Urbanization is an old age process that has been taking place since centuries but modern urbanization has become a more complex socio-economic process. It is not only the shifting of  population from rural areas to urban but it also alters the occupation, life style, culture and behavior along with the social fabric and the demographic structure. The degree or level of urbanization is typically expressed as the percentage of population residing in urban areas, defined according to criteria used by national governments for distinguishing between urban and rural areas and it is different in different nations.More than one half of the world population lives now in urban areas, and virtually all countries of the world are becoming increasingly urbanized. This is a global phenomenon that has nonetheless very different expressions across regions and development levels.

Urbanization in Bihar vs Indian Average

The definition of urban area in India is; 1. all places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee, etc. 2. all other places which meet the following criteria: i) a minimum population of 5,000; ii) at least 75 percent of the main male working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits; and iii) a density of population of at least 400 persons per sq. km (Census of India, 2011)

Bihar has witnessed a significant step-up in the rate of urban population growth in the decade 2001-2011, adding 72 new towns to its urban portfolio. Its level of urbanization, however, is still low, 11.29 percent as compared to 31.16 percent for India and 48.40 percent for Tamil Nadu and 45.22 percent for Maharashtra which are relatively more urbanized states. Urbanization in Bihar has increased from mere 9.59% in 1981 to just 11.29% in 2011 as against 22.89% and 31.16% respectively for the wholeIndia. It is interesting to note that the annual exponential growth rate(AEGR) for period 2001-2011 was 3.06 for Bihar against the 2.76 India national average. On the other hand,it is projected that the urbanization level in Bihar would attain 34% in 2031 vis-à-vis40% for India as a whole. But Bihar’s level of urbanization has barely moved over the decades. Rural Bihar continues to absorb most of the increase in total population, although rural– urban migration usually is central to urbanization but it is relatively modest. Bihar’s urban system consists of mere 199 cities and towns which are characterized by two important features: (i) primacy, and (ii) increasing weight of towns in the population ranges of 100,000to 1 million and 50,000 to 100,000. While primacy is common among states at early stages of development, the fact that the population of the second largest city is just a little over one-fifth of capital city of Patna having 1.68 million population as per 2011 census figure, leaves a large gap in the distribution of population in cities of different sizes. It is a challenge for a uniform sustainable urbanization process in the state.

Bihar’s urbanization is largely fertility driven. The role of rural-urban migration in the process of Bihar’s urbanization, is relatively modest. Bihar’s urban system is characterized by urbanization and economic growth linkages. A large number falls into a low urbanization-low income trap. The challenge lies in unlocking this low-level equilibrium trap.

Urban Planning in Bihar:It is at an infant stage. It is ironical that at present only the capital city of Patna has a master plan for the city and that too is unsound, could not stop the unplanned growth of city.This demonstrates that there is alack of proper urban planning in the state,which is a sine qua non for an all-around balanced process of urbanization and absence of that led to conspicuous, unsystematic and chaotic urban growth, and this is also going on in state unabatedly,which is, in no way a healthy sign for a systematic urbanization in the state. However, the State has woken up lately to the occasion and working on master plans for other cities in the State.

Urban InfrastructuresandCivic Services: Infrastructure poverty across infrastructure sectors is pervasive in Bihar. Urban Bihar’s access to basic infrastructural services is abysmally low, be it the water supply, or piped sewer linked to latrines, or arrangements for solid waste collection or public transport. The costs of under-provisioning of urban infrastructure services are very high for Bihar’s economy. It is estimated that urban local bodies in Bihar needs USD 4.12 billion onover the next 5 years at 2014-15 price (State Bihar, 2016). Given the financial position of the State and local bodies as well, it likely to be a challenging proportion. Such a massive investment that is required could only be leveraged through borrowings or public-private partnershipsbut the borrowing capacity of urban local bodies is almost nil and the option of public-private partnerships is also a far cry. The only available option at present is a support from the Union Government (Federal Government). Bihar will need to invest between a low of USD16.23 billion and a high of USD 18.49 billion over the period 2016-2031 to equip the existing cities and towns and the new cities that will emerge, with the eight services at the established norms. The phasing of the investment shows an annual investment ranging between USD1.13 billionand USD 1.33 billion(roughly 1.7 percent of the state’s GDP with 2013-14 prices). The financial implications for slum improvement and upgrading are estimated to be between USD 1.50 billion and USD 1.66 billion.

Urban Transport: Urban public transport in the State is almost non-existent, even the largest city in the State i.e., the capital city Patna, is not an exception. Auto-rickshaws, mini-buses are the primary modes of urban transport with little or negligible support by a public transport system. Urban bus transport carried only 22 percent of the total traffic load in the country. Patna, among the 30 cities covered by the survey, has the lowest public transport accessibility index and other indices (MoUD, 2008). It is ironical that Patna the only million-plus city in the state going for a capital-intensive project i.e.metro rail, despite the acute lack of basic supportive urban transport systems in the city.In 2011, Bihar’s urban road network was 9,975 km, of which surfaced roads constituted about 43 percent of the total as against all-India average of 73 percent. Urban Bihar has only 325 km of surfaced roads per 1 million population as compared to 889 km for urban India (State Bihar, 2016). The State needs to have its own urban transport policy in tune with state urban policy as soon as possible.

Urban Poverty and Slums in Bihar: Urban poverty is multi-dimensional and it relates to various forms of deprivations. It has been observed that with urbanization,weight of poverty is shifting to urban areas from rural areas in Bihar. During the period of 2004-05 to 2011-12 rural poverty registered a decline of 3.39% whereas urban poverty showed a positive with 0.95% during the same period. This rise in urban poverty fuels fears that poverty in Bihar has begun to urbanize itself (State Bihar, 2016). Although a centrally (federal)sponsored scheme named National Urban Livelihood Mission is launched a few years back to address the urban poverty, its impact has yet to be seen. Urbanization in Bihar cannot be in equilibrium until urban poverty issue is addressed properly. Around 11% of urban population lives in slums in Bihar, in 259 identified slums (besides there are plenty of unidentified slums) which poses a challenge for a systematic urban planning.  

Urban Housing: As UN-Habitat underlines its pledge for full realization of the right to adequate and affordable housing in New Urban Agenda 2016, Bihar has only 2.70 million urban housing units vis-à-vis an all-India total of 110.14 million: (a) residential 73.1%(b)non-residential 20.2% and (c)vacant units 6.2% (Census 2011) (UN-Habitat, 2016). Bihar has a shortage of 1.19 million urban houses (MoHUA, 2012). Housing has a major role in facilitating urban development in Bihar which will see its urban population double between 2011 and 2031.However, a national housing project has also recently been launched in the State, but results of which are still unclear.

Governance Structure and Finances:In India, urban local bodies (ULBs) are the mandated institutions for managing cities and towns, as per 74th Constitutional Amendment. At the same time, alikeother states, they are not autonomous in taking decisions in respect of fixing tax burdens and delegating functions as per the 12th Schedule of Constitution (out of 18 functions to be devolved to ULBs,only 70 percent is devolved by the State)and other important issues which limit their ability to function as a “local self-government”. Furthermore, an examination of the roles and institutions shows: (i) an absence of mechanisms for inter-institutional coordination, and (ii) ambiguous line of distinction between the mandates of the different institutions in the sphere of urban basic infrastructure development land acquisition and land development. All of this, is exacerbating the existing woes.

The financial capacity of municipalities in the state is in a highly unsatisfactory state. Their own source revenue is a pittance and they display a high dependency on the recommended funding from the State Finance Commission through devolution and grants, grants from the Union Finance Commission besides budgetary support from the State Government for financing and maintaining municipal services and welfare measures. Such a mechanism of transfers from Finance Commissions and the State are catalyst to inefficiencies of municipalities, and it has created a lethargic state for municipalities to operate on their own resource raising powers. Any revival of the municipal finance system requires a major shift in the way municipalities have thus far responded to their tax and non-tax revenue raising powers and made use of devolutions and other transfers. The capacity deficits in all respect are severe in Bihar’s municipalities. They are neither able to raise resources from the resources available to them nor utilize the resources that they have at their disposal. Eliminating capacity deficit is a pre-requisite to addressing the challenges.

The municipalities in Bihar also facing acute shortage of skilled workers, which hinders the institutions from delivering their mandated services efficiently and effectively. Present labor structure consists of non-skilled and bureaucratic in nature. Given the nature of modern urbanization,the present status is bound to multiply the problem that institutions are facing, hence to address this issue of professionalization of urban local bodies is a must. However, some other major initiatives have also been taken by the Union Government at pan-India level through Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in 2005, Smart City Mission in 2015 and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation in 2015 to steer the urbanization in a systematic and uniform way. Bihar is also covered under these initiatives but it is only a few of cities in the State. So the chaotic situation will likely to remain, thereby messing up the overall urbanization process in the State. Nonetheless, the State Government had launched a project named Support Programme for Urban Reforms (SPUR) in partnership with DFID, UK (2010-16). It includes 28 urban local bodies in 28 different cities. Objectives and design of the project is praiseworthy, but achievements so far are not at all encouraging. Even in 6 years, this project failed to bring any significant improvements.

  1. Concluding Remarks: A Sustainable and balanced urbanization in the state requires some bold steps. Firstly, the State must come up with a comprehensive state urban policy (even there is still a need for a national strategy in terms of urbanization) which would work as a light house for all future efforts aimed at systematic urbanization. Secondly,it should carve out a future urban agenda with stipulated timeline.Since,the urban sector contribution to the State’s gross domestic product is around 70 to 75 percent,this coherently asserts the importance of urbanization. Recently the State Government has notified more areas under urban fold by lowering the non-agricultural criteria, which is most likely to worsen the prevailing haphazard conditions in urban areas, hence a cautious and pragmatic approach is a need of hour. There is a need for political will, integrated approach and a city vision, a supportive local policy environment, the right national regulatory framework, responsive land and housing policies, a mechanism for financial sustainability, strategic alliances, strong and well-coordinated institutions and technical capacity (UN-Habitat, 2008). New Urban Agenda 2016 provides the global principles, policies and standards required to achieve sustainable urban development, to transform the way we construct,manage,operate and live in our cities.Since the urban as a subject falls primarily under state’s jurisdiction in India, hence state governments have a decisive role in shaping the urbanization process in a more organized and systematic manner.This is also the situation in Bihar and the State Government needs to act soon in order to reverse the messy urbanization in Bihar.


  1. MoHUPA – Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Govt. of India. (2012). Report of the Technical Committee on Urban Housing Shortage.
  2. MoUD – Ministry of Urban Development, Govt. of India. (2008). Report on Traffic and Transportation Policies and Strategies in Urban Areas in India.
  3. State Bihar. (2016). 5th SFC (State Finance Commission) Report Vol I.
  4. UN Habitat. (2008). Housing the poor in Asian Cities.
  5. UN Habitat. (2016). New Urban Agenda.
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