Settlements in India

Indus River Valley that civilization

Settlements in India:

1. Introduction

It is in the Indus River Valley that civilization in India first started with Harappa and Mohenjo Daro the 2 highly advanced and reasonably sophisticated cities coming up alongside the river. The Aryans invaded this civilization by 1500 BCE. They traveled into India and journeyed as far as south India, initiating the Formative Age involving solidification of Indian culture. Hinduism, caste system and a patriarchal (tightly-knit) society was formed. India was on its way towards progress. This sparked formation of the Southern kingdoms and Mauryan Empire. The culture, Aryans developed in India set its course in the history of the world as well, besides the Indian sub-continent.

Home to Most Influential And Oldest Civilizations

In South Asia is located is this great landmass, the Indian subcontinent which is home to one of the most influential and oldest civilizations across the world. At attractive habitat has been provided for humans, in this continent since early times. To the north it is protected by the massive Himalayan range and huge oceans in the south. In the northeast and northwest, the peninsula land, in triangular shape, is easily accessible. It is from here that early contact took place with the outside world.

Natural springs and melting glaciers provide water to the Indus River. Fertile silt is picked by the river as it flows down. At least once a year, water was available for irrigation when the area would flood.

Indo European Settlements

First the Indo-Europeans settled along the Indus River, mixed and lived with the local people and gradually expanded all through the Indo-Gangetic Plain. They had the same divisions of their society like priest, warrior, merchant etc.

As far as identities were concerned, castes were important. The 4 castes were the Untouchables or Dalits who dealt with dead bodies, did cleaning up jobs, garbage collection, etc. Then there were the Sudras or the farmhands or servants who worked for other people. The Vaishyas were traders or farmers who owned businesses or farms. Kshatriyas, also called warriors were above the Vaishyas. Brahmins or priests were the powerful caste. Within each case there were smaller groups of castes, in dozens. It is a belief of many historians that when the Indo-Europeans came, people of the Indus Valley were treated as untouchables.

Territorial Expansion

Quick growth was seen in culture of the Indo Europeans with people of the Indus Valley. Gradually they spread to the Ganges Rivers and as territories expanded with formation of kingdoms, many other civilizations came up.


Native Indians and Indo-Europeans migrated and mixed for around 1000 years through northern India. By 600 BCE cities grew in size and number and developed into Maha Janapadas (16 different kingdoms).

Persian And Greek Invasion

Persians invaded in 520 BCE to control northern India for 200 years. Then South India was invaded by Alexander the Great. After he returned to Greece, a Greek conquest occurred in Ancient India. It was only ancient China that did not suffer from any Greek or Persian conquest mainly due to geographical barriers. A unique way was developed by China and rest of the world. All 4 major civilization areas were finally linked after a thousand years later.

2. Classification of Settlements

Classification of settlements can be done on the basis of size of population and area, site, planning, economic development, origin, occupation, function, shape etc. However if a classical classification is to be done, then Rural Settlements and Urban Settlements, are the 2 main categories.

Rural Settlements

Rural settlements are smaller in size and distinguished by the old and slow means of communication and transport, their primary occupation, low population density, extensive patterns of land usage, traditional living, the poor development of the economy, less polluted environment and greater spirit of cooperation.

Subdivision of rural settlements includes villages, hamlets and farm steeds on the basis of their function, particular structure and size. The smallest rural settlement unit is the farm stead built on agricultural lands as a small building with1 or 2 rooms. Hamlets are small village outgrowths that shelter new people coming into the boundary of the revenue village. Villages have a definite entity in society and are well-knit rural settlements.

A number or rural settlements dominate India and occupy hill slopes, flood plains, piedmont areas, river banks, natural levees, bottoms of valleys, water points, coastal lands and spurs and flat hill tops. Small areal sized villages are found in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Large areal sized villages are found in Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala and Nagaland. Andhra Pradesh, Tripura, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala as well have villages with larger population size.

Urban Settlements

Urban settlements are nucleated and large areas where inhabitants are engaged in non-agricultural activities. National governments may define urban settlements on the basis of occupation of people, size, density of population and type of local government.

As per the 1951 Census of India, definition of an urban settlement is every cantonment and municipality, all civil lines not included within limits of the municipality and all collection of houses that are occupied by not less than five thousand people. Some places were treated as towns in princely states as they were of local importance even if they have less than 5000 inhabitants.

In 1971, modification of this definition was done and all places were treated as towns if specific conditions were followed. They include all localities that form part of a town or city agglomeration, all municipal boards and corporations, notified areas and cantonments and other places, places where population exceed 5000 and at least where 3/4th of the male population is engaged in non agricultural activities.

In 1981 few changes were incorporated wherein orchard, livestock, plantations, forestry, hunting, fishing etc were treated as agricultural activity. Towns were the places like industrial areas, places of tourist interest, big housing colonies, special project areas, railway colonies etc. This segregation could be done by the Director of Census Operations by consulting the concerned state governments.

3. City Region and Planning

City regions are a result of relationship among different orders of cities and their surrounding regions. Dependents of a city are linked with requirements of their dwellers which various service institutions of the city, fulfill. In size, in a city, the dependent centres are small generally and they do not have specialized areas which cities in the neighborhood have.

Connection With Places Outside

Any city region comprises institutions and towns of lower service order. No city is independent. A city could be cultural, administrative, agricultural or industrial but it should have connections with the world outside. Also cities in outside areas are not independent and hence have to be involved in mutual relationships and give and take procedure. The relationship may not be regionally or locally restricted but can influence spheres far and wide.

Types Of Linkages

Linkages in terms of type of communication and transport available and distance, determines the frequency and intensity of a city. Interaction is less if distance between the dependent town and city is more. The inter-distance can also affect frequency of commodities and people reaching a city. The consumer’s movement decreases and becomes irregular with increment in distance. To large extent, the transport means has to be viable enough for a city to maintain good relations with its surrounding areas.

Small urban centers and towns have linkage means and modes with regions in the countryside to collect agricultural produce, distribute and direct it for sale of manufactured goods and imports.

Easy movement is possible with development of good communications and transport network around the urban area. Unison between the countryside and town gets strengthened due to this.

Varying Nature Of Urban Influence

Urban influence by nature is varying, and can have influence on industry, agriculture and services like recreational, cultural, educational, medical etc.

Agriculture And Town

It has been seen in modern days that the rich own properties and lands in their forefathers’ villages but they live in other towns. Well-to-do urbanites own farm houses or land and properties in nearby villages, have their farm operations supervised and keep visiting there now and then. It seems that very often the country is the town’s property.

The town as well is dependent on agricultural produce and activity, be it market-gardening, floriculture, cultivating cereals, rearing dairy cattle for the purpose of milk etc. Some industries situated in towns are dependent upon rural based products like dyeing products, silk, wood products, wool, sugar beet etc. Markets for rural products are the towns, which through middlemen offer required facilities for export purposes. Thus real control is exerted by towns over the surrounding country.

Shopping Centres

Village people visit town areas for shopping goods from different parts of the country and the world. Significance of the market is determined by the sale. Also central administrative functions are performed by towns within their regional limit.

Several Areas Of Dominance

A city possesses many areas of dominance as it has more than one service to provide and hence by providing specialized services it exerts a dominant influence over the immediate neighborhood.

Major city regions in India include Kolkata-Howrah node, Maharashtra-Gujarat sector, Chennai-Bangalore sector and Delhi nucleus.

Minor level city regions in India include, Nagpur, Hyderabad-Vishakhapatnam, Patna, Kanpur-Lucknow, Coimbatore, Jaipur, Vijaywada, Nagpur, Kochi-Madurai sector, Agra, Chandigarh and Ambala-Amritsar-Jullunder.

4. Slums and Associated Problems

One peculiar issue in the urban areas of India is slum growth and other associated problems. Slums come up in metropolitan cities and hundreds of other cities, near large drains, industrial regions, railway platforms, railway lines, around wholesale markets and ports. Asia’s largest slum is located in Mumbai at Dharavi. Bhilai in Chhattisgarh is another big slum area. It is India’s important industrial city having more than half of the total city’s population, living in the slums. Studies indicate that more than twenty five percent of the population in cities lives in slum areas.

Living Area

Kutcha or temporary houses are built in slums. Houses are made generally from tin sheets, bricks, tarpaulin sheets, mud, bamboo, etc. The living space is not more than 10 square meters and used mostly for storing items required for the house. Activities like sleeping, bathing and cooking is done in the open mainly. Slum people use common public toilets, public conveniences and water taps. Slum people are very used to conducting their activities in open areas and hence they do not find multi storeyed and closed environments conducive enough.

In some case any open space with shady tress is utilized as community space. Slums are exposed to fire, water-logging, floods, etc. Due to lack of sewerage and drainage facilities the chances of getting water borne diseases like jaundice, typhoid, gastro-enteritis and cholera are very high.

Slums are dingy and substandard houses with high levels of congestion, insanitary conditions, overcrowding and density. Basic facilities and amenities like garbage disposal, water supply, sewerage and drainage are absent. Large manpower is needed in industrial areas which are one of the causes of people immigrating to urban and industrialized regions. Hence, industrial urban centres and slums co-exist.

Social structure

Slum dwellers are generally migrants from rural regions. They are not able to afford comfortable travel and transportation costs and hence live close to their places of work. Generally people from the same community live together and work in the same place. Various types of slum dwellers include self employed hawkers, petty traders, vendors and household servants.

The government continues to take efforts in getting the slum dwellers resettled but is not able to attain complete success. Most often the colonies allotted for resettlement are far away locations from the place of work, mainly the outskirts of the urban areas.

Difficulty In Finding Solutions

Finding a practical solution to the removal of slums has never been easy. Each time a slum is removed, very soon another one comes up again. Social tensions too increase whenever attempts are made to remove the slums.

Every city across the globe including cities in India are plagued with the persistent, unmanageable, inevitable and alarming issue of slums. Not only are developing countries affected by slums, but also the developed countries.

Urban industrial centres, where large working manpower is required attract cheap labour. Thus, slums co‐exist along with industrial urban centres. There is a great problem of slums and unplanned development in Bhilai, one of the important industrial cities of India, where more than half of the total population of the city is residing in slums.

5. Problems of Urbanisation

Urbanization in India does face some major issues. The problems include overcrowding, squatter and slum settlements, housing, real expansion of cities, disposal of trash, sewerage issues, unemployment, water, urban crimes, transport and the urban population issue.

As compared to other countries, India is less urbanized and has just 27.78 % population living in urban towns. At present it faces serious crisis in growth of urban areas. Urbanization is vital for political, economic and social progress and if it does not occur then it can lead to serious economic-serious issues.

1. Real Expansion Of Cities

In terms of real expansion of geographical area and population, India faces this urbanization problem. This makes management of economic base difficult, there is increased immigration from small towns and rural areas to big cities.

2. Squatter And Slum Settlements

In the ecological structure of cities in India, the natural sequel is of spread of squatter and slum settlements, haphazard, unplanned and unchecked urban growth. Rapid growth in industrialization and urbanization has caused slum growth. Land prices are high and there is shortage of developed land for the purpose of housing.

3. Overcrowding

Overcrowding in the urban areas causes tremendous pressure on infrastructural facilities like transport, employment, housing, water, electricity, etc. Efforts are being taken by the government to decongest the cities but success is still to be attained.

4. Unemployment

Migration on a large scale from rural to urban areas, causes urban unemployment. It is mainly due to poverty that people push themselves into urban areas for employment but they have to struggle for better living, livelihood and cope with failure growth in economic opportunities.

5. Sewerage Issues

A number of sewerage lines are old, overflowing or broken down very often. Lack of proper care of drainage system also causes sewerage problems in urban areas. It is also seen that sewer lines and water pipes run in close proximity with each other in many Indian cities which could lead to spread of water borne diseases and water contamination.

6. Disposal Of Trash

Garbage produced in huge quantities in cities needs proper arrangements for disposal. Landfills that exist currently are filled to their brim and have become hotbeds for poison leakage and diseases into the surroundings.

7. Transport

Transportation issues are caused due to traffic and bottleneck congestion, growth in town size and more number of people who go shopping or to work. Areas leading to schools, stray cattle, mixture of vehicles, offices, narrowness of streets, shopping areas, factories etc remain thronged with people during peak hours. Also a pathetic picture is presented on the traffic scenario.

8. Housing

Influx of the underemployed and unemployed immigrants causes acute problems in urban areas. When they enter from surrounding areas into towns and cities, they do not have proper housing or live in congested spaces.

9. Water

As cities grow in number and size, water supply begins falling short of demand. The municipality is not able to provide adequate water to the people. People are denied water during the summer season and in some places there is no main water supply as well.

10.Urban Crimes

People having no affinity for one another and from all walks of life live in urban areas, due to which tranquility and peace of the city remains disturbed. Women especially find it unsafe to live at times.

6. Town Planning in India

A lot of Indians are chasing their dream of living in cities. Estimates are that almost half the population in India will begin living in urban areas, by the year 2050. Urban areas offer a more comfortable and better life which can be really enticing for any one staying in rural areas.

The rural-urban migration is occurring on a massive scale. The urban infrastructure is impacted accordingly. There are all chances that under this pressure, cities in India could collapse and to prevent such a situation, the need to modernize the cities has already been addressed by the government of India in 2012.

Various Initiatives Taken Up

Efforts have been taken by the state after recognizing these challenges and have sped up the process of urbanization. A number of initiatives have been taken up including the JNNURM – Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, AMRUT – Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation besides Smart Cities Mission. These initiatives have been mainly taken up for developing more and more cities with modern facilities and for improving the quality of life of people in the cities.

Right Approach

In India there are a total of 12 planned cities that are seen progressing really well. Devastation is caused in cities when the urban planning is bad. It is for this reason that flyovers may collapse, floods are caused etc which brings the whole city to a halt.

The approach towards urban planning should not be with a tunnel vision. Each city in the country is linked with the other in an intricate manner. Various aspects like disposal of garbage, supply of electricity and water, etc have to be looked into, when housing is to be developed.

Social change, employment, growth of the economy has to be addressed in a holistic development. Proper space utilization, degradation of the environment, management of waste and economic deprivation has to also be dealt with at the same time.

It is on people that success of any initiative aimed at development and planning in urban areas relies. People need to well-equipped with different kinds of skills. When these elements are realized then the planning elements are connected with each other most intricately.


The IIHS – Indian Institute of Human Settlement is a fellowship that is seeking to provide future planners of urban areas, the right kind of skill sets. The Urban Fellows programme – its flagship has been launched for building professional, technical, interpersonal and professional skills. Even after decades these skills would prove to be relevant for the nation.

Comparative perspective is encouraged by the UFP for developing urban areas across Indian cities. Hands-on field experience is provided to professionals and graduates both for attaining knowledge applicable to different professions and fields. UFP ensures that the burden should not lie on professionals and students of urban planning alone. An interdisciplinary approach is needed so that no let-downs are seen in urban planning.