India is in a phase of rapid urbanization. The overall level of urbanization (percentage of population living in urban settlements) in India increased from 27. 8% in 2001 census to 31.2% in 2011 census. A big component of the growth in India’s urban population in 2001-2011 was due to what is known as in-situ urbanization where existing rural settlements are reclassified as ‘urban’ due to changes in the settlement’s employment structure (i.e., 75% or more of working age males in non-agricultural employment). But, on the other end of the spectrum, larger urban agglomerations are also growing. I share below some plots showing the growth trajectories of some of major urban agglomerations (UAs) between 1950 and 2010 based on data on UAs with population over 300,000 published by the United Nations Population Division.
We see that the lines representing the growth trajectories of different cities intersect at several points. Clearly some cities have grown faster than others in certain periods Lets have a closer look by making a more focused comparisons between the urban agglomerations with comparable population sizes.
In 1950, Delhi had a population very close to that of Madras (now Chennai). But the urban agglomeration of Delhi is now the largest urban agglomeration in India and is the second largest in the world (after Tokyo). Calcutta (now Kolkata) used to be the largest city in India in 1950 but its population growth rate has been in relative decline in recent decades.
Surat had a population of about 233,000 in 1950, only about a third of that of Kanpur. In 2010, Surat grew to be a city of 4.4 million compared to Kanpur’s 2.9 million. (The 1994 pneumonic plague epidemic in Surat did not affect its growth and the massive clean-up of the city perhaps contributed to its further acceleration of its growth.)
Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad had been growing at similar rates till about 1980. After that, Bangalore and Hyderabad picked up pace leaving Ahmedabad somewhat behind.
Patna and Coimbatore have grown in fits and starts over the years. Raipur’s growth has picked up since becoming a state capital in 2000 but it still is a considerably smaller city compared to Bhopal, given that both Raipur and Bhopal had about similar population in 1950.
Below, I plot the 2010 population of all the million-plus cities in India.
The above graph has 49 cities. Now if we look at the top 49 cities based on population in 1980, you can see which cities moved up the population ranking and which ones dropped in the ranking.
It might look like the smaller cities are growing at a faster rate. Below is a scatter plot showing the relationship between population growth rate (2000-2010) and population in 2000. The blue line is the best fit linear model and the red line is best fit curved line.
We can see that the relationship between population size and population growth rate is not quite as simple as a linear relationship. For the sake of comparison, if we plot the same scatter plot for Chinese cities, we find a very similar pattern.
Economic growth rates at the state level seems to explain some of the differences in the population growth rates of these major urban centers. Surat, Pune and Ahmedabad are now the new manufacturing centers while the older manufacturing centers like Kanpur and Kolkata are in relative decline. Among the three largest metropolitan centers in India, only Delhi continues to see accelerated growth while Mumbai and Kolkata are already facing diseconomies of scale.