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Indian towns fare poorly on basic infra, socio-economic indicators

A first of its kind study on the state of India’s small towns – those with a population of less than one lakh – has come up with a grim picture of these mushrooming urban settlements

india Updated: Oct 03, 2016 17:31 IST
Indian towns
Two industrial townships in Gujarat were rated the best for infrastructure while Lalpur in West Bengal was the worst.(Parveen Kumar/HT File Photo)

A first of its kind study on the state of India’s small towns – those with a population of less than one lakh – has come up with a grim picture of these mushrooming urban settlements.

Though the numbers of such towns have grown by 157 % -- from 2223 in 1961 to 5705 in 2011, they have “enormous backlogs” when it comes to basic infrastructure and socio-economic indicators vis-à-vis metro cities with a million plus population, according to the study done during 2015-16 by National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), an autonomous body under the union urban development ministry.

The report “Towns of India” based on secondary data from 2011 Population Census was released by urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday.

Overall, Tamil Nadu has the largest number of towns (795) followed by Uttar Pradesh (709).

Basic infrastructure

On the basic infrastructure index, two industrial townships in Gujarat-- Reliance Complex and Gujarat State Fertilizers and Chemichals Limited in Motikhavdi Sikka were rated the best while Lalpur in West Bengal was the worst.

Of the 5705, only 14 largely industrial townships have 100% coverage of households through tap water. There are six towns where tap water is not available and households are completely dependent on ground water. In all,

61.7% of the households have access to tap water, which is lower than urban India’s figure of 70.6 %.

Also, only 24 towns have all households covered with drainage facilities, while the coverage is less than 50 % in 1666 towns. Drainage system is completely non-existent in 7 towns of India. Besides, 69.3% of the towns have access to toilets as compared to 87.4% in urban India while just 11.2% of the towns have access to piped sewer.

“This indicates that small towns are not fully integrated in the urban fabric of the nation and adequate investments have to be made. If these towns were better equipped to steer their economic assets and development, the national Gross Domestic Product could be increased, with significant benefits reducing rural poverty in the hinterlands,” said Professor Debolina Kundu of NIUA who is also the lead author of the report.

Slums abound in small towns

Out of the 5705 towns, slums were reported in 1893. The share of slum population is more than 50% in 252 towns. The study found that in seven towns the entire population lives in slums. These include three in Uttar Pradesh (Safipur, Ugu and Nyotini), three in Jammu and Kashmir (Hajan, Magam and Beerwah) and Nayabazar notified bazaar area in Sikkim. Valparai in Tamil Nadu and Hojai in Assam have the lowest share of slum population.

Fastest growing towns

Bishnupur in West Bengal registered the highest annual exponential growth rate of 27% followed by Namchi in Sikkim at 25% and Pandharpur in Maharashtra at 23%. As many as 539 towns have experienced a higher growth than the average of 2.25 %.

Slowest-growing towns

The slowest growth rates have been recorded in Pachora in Maharastra, followed by Rayagada in Odisha and Colgong in Bihar.

In all, 65 towns were found to be best in all the four indicators of infrastructure performance – access to tap water from treated source, flush latrine facility with piped sewer and bathroom within premises, waste water outlet connected to closed drains. “This set of towns has the potential to finance infrastructure by improving the tax base and user charges. Also, financing could be possible through institutional funding,” the report states.

There were 3354 towns categorized as “laggards” with visibly deficient in basic infrastructure which also affects their economic performance.

“This report will help the government in informed decision making and may help formulate a stratified urban policy. If these towns are developed at the inception stage itself with aid of smart technology, we can address the urban challenges before they become unmanageable,” Kundu added.