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UPSC Essentials | Society & Social Justice : Urbanisation and associated issues (Part 2)

(In UPSC Essentials’ series Society & Social Justice, which we have started for social issues topics of UPSC CSE, our subject experts will give an overview of the theme from both, static and dynamic points of view. ‘Express Inputs’ will widen your horizon on the issue. For the month of August, we take up the topic of ‘Urbanisation and associated issues’. In part 1, Pranay Aggarwal in conversation with Manas Srivastava talked about the definition, process, positive and negative impacts, and more. He also addresses a past UPSC question related to the topic. In part 2, he talks about rurbanisation, social effect of urbanisation, urban floods, and more. He also guides on how to write an introduction to such a topic)

About the Expert: Pranay Aggarwal is an educator and mentor for aspirants preparing for UPSC Civil Services Examination. With more than 10 years of experience guiding civil service aspirants, he is acknowledged as an expert on civil service exam preparation especially on subjects such as Social Issues and Sociology. He is the India representative on Research Committee on Education for UNESCO’s International Sociological Association and a member of Indian Sociological Society’s committee on social movements. He is also the Convenor of Indian Civil Services Association, a think tank of senior bureaucrats.

Relevance of the topic: With the increasing pace of urbanisation along with the baggage of problems seen in recent times, this topic becomes essential for UPSC preparation. It is an important theme in GS I (Society), GS II, GS III, Prelims and Personality test. Aspirants will find it relevant for Essays as well. You are advised to go through the part 1 before reading this part.

Manas: ‘Rurbanisation’ is a common term in academic papers, what is it and why is it being discussed?

Pranay Aggarwal: The word rurban can be understood as rural+urban. One may simply define it as a geographical landscape that possesses the characteristics like the economic ones and lifestyles of an urban area. However, essentially retains some of its prominent rural characteristics.

The term was coined in 1918 by Charles Galpin, a pioneer of rural sociology in America, and popularised by Sorokin in his 1929 book Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology. Then in 1949, Parsons explored the idea of rurbanisation in his book ‘Essays in Sociological Theory’. According to Parsons, rurban communities are the rural socio-geographic spaces where styles of life and the standard of living have changed so much that they resemble those in urban localities.

There may be two reasons for Rurbanisation: urban expansion or rural migration. According to Arthapedia, this change is made possible through urban – rural interactions, including the accumulation of capital/ remittances and exposure to Western/ modern ideas and lifestyles that eventually build new mindsets.

The concept of rurbanisation has gained attention in academic papers and discussions due for several reasons:

1. Changing Rural-Urban Dynamics: Rurbanisation reflects the changing dynamics between urban and rural areas. Traditionally, rural areas were associated with agriculture and primary activities, while urban areas were centers of industry, commerce, and services.

ALSO READ | UPSC Essentials| Society & Social Justice — Urbanisation and associated issues (Part 1)

However, with the advent of modernisation, technological advancements, and improved transportation, rural areas are experiencing the influence of urbanization. This includes the penetration of urban lifestyles, infrastructure development, and the diversification of economic activities.

2. Urban Influence on Rural Areas: Rurbanisation highlights the impact of urbanization on rural areas. As urban areas expand and extend their reach, they exert influence on neighboring rural areas. This influence can be observed in terms of infrastructure development, access to services, changes in land use patterns, and adoption of urban practices. Rurbanisation represents a blending of urban and rural characteristics in these areas.

3. Urban-Rural Linkages: Rurbanisation emphasizes the interconnectedness and interdependence between urban and rural areas. It recognises that rural and urban areas are not isolated entities but are closely connected through economic, social, and environmental linkages. Rurban areas often serve as transition zones, where rural populations engage in non-agricultural activities, benefit from urban services, and participate in the urban economy.

4. Diversification of Rural Economy: Rurbanisation signifies the diversification of the rural economy beyond traditional agricultural activities. With the expansion of infrastructure, communication networks, and market integration, rural areas are witnessing the emergence of non-farm activities such as small-scale industries, tourism, services, and knowledge-based activities. This diversification contributes to rural development, employment generation, and improved living standards.

5. Policy Implications: Rurbanisation raises important policy considerations for governments and policymakers. It calls for a reevaluation of urban and rural development strategies and the need for integrated approaches. Addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with rurbanisation requires policies that balance the preservation of rural identity and livelihoods with the provision of urban amenities and services. Understanding rurbanisation is essential for policymakers, planners, and researchers to effectively address the evolving dynamics of rural and urban areas. It enables the development of strategies that promote sustainable rural-urban linkages, balanced regional development, and inclusive growth, considering the unique characteristics and needs of rurban areas.

Manas: Speaking sociologically; how has urbanisation affected family, caste, women, village life and other social institutions?

Pranay Aggarwal: Urbanisation has had profound sociological effects on various aspects of society, including family structures, caste dynamics, women’s roles, village life, and social institutions. Let’s explore each of these areas:

1. Family Structures: Urbanisation has influenced changes in family structures. Traditional extended families, where multiple generations lived together, have given way to nuclear families due to urban living constraints and changing social norms. The urban environment, with its emphasis on individualism and mobility, has led to increased autonomy and decision-making power for individuals within families. This shift in family structures has implications for inter generational relationships, care giving arrangements, and support systems.

2. Caste Dynamics: Urbanisation has had complex effects on caste dynamics. In rural areas, caste identities tend to be deeply entrenched, shaping social interactions, occupational opportunities, and access to resources. In urban areas, the impact of caste may be somewhat diluted due to increased social mixing, anonymity, and the dominance of market forces. However, caste-based discrimination and inequalities can persist in urban settings, albeit in different forms. Urbanisation also offers opportunities for social mobility, as individuals may experience greater economic and educational opportunities that transcend traditional caste boundaries.

3. Women’s Roles: Urbanisation has brought significant changes in the roles and status of women. Urban areas often provide greater access to education, employment, and opportunities for women’s empowerment. Women in urban areas have more exposure to diverse ideas, greater economic independence, and increased participation in non-traditional roles and professions. However, urbanisation can also present challenges for women, including issues of safety, work-life balance, and gender-based discrimination. Urbanisation has catalyzed discussions and movements for women’s rights, gender equality, and empowerment.

4. Village Life: Urbanisation has transformed village life in various ways. As people migrate from rural to urban areas, villages experience changes in population demographics, economic activities, and social structures. The outflow of working-age individuals can lead to labor shortages in agricultural and allied sectors, impacting rural livelihoods. Urbanisation can also lead to changes in traditional occupations, land-use patterns, and cultural practices. However, urbanisation has also contributed to the flow of remittances, knowledge, and technology from urban areas to villages, facilitating rural development.

5. Other Social Institutions: Urbanisation has had significant impacts on other social institutions such as education, healthcare, governance, and community organisations. Urban areas offer better access to educational institutions, leading to increased literacy rates and educational attainment. Urbanisation has facilitated thedevelopment of healthcare infrastructure, specialized medical services, and improved health outcomes. The urban environment has also influenced the functioning of governance structures, with increased emphasis on urban planning, service delivery, and citizen participation. Social organisations and community networks may undergotransformation as urban areas present different social dynamics and modes of engagement.

It is important to note that the effects of urbanisation on these aspects of society are diverse and complex, varying across different regions, socio-economic groups, and cultural contexts. Sociological studies play a crucial role in understanding these effects and informing policies and interventions that address the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities presented by urbanisation.

Manas: Monsoons, as usual, brought many challenges. What should we know about urban floods? What is the link between urban flooding, sustainability, and development?

Pranay Aggarwal: Urban flooding is a major issue across India. As citizens, we are well aware of the annual news of city life in Mumbai coming to a grinding halt; the choking of Delhi drainage systems, and the sinking of Himalayan cities. Administrations from Delhi-NCR, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh had to shut down schools due to heavy rains, and several lives were lost to heavy downpours in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jammu & Kashmir.

Urban floods refer to the flooding of urban areas, typically caused by heavy rainfall overwhelming the drainage systems and infrastructure in cities. When precipitation exceeds the capacity of drainage systems to handle it, water accumulates on streets, in residential areas, and in public spaces, leading to property damage, disruption of essential services, and threats to public safety.

In the Indian context, monsoons play a crucial role in shaping the urban environment. Indian cities experience a significant impact from monsoons due to their geographical location and infrastructure vulnerabilities. The impact of monsoons on Indian cities is both positive and negative. On one hand, monsoons provide essential water resources for replenishing reservoirs, recharging groundwater tables and supporting ecosystems. On the other hand, the intensity and duration of rainfall during the monsoon season can result in urban floods and associated problems.

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The linkage between urban floods, sustainability, and development is significant. Urban floods can have detrimental effects on the sustainability and development of cities in the following ways:

1. Infrastructure and Environmental Damage: Urban floods can cause damage to infrastructure such as roads, bridges, buildings, and utilities. This leads to economic losses, hampers transportation systems, disrupts essential services, and affects the overall functioning of the city. Additionally, urban floods can result in environmental damage, including contamination of water sources and loss of bio-diversity.

2. Public Health Risks: Urban floods can pose significant risks to public health. Waterborne diseases, vector-borne illnesses, and contamination of water supplies are common consequences of urban flooding. Poor sanitation and lack of access to clean water during flood events increase the vulnerability of the population to health hazards.

3. Social Disruption and Vulnerability: Urban floods disproportionately affect marginalised and vulnerable communities. These communities often reside in low-lying areas, informal settlements, or areas prone to flooding. The lack of adequate infrastructure and basic services in these areas exacerbates their vulnerability to the impacts of urban floods, resulting in social disruption and exacerbating inequalities.

4. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Urban floods directly intersect with several SDGs, including SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 13 (Climate Action). Effective management and mitigation of urban floods contribute to building resilient cities, ensuring access to safe and sustainable infrastructure, and promoting climate adaptation strategies.

To address the linkage between urban floods, sustainability, and development, cities need to focus on sustainable urban planning, climate-resilient infrastructure, and effective flood management strategies. This includes investment in robust drainage systems, flood-resistant building designs, green infrastructure, early warning systems, and community-based flood preparedness.

Manas: Students face a challenge in writing a good introduction, including for topics like urbanisation. Your suggestion?

Pranay Aggarwal: What makes for an impactful introduction will depend on what you intend to emphasise in your essay. Ensure that your introduction hovers around the essay topic and elaborates upon what you wish to highlight.

For instance, to emphasise the importance of cities, begin something like this:

“Throughout human history, cities stand as vibrant hubs pulsating with energy, innovation, and human connection. From ancient civilizations to modern metropolises, cities have been the epicenters of progress, culture, and transformation. As we navigate the vast complexities of urban life, it becomes evident that cities hold a profound significance in shaping our collective destiny.”

For an essay on urban problems, one could begin something like this:

“Beneath the dazzling façade of towering skyscrapers and bustling streets, lies a complex web of challenges. As humanity increasingly gravitates towards cities, drawn by the promises of opportunities and modernity, we find ourselves confronted with a range of issues that demand our attention and collective resolve. That challenge is of urban life.”

Alternatively, one could begin with a specific urban issue experienced by many, say loneliness and isolation, as follows:

“In the bustling streets of the cities, an epidemic of isolation quietly thrives. Behind the facade of instant connectivity and constant activity, city dwellers find themselves trapped in a paradoxical state of loneliness. As we navigate life in the concrete jungle, it becomes increasingly evident that the fast-paced nature of urban living has erected invisible walls that isolate individuals and erode the very fabric of human connection.”

For an essay on urban governance, consider the below introduction:

“In the ever-evolving urban landscapes, the concept of governance emerges as the invisible hand that steers the trajectory of cities. Urban governance serves as the compass guiding the decisions, policies, and actions that shape the very fabric of our urban existence. As cities grow in size and complexity, the importance of effective urban governance becomes all the more pronounced.”


Point to ponder: When it pours it floods: Why our cities fail the rain test

Record rains, swollen rivers, submerged homes, loss of lives and livelihoods, and traffic jams – cities and towns across the country come to a halt every monsoon. But why is it that our cities can’t handle rains, and what is the way forward? The Indian Express spoke to urban planning experts across cities. Let’s dive deep into the following article by  Shiny Varghese.

‘Make communities the custodians’ ~ Tikender Panwar, Urban specialist and former Mayor of Shimla.


Since the onset of monsoon in Himachal Pradesh on June 24, over 150 people have died in rain-related incidents such as landslides, flash floods and cloudbursts, besides road accidents, according to the Himachal Pradesh State Emergency Response Centre.

THE PROBLEM: The Sixth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mentions the vulnerabilities of the Himalayan states and coastal areas. Much of the flooding in recent years has to do with human-induced interventions.

In Himachal, one has seen two major changes in development. First was in the 1970s, when the State played a role in social infrastructure. Every house had electricity but that abruptly ended in the post-liberalisation era, post ’90s.

While development was rapid, we had to generate our own money. For that, we turned to our natural resources – forests and its hydro potential. The World Bank came in and so did private players. But this was done at the cost of nature.

ALSO READ | UPSC Essentials: Society & Social Justice | Population and associated issues (Part 2)

Many of these projects were along the rivers. Conduits were created and tunnels built, new technologies were introduced, and massive dams were built. But this completely finished us. And then, there was deforestation.

Tourism was the other attraction. Roads were extended, especially along the Shimla-Chandigarh and Shimla-Manali routes. Unlike what we have been doing in the past, when we earlier cut mountains, these were terraced so that we don’t destroy the entire ecology, now it’s a vertical slit, mountains are cut from top to bottom; it’ll take decades to restore these roads.

THE WAY OUT: The answer to all this, I believe, is disruption – not what is to be done but how it has to be done. It’s putting people at the core. I’m asking for a commission of enquiry so that we can start discussions on what has gone wrong. I feel people should have the veto power – to say no to large dams, have a say in the industries we want and what kind of tourism we should have.

There should be new paradigms of the architecture of governance. Communities should be made custodians and some kind of insurance model should be developed, so that we don’t have to go to MLAs when such a crisis happens.

‘Need a water management plan… Work with water, not against it’ ~ KT Ravindran, Senior architect and urban designer.


The Yamuna recently breached its banks and flooded large parts of the city as heavy rains coincided with the release of water from the Hathnikund Barrage upstream, in Haryana. The water levels, which rose to 208.66 metres on July 20, led to Delhi’s worst floods on record, submerging the Ring Road and leaving Kashmere Gate, Civil Lines, ITO, and Rajghat waterlogged.


There are three primary issues that are causing floods worldwide – climate change, urbanisation and reclaiming riverbeds, and deforestation. In Delhi, particularly, we have been developing low-lying areas along the riverbed for decades, be it bridges, underpasses or flyovers. In Seelampur, towards northeast Delhi, for instance, the Delhi Metro reclaimed over 65 acres along the river. Subsequently, there were other projects downstream including the Commonwealth Games village, Akshardham temple and Delhi Metro housing that came up. These have strained the riverbed, reducing its capacity to allow the flow of water.

Likewise, along East Delhi, the flood plains of the Yamuna have been reclaimed. The soil there is sandy, which absorbs water. But now, it has all been concretised.

In South Delhi, private development in areas such as Greater Kailash and South Extension ignored the lay of the land. The carrying capacity of our nullahs have shrunk. We have vandalised the land and haven’t given it due respect.

Mismanagement of water systems have further aggravated flooding in the city.

THE WAY OUT: Short-term measures will not help. There has to be a comprehensive water management plan that can be strategised quickly, on a war footing. It should look at the urban poor and the riverbeds, but above all, work with water, not against it.

In the Delhi Master Plan, there are provisions for waste and sewage management, supply of drinking water and recycling water. Flooding, too, should be made a component. The 100-year-old flood line will need to be reviewed.

‘Bring the ‘public’ into public infrastructure… need ownership’ ~ Naresh V Narasimhan, architect and urban planner.


In a span of seven days in September last year, Bengaluru was marooned twice. While the September 5 rain that submerged the city was unusually high, the city has come to a halt with far less. In May this year, a heavy downpour that lasted just about an hour caused havoc in several parts of the city, claiming the life of a woman who died when the vehicle she was in submerged in the flooded KR Circle underpass.


Bengaluru’s topography features an undulating landscape, highlighted by a central ridge extending NNE-SSW towards Cauvery and the Pennar rivers. This natural terrain should ideally be enough to facilitate smooth flow of water.

Inadequate engineering practices lie at the root of Bengaluru’s water management woes. The city’s Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has long neglected critical upgrades and a comprehensive infrastructure network. The issues are also systemic. Fragmented contractual responsibilities for maintenance, retaining walls, desilting, disposal etc., only exacerbate the issues plaguing this network. The primary function of the Rajakaluve is to channel surface run off and rain water into the connecting lakes. However their carrying capacity is impacted due to sewage, garbage as well as obstructions built into the drain. This is a classic example of the tragedy of the commons; public property is someone else’s problem.

THE WAY OUT: In India, the infrastructure challenge often lacks eco-friendliness, but valuable lessons emerge from projects like the K-100 Citizens Waterway project in Bengaluru. By enhancing the sewage network across a 32-sq-km area, we discovered that instilling a sense of ownership encourages better preservation of public spaces. To prevent flooding, it is vital to involve the public in preserving and maintaining our infrastructure. Neglecting the drains undermines efforts to revive the lakes. The aim is to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility within society to safeguard our vital public infrastructure.

Furthermore, while the focus remains on reviving Bengaluru’s lakes, we must not overlook the critical role of the storm water drain network in replenishing these water bodies. It is a network which is crucial to the health of the city and its lakes.

‘Create risk maps, need an evacuation strategy’ ~ Subimal Ghosh, Head of Climate Studies (IIT Bombay)


During last year’s monsoon, several low-lying areas of Mumbai, including Sion, Parel and Dadar, came to a halt on most days between July and September, as rainfall exceeded the 50-mm mark. The Andheri subway, a chronic waterlogging zone of suburban Mumbai, was also shut for vehicular and pedestrian movement. This year too, areas such as Andheri have been facing severe waterlogging.


Mumbai is on the coast, where moisture and winds enter. It’s the gateway of monsoon winds coming in from the side of the Western Ghats. Now, if this were a city with no buildings, the winds would flow freely. But in Mumbai, we have mixed-used development. Some places have slums, there are high and low-rise buildings, and then some places are hilly. So this leads to turbulence, resulting in more rain. So, in Mumbai, different pockets have heavy rainfall. For instance, if you go from Powai to Navi Mumbai, you will find heavy rains on the Eastern Expressway because there the wind can flow freely. This kind of uneven rainfall is very common in Mumbai, or any urban region.

Now with concretisation in the city, water cannot percolate. But water has to flow out, and when there is high tide, and water cannot flow, it leads to flooding. This has been Mumbai’s problem. A few days ago, there was heavy rainfall (almost 203.7 mm at Santacruz), but because it did not coincide with high tide, there was minimal water logging.

Development has been random and uncontrolled, especially along riverbeds.

THE WAY OUT: We need to make an assessment of our storm water drains and see if they are capable of handling excessive rain. That should be part of any state-action plan.

We need to then improve early warning systems. While IMD gives us a forecast, it should also give a hind-cast. This means, over the last 10 years, if these kinds of monsoons have happened, what does the data show? With such information, one can have a mental model of how to act. So hindcasts and forecasts are necessary.

Thirdly, an evacuation strategy is important. From pumping out water and saving vulnerable people, we need to have a risk map that will tell you which are the vulnerable areas and how to move people quickly.

In all this, there is also good news. With many positive initiatives by the BMC to pump out water quickly and clean up drains, water logging in many areas have reduced in the past few years.

In the upcoming parts on urbanisation we shall focus on questions such as:

— What is the way forward for city management and urban governance?

— What should be the nature of urban governance?

— Important success stories or case studies you want to mention for theaspirants?

and many more points to ponder…

Previous topics on Society and Social Justice:

UPSC Essentials: Society & Social Justice | Population and associated issues (Part 1)

UPSC Essentials: Society & Social Justice | Population and associated issues (Part 2)

UPSC Essentials| Society & Social Justice — Urbanisation and associated issues (Part 1)

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Share your views, answers and suggestions in the comment box or at manas.srivastava@indianexpress.com. You can also post your doubts and questions on topics related to Social Issues and Justice.

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