New Delhi, Oct. 20: Nearly 4,000 settlements have not been granted urban status by their state governments despite deserving the tag, with Bengal squatting at the top of the heap, a New Delhi-based researcher has claimed.
Official recognition as a town can bring these places improved amenities and can restrict unplanned growth, Kanhu Charan Pradhan of the think-tank Centre for Policy Research says.
It can also raise land prices, which can be an advantage for the residents. However, rural populations have sometimes been known to protest the grant of urban status to their areas because they would have to pay more tax.
Pradhan has based his argument on the concept of “census town”, developed by the Registrar General of India, which conducts population censuses. The concept, however, is not binding on the states. (See chart)
Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh appeared to agree with the researcher, saying: “The state governments should take a re-look at these areas and convert them into towns.”
These unacknowledged census towns are in a state of “trishanku” (stuck in the middle), Ramesh told The Telegraph, adding that the Centre was ready to help provide better facilities to these places.
Pradhan has calculated that there are 3,894 census towns in India now, spread across all the states and Union territories barring Mizoram, that are still considered gram panchayats.
He claims this is a nearly threefold rise from 2001, when there were 1,362 census towns. In Bengal, the figure has jumped from 252 to 780; in Kerala, from 99 to 461. Pradhan says most of the unacknowledged census towns in Bengal are located near Calcutta.
Pradhan’s list only counts census towns that have not received official urban status. The figures for Bengal are so high partly because the number of recognised towns in the state is low.
Since some of the census towns on the 2001 list later won the urban tag, they have not been included in the 2011 list.
The 2001 list is based on actual census figures but since the complete 2011 census figures are not yet available, Pradhan calculated the 2011 list by using each state’s population growth rate between the two censuses.
Pradhan’s paper seeks to sensitise the state governments into examining these census towns’ claim to be declared statutory towns.
“It is the responsibility of the state governments to recognise the growing rural areas and convert them into statutory towns,” the researcher told this newspaper.
“But this process is not keeping pace with the way village areas are changing in size and character.”
Census towns that are administered under a rural framework have fewer taxes and lower tax rates than recognised towns.
Urban residents pay more tax for their properties, vehicles, water and other services, which is spent on providing them with better drainage, water, transport, health care and educational facilities.
“According town status to growing rural areas helps achieve planned urban growth. This is in-situ urbanisation rather than urbanisation through migration. This should be encouraged, otherwise there will be unplanned buildings in these areas,” Pradhan said.
Ramesh said his ministry was implementing a scheme — Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (Pura) — which seeks to create facilities under public-private partnerships to bridge the rural-urban divide. “We shall try to have projects under Pura in these census towns,” he said.
Ramesh has written to Mamata Banerjee seeking her support for development projects in Bengal’s rural areas under Pura. The projects and sites are yet to be finalised.