have serious financial problems and may not be able to augment their professional staff. No attempt is being made to create an institutional structure at the central or state level that can provide technical guidance to local bodies on the proposals for industrial or infrastructure projects in the context of the ecological and socio-economic conditions in the region. The only choice for the local bodies is then to resort to the financial intermediaries and credit rating agencies, discussed in the previous section.

It is indeed true that some of the credit rating agencies have acquired the expertise to assist local governments, development authorities, etc. in preparing development plans and mobilising resources. They claim to possess the technical competence needed to undertake the task of preparing viable projects on behalf of the local bodies. Understandably, these projects would have good rating and possibly be able to mobilise resources from the capital market. The major considerations in the preparation of the project would, however, be the concerns of companies likely to provide the finance, interests of other stake-holders, commitments by the borrowing agency to ensure cost recovery, legal and administrative restructuring for attracting private participation, etc. The criteria canvassed by the credit rating institutions are, thus, likely to impose a certain kind of financial perspective and discipline on the local bodies that may be at variance with that of development planning.

In an era when obtaining funds for investment from the private sector or capital market has become the critical factor, it is not surprising that the preparation of Master Plans has been thoroughly discredited. Indeed, the city level Master Plans in recent years have been referred to more for violation than for compliance since no fund is available for their implementation. Given this emerging scenario, the option of going for project preparation in formal or informal consultation with the stake-holders through the mediation of the financial institutions, seems to be an easy way out. Local governments in large cities find this hard to resist. It must, however, be pointed out that preparing a Master Plan to answer the needs and aspirations of local people (in different social and income brackets) and then breaking it down to a set of meaningful projects is a different exercise from that of identifying projects with high credit rating that would attract corporate investment. Assigning the responsibility of development planning to local bodies does not automatically enable them to design projects based on a macro-perspective for the town or region.

Achieving the second objective of the 74th Amendment, that is, increasing the resource availability at the local level, is also extremely difficult. In fact, it is contingent on a number of conditions. Willingness of the state government to devolve the powers of generating tax and non-tax revenues, that of local bodies actually to utilise these opportunities, that of the people to make the payments would be among the critical factors. The data available at the micro-level are not adequate to support the optimism that the Amendment would indeed enhance the resources of the local bodies.

The 74th Amendment Act simply proposes a schedule of functions and responsibilities to be assigned to the municipal bodies by their state governments. The actual assignment of the powers, however, remains with the state governments and the existing practice of treating all municipal powers and functions as a concurrent subject remains undisturbed (Datta 1999). Even after six years of the Amendment, levying of new taxes and user-charges, revision of the old rates, etc. need state government approval.

One may ask whether the SDOs, discussed above, would open up an opportunity for the cities to tap new resources. Understandably, this new credit instrument is more acceptable to the investors than any general bond issued by the local body as it insulates them from the risk of financial uncertainty faced by the issuer. Its basic strength stems from the fact that every city would have certain areas or sectors wherein it could identify commercially profitable projects. Also, they can always identify a few revenue sources that are lucrative and buoyant. Escrowing the earnings from the lucrative sources can, thus, support the SDOs floated for mobilising funds for the commercially viable projects (11). The SDOs, issued through the state level financing institutions or special purpose vehicles (SPVs), can be made further attractive for investors by the provision of certain tax benefits. It is, however, evident that these credit instruments constrain "the local fiscal flexibility" (Mathur 1999) by curbing the autonomy of the agency to utilise its own resources for carrying out its normal functions and meeting exigencies.

Obtaining a hefty loan from certain international organizations may also lead to disempowerment of local bodies as is the case of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. The utility budget concerning water supply and sewerage facilities is being maintained by the corporation on accrual basis while the other budgets of the corporation are maintained on cash basis. This was the pre-condition for getting the World Bank loan under the International Development Assistance credit scheme. Similarly, a study on Pune Municipal Corporation under the FIRE project proposes a budgeting discipline for the local bodies such that they maintain separate accounts for not merely capital and current expenditures but also for a different set of sectors (Mehta and Satyanarayana 1996). Proposals have been put forward for revising the user charges along with the norms for sectoral transfers such that a group of sectors can become independent of the general municipal budget. This is considered necessary for attracting capital investments in future years.

It may be argued that only a handful of large cities with a reasonably strong economic base would benefit from the "opportunity" opening up through the Constitutional Amendment. A few of these cities might be able to introduce certain new taxes, increase the rates of the old ones and, at the same time, liberate themselves from the legislative and administrative controls of the state government. They might also be able to raise resources by issuing SDOs or borrowings from international organizations. It is unlikely, however, unlikely that small and medium towns would be able to benefit in a similar fashion. Consequently, the mobilisation of funds from the capital market and institutional sources would accentuate the disparity in terms of per capita expenditure and the level of amenities across the size class of urban centres.

Taking a holistic view, it is uncertain that the recent moves for liberalisation, decentralisation and invigoration of the capital market will lead to empowerment of local bodies. While liberating the local agencies from the control of central and state governments, these developments place the former under trustees or commercial banks, controlled by pure market logic. Alternatively, the financial powers might go in the hands of international "donors" and credit rating agencies who, through various innovative and complicated arrangements, can influence the expenditure pattern of municipal bodies. They would also be in a position to determine the type of projects to be undertaken and in certain cases their management system. It would be extremely important to keep a watch on the problems faced by the cities in handling their budgetary earnings and expenditures after accepting the terms and conditions for raising resources.

Finally, the impact of the 74th Constitutional Amendment on intra-urban disparity is likely to be adverse, leading to socio-economic segmentation of large cities. The Amendment stipulates that the ward level committees are to be constituted in all cities with more than 0.3 million people and that the former will have the powers to take decisions regarding the level and nature of amenities, based on the capability and willingness of the residents to pay. Also, these committees will statutorily be assigned part of the municipal budget. The slum populations in the heart of the large cities or their peripheries, with low affordability or willingness to pay, would understandably accept a low level of civic amenities. The elite colonies, on the other hand, would be able to attract private entrepreneurs and even the subsidised government programmes for improving the quality of services, based on their capacity to pay higher user charges and political connections. This would further accentuate the disparity in the availability of basic amenities across the wards and between the city and the periphery.

Conclusions and proposals for balanced urban development

The analysis of trends of population growth and migration in recent years reveals that the growth rate of urban population in India is likely to slow down in future decades. This would be so despite the opening up of the economy and consequent boost to industrialisation. Only a few large cities would experience modest to high urban growth and a large part of the incremental migrant population would be absorbed in their peripheries and neighbouring towns. Small and medium towns, particularly those in less developed regions, would attract very little urban industrial investment and, therefore, would report low and unstable demographic growth.

A regional analysis in post-independent India reveals that the industrially-developed states have a high level of urbanisation but a modest or low rate of urban population growth. The interstate disparity in the case of industrialisation and urbanisation is very high as is that for access to civic amenities. The relationship between levels of urbanisation and industrialisation and levels of basic amenities is weak but positive. The government and para-statal institutions who provide the amenities have not exhibited sensitivity in favour of backward states. Similarly, the large cities with more than 100,000 people have a stronger manufacturing base than other urban centres. They also have a high percentage of households with access to basic amenities. It is important to note that being linked to national or global economy, they experience a high and stable demographic growth. The small and medium towns, on the other hand, exhibit a low and fluctuating growth, which can be attributed to their poor and uncertain economic base, failing to attract private investment from within or outside the country. This, to a certain extent, is due to their lack of civic amenities and basic infrastructure.

After the formal launching of the programme of structural adjustment in 1991 and consequent decline in public sector investment, privatisation, partnership arrangements and community-based projects have emerged as the major options for undertaking investments in infrastructure and amenities. Planners and policy-makers have made a strong case to make para-statal agencies as well as local governments depend increasingly on their internal resources and institutional/private finance with the objective of "bringing in efficiency and accountability in their functioning". This changed perspective and the decline in public investment is likely to accentuate further the disparity in the levels of basic amenities across the states and size class of urban settlements. Furthermore, the poor are getting priced out of the various schemes that are being launched or stipulated under the aegis of private or joint sector. Unfortunately, the same is also true for the current public sector projects since these have increasingly been made to depend on institutional borrowings and capital market. All this accentuates intra-city inequalities in the availability of amenities, resulting in spatial segmentation, particularly in the large cities.

Efforts are also being made to develop the capital market so that the para-statal and local level agencies can mobilise resources by issuing bonds and other credit instruments. This strategy, being operated with support from financial intermediaries, including the credit rating institutions would, thus, have serious spatial implications. Given the weak revenue- generating capacity of most of the local bodies, only a few large cities would be able to raise funds from the market and launch major infrastructure projects.

Further, the cities, issuing bonds, SDOs, etc. for resource mobilisation, have been forced to escrow or pledge their regular earnings from octroi, property tax, grants from the state, etc. as a guarantee for debt servicing. An analysis of the arrangements, worked out by financial intermediaries including the credit rating institutions, for tapping the capital market reveals that these can severely restrict the functioning of the local bodies. In several cases, these bodies have been forced to pledge their regular earnings (from octroi, grants from the state...) as a guarantee for debt servicing. The projects that are likely to be financed through such arrangements would be commercially viable so as to ensure profitability to the investors and other stake holders. The arrangements lead to a situation wherein finance generated by the common people gets diverted for financially profitable projects, or is pledged as security for projects that are likely to benefit better off sections of the population or elite colonies.

In the eventuality of the projects failing to generate the desired rate of profit, the local bodies may be left with no funds even for their general administration since much of the revenue earnings will be diverted for paying the investors. Thus, it appears that the policy of liberating the local governments from the regulatory and legislative controls of the state can bring the former under the direct control of financial institutions. This can come in the way of the bodies fulfilling their routine obligations and may result in a dilution of their social commitments including that of reducing regional imbalances and providing basic amenities to the poor.

Often the question is raised whether state intervention in India can change the process and pattern of urban growth and access to basic amenities, as discussed above. The analysis of the trends in demographic growth, labour market, system of financing infrastructure investment, etc. makes it clear that posing the issue as state versus market does not give much analytical mileage. One must ask what tools of intervention may be available to the Indian state in future years, and with what objectives these are likely to be used.

The changes in the system of governance and urban planning brought about through structural adjustment, as recommended by several international agencies and broadly accepted by the Indian planners, envisage the state's role as a facilitator. If indeed the public agencies intervene as facilitators in the market – removing its deficiencies and saving the actors from market failures – the above scenario would emerge, possibly with a greater ease.

It is argued, even by the proponents of liberalisation, that given the socio-political reality in India, it is difficult for the private sector to bring about the changes in urban land market, land use, investment in infrastructure, etc., without the state becoming an active partner. The Indian state has indeed responded quite favourably in the past few years by ushering in the necessary changes, although the democratic structure and bureaucratic inertia have made the process slow. The message, however, comes loud and clear from the Ninth Plan document that such changes are possible and are forthcoming.

Based on the above overview of the trend at macro-level and its implications, a case can be made for providing special assistance to the less developed states that are not in a position to allocate requisite funds for urban development. Particularly, small and medium towns in these states need to be supported for launching capital projects, as their economic bases are not strong enough to mobilise resources for the purpose. This would imply increasing the resources allocated for urban development schemes. There must, however, be explicit stipulations in the schemes to ensure that most of the funds go to small and medium towns.

The capacity of the state or local government to generate employment directly through anti-poverty programmes would remain limited. The past experiences suggest that there has been considerable leakage in the self-employment programmes. Banks and other financial institutions have been unwilling to give loans to the poor, as the risk of non-recovery is very high. Also, the assets created through wage employment programmes have not contributed significantly to the development potential or long-term income generating capacity of the poor. It is therefore recommended that the anti-poverty programmes be directed primarily to the provision of basic amenities.

The state governments should take the overall responsibility of ensuring certain minimum levels of amenities in all sections of the population, in different size class of urban centres, irrespective of their income levels or affordability. For this purpose, it is important to set up the "standards" for the amenities in realistic terms, based on what the country can afford. The government may, however, fulfil this responsibility by engaging or supporting private organizations, NGOs and CBOs or by strengthening the local bodies.

It would certainly be erroneous to depend on the capital market or the banking sector to fulfil the social obligations or implement a long-term urban development strategy. Furthermore, Constitutional amendment for decentralisation of financial powers is not adequate for augmenting resources of the local bodies for this purpose. This must be backed up by actual devolution of powers and responsibilities by state governments and their use by municipal bodies. The management capacities of these bodies need to be strengthened by giving more technical personnel and by training the existing staff. They should be able to organise their affairs better, including mobilisation of tax and non-tax resources. Manufacturing activities at the town level are strongly linked with the availability of infrastructure and civic services. One may, therefore, argue that the provision of these services in small urban settlements, besides being a goal in itself, would help in generating non-agricultural employment and diversifying their economic base.

Many of the subsidised amenities provided through the governmental programmes during the 1970s and 1980s went to a few developed regions and large cities and benefited generally the high and middle-income colonies. There is no way that this can continue in the present, more liberal regime, which was introduced in the 1990s. However, withdrawing government support and relegating the provision of the services to the market will have adverse consequences for regional equality as well as for the micro-environment and health conditions within large cities. Institutional borrowings by public agencies (involved in the provision of the amenities) at high interest rates, reduction in their government grants, etc. are likely to erode their capacity to invest in less developed states, smaller order towns, slums and low income areas. To counter these, new programmes must be designed that can cover the entire urban hierarchy and all vulnerable sections of population. As the prospect of an increase in the real income of the urban poor and of people in small and medium towns in less developed states does not seem very bright, their capacity to pay for basic services will remain low during the years of structural adjustment. The programmes must, therefore, be specifically targeted and the subsidies be more explicit and transparent. The justification for all these measures must be sought in the context of a regional development plan.


The contribution of migration in urban growth in future years can be estimated using a simple identity. The increase in urban population can be decomposed into three components: natural increase, new towns/jurisdictional changes and RU migration. For convenience, the differential in natural growth between rural and urban areas can be ignored (12). The jurisdictional component has been fairly stable – about 30 per cent of the base year urban population in the 1970s and 1980s. Assuming the share of this component remains the same over time, migration may be estimated from the simple identity:

Migration = Total increase - natural increase - jurisdictional change

Using this simple schema, migration as a percentage of incremental urban population has been estimated for different periods. The contribution of RU migration works out as about 30 per cent of the incremental urban population during the 1990s, if the annual urban growth rate of 3.0 per cent is achieved during 1991-2001. This is much above the 23 per cent share observed in the 1980s.


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1. An international seminar was held in 1960 at Berkley wherein the deliberations were conducted under the shadow of Kingsley Davis' over-urbanisation thesis, published in a volume (Turner 1962). Most of the papers shared a concern over massive urban growth and RU migration in India, as reflected in 1951 Census. Kingsley Davis (1962) argued that "the work of accommodation in Indian cities almost defies imagination" while Nayak (1962) thought that "the challenge to urban growth must, in part, be met by a retreat from the urbanisation process".

2. In economic analysis of migration, one often considers the pattern of male migration only, since a large part of female migration is due to marriage and other social reasons.

3. Population Census in India classifies urban settlement into six size classes as per limits indicated below.

Population Size Category

100,000 and more Class I
50,000 to 100,000 Class II
20,000 to 50,000 Class III
10,000 to 20,000 Class IV
5,000 to 10,000 Class V
Less than 5,000 Class VI

4. The growth rates have been computed by considering the population of only those towns (for both initial as well as terminal year)

5. The class VI towns, however, are exceptions to this as many of these are special purpose urban centres, established or managed by public sector agencies, military establishments or private industries.

6. Some of the government schemes do have a provision for giving the evicted slum dwellers plots or flats, in the building being constructed at the original site. It is, nonetheless, erroneous to believe that such allottees would be able to hold on to them for a long time, given their acute need for finance, growing land values and relaxation in legal and administrative environment.

7. Households having water supplied through a tap, hand pump or tube well, situated within or outside their premise, are considered as having access to safe drinking water facility.

8. Interestingly, the trend in the percentage of households residing in pucca houses is similar - going up by 20 percentage point from 51.21 during 1983-88 (38th and 44th round) but registering a nominal increase of 2.8 points only during 1988-93 (44th and 49th round). Furthermore, the percentage figures reported in the 49th and 50th rounds are about the same.

9. It has argued that the outlook for the finances of the Corporation, in the medium term, is positive as it "has been able to upgrade the tax administration framework. In the long run, the Corporation's ability to implement the proposed property tax reforms would further strengthen the tax base of the Corporation. In addition, the Corporation has initiated efforts to diversify its revenue base by undertaking activities like commercial property development. These efforts are expected to be supported by the political and administrative wing at the state level...The prevailing policy framework would have to be sustained to achieve the desired results." (Credit Rating Information Services of India Limited 1996)

10. The NIPFP study classifies the urban centres into four categories based on the population size s shown below:

Class A Less than 100,000
Class B Between 100,000 and 200,000
Class C Between 200,000 and 500,000
Class D More than 500,000
11. The three corporations of Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Vijaywada have successfully floated SDOs that are secured by the cash flows from certain specific assets and/or sources of revenue. While Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has escrowed the octroi revenues from specified entry points, Vijaywada Municipal Corporation has been obliged to escrow the property tax and revenues from its commercial property. These two sources of revenue, i.e., octroi and the property tax, account for a substantial proportion of the revenue of the two corporations. The non-availability of these revenue sources for meeting routine expenditures can, at a future date, accentuate the financial problems faced by the corporations. Far more stringent are the conditions on the Bangalore City Corporation which had to escrow a part of the proceeds from property tax and State Finance Commission grants. In addition, it had to obtain a guarantee from the state government.

12. In case the natural growth is lower in urban than rural areas, as indicated by the Total Fertility Rate obtained from Sample Registration System Estimate of 1991 and also National Family Health Survey (International Institute for Population Sciences 1994), the migration component would have to be larger for sustaining any given population growth rate of urban population. Thus, the identity gives a lower limit to the migration component.

About the author

Dr. Amitabh Kundu has been a Professor of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, for the past fifteen years. He has also been a Visiting Professor and Fellow at several universities in Europe and America and a consultant for the World Bank, UNESCO (Division of Physical Heritage), ILO, the Government of the Netherlands as well as for other organizations. His publications include Urban Informal Sector in India (ILO), In the Name of Urban Poor (Sage), Urban Development and Urban Research in India (Khanna) and Methods of Regionalisation (Popular Prakashan).

© UNESCO 2000

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.

The frontiers and boundaries on maps published in this series do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by UNESCO or the United Nations.

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