Malappuram topped the list of 'fastest-growing cities' in the world

Malappuram topped the list of 'fastest-growing cities' in the world
Image Source: Google

The Economist on its official twitter handle last week, based on 'Total percentage change, 2015-20 forecast', put Malappuram at the top of the ‘top ten fastest-growing cities’ in the world. The list published by the United Nations Population Division appears to be unusual; because the total fertility rate (TFR, the number of children a woman is likely to have in the childbearing age of 15-49) in Kerala as per NITI Aayog is 1.8 from 2016 — below the 2.1 replacement rate.

The capital city of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram is at No.33 and Thrissur is at No.13 on the UN list. Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur has a lower TFR of 1.6,  is at No.30. Gujarat’s Surat is at No.27 with a TFR of 2.2. There is no representation of Bihar and UP on the UN list.

The UN list refers to an extended area built around an existing town along with its outgrowth — typically villages or other residential areas ports, universities, etc., on the outskirts of the town, also known as “urban agglomeration” (UA). The term UA defines as “a continuous urban spread consisting of a town and its adjoining urban outgrowths or two or more physically contiguous towns together.”

Thus, the UN of Mumbai includes areas of Mira-Bhayander, Navi-Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan-Dombivali, adding areas of Ulhasnagar, Badlapur and Ambernath. The national capital Delhi is a UA that includes the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) areas, which covers erstwhile surrounding villages where more than 75% of the population is now engaged in non-agricultural pursuits.

The population of the UAs is expected to increase between 2015 and 2020, as per the rating of the Economist. The UN report used projections of UAs populations — estimates based on past population growth data of the 2011 census.

Urban populations can grow when migration happens in search of jobs; when the birth rate surpasses the death rate (natural growth); when more areas included within the boundaries of the city or when existing rural regions are reclassified as urban. In Malappuram and other cities of Kerala, a low fertility rate means an increase in the population, which is not because women are having more children; rather it is due to the transformation of more villages into towns and the expanding borders of the city.

As per Census definition, an urban area is classified as a statutory town (ST) or a census town (CT). An ST is a place which includes a municipal corporation, cantonment board or municipal council. CT could be a village with “urban characteristics”, which has a population of more than 5,000, with 75 percent of the population not engaged in agriculture for their livelihood and having a density of more than 400 people per sq km. When a village becomes a CT, the population is included in the urban population of the district.

Urbanization is driven by a move away from agriculture in Kerala, which has led to a change in a village’s Census classification status. This can be witnessed from a large number of CTs that were considered in the UAs of the North, which had fewer CTs in 2011. For example, Pune (population 57,46,000) had one CT; Ahmedabad with a population of 71,09,000 had only ten CTs; Surat (population 56,71,000) had four CTs in 2011.

The pace of urbanization has been slower in the North, some hike in the population can be expected after the 2021 Census because in some cases, villages on the peripheries were included within the administrative boundaries of the cities. Maharashtra approved the inclusion of 34 villages in the Pune Municipal Corporation in 2017; comparing population in 2011 of Pune to that in 2021 would, therefore, be like comparing oranges with apples.

Urbanization leads to the growth of cities, which are sites of infrastructure like universities, hospitals, and public transport facilities. There are more opportunities for the youth, which is why they attract young people and entrepreneurs. In India, people moving to cities leave behind (to some extent) caste and class divisions that dominate life in the villages, to climb up the social ladder.

However, unplanned urbanization can be 'exclusionary', as it is difficult for migrants to live there even after paying high costs. Moreover, a lack of reliable public transport, unregulated housing, and longer commutes within these towns, puts a strain on the meagre resources of migrants.