Growth of Urban Centres in the Brahmaputra Valley in the Post Independent Period

Essay, 2007

11 Pages




Historical Background of the Study area:

Pattern of Urban Growth:

Notes and references:


The term ‘urban’ means characteristic of or situated in a city or town. It is customary to define ‘urban area’ in terms of physical characteristics, namely, (i) its size and the density of the continuous built-up area (the overall density is normally at least 400 persons/Km2 or 1000/miles) and (ii) functional criteria reflecting the concentration of employment in secondary and tertiary activity. In India an area is defined as urban area if it is (a) a cantonment, a municipality or a corporation and (b) it satisfies any of these criteria-(i) a population of 5000, (ii) a population density of 400 persons/ Km2 and (iii) at least 75% of the male working population engaged in non –agricultural activity 1.

The growth of urban center understood as growth of towns, growth of importance of towns and cities in the socio-economic life of a country and complex social process accompanied by the emergence of a specific way of life. It is a part of the process of socio-economic change, which is affecting not only the existing urban centers, but the countryside as well. Urbanisation is the process by which villages turn in to towns and towns develop in to cities.2 The urban centers grow for different purposes, such as political or administrative, defensive, cultural, industrial, commercial, recreational, residential and collection of resources 3. The growth of urban centers depends on the growth of urban functions. The urban way of life, behaviour pattern, production method and so on are positively correlated. The economic factors such as the non- agricultural occupation, the growth of sophisticated technology, factories and places of production, increasing commercialization, diversification of economy, growth of large-scale industries, mechanized methods of production and so on are responsible for urbanization. The urban centers grow on demographic factors like excessive growth of population, rural urban migration and so on. Socio economic awakening, change in the value pattern, attitude, stage of development and public policies may contributed to growth of urban centers. Urbanisation is positively correlated to industrialization and economic development. Construction of railways, better mobility, better business prospect, better transport, better banking and financial facilities, better managerial talent also influenced on the growth of urban centers. On the other hand, growth of new industry, development of trade and commerce, availability of white- collar occupations, high pressure of population on land in the agricultural sector also another factors to the growth of urban centers.4

The Brahmaputra or Assam valley is the most important geomorphological unit of Assam. It is almost a flat featureless alluvial lowland lying on either side of the Brahmaputra river, extending from the base of Bhutan and Arunachal Himalaya in the northeast to the Indo-Bangladesh border in the west. It is about 725 Kms long, 80Kms wide(average) and area is 58315 sq. Kms. The valley is characterized by distinct alluvial morphological units, predominance of rice fields, tea gardens, oil resources, very low urbanization, lack of quick transportation system and high density of population 5.

Historical Background of the Study area:

The urban process is not new. The study of the urbanization in India by its very nature involves a time dimension covering a period of about 5000 years. The first phase of urbanization is associated with the Harappan, Aryan and Dravidian civilization dating back from around 2350 B.C to 600 B.C. during the second phase India witnessed a mixed and subdued form of urbanization under the reign of the Hindu and Muslim rulers. At that period, in Brahmaputra valley of North East India many of the kings and rulers reigned and established their capital for administrative and defensive purposes and at a later stage these were grown as urban centers depending their importance.

The present Assam Valley or Brahmaputra Valley became the center of political activities and civilization of Assam right from the early period. In a sense, the history of the land is the history of the civilization of Brahmaputra valley 6. The zone as well as the land as a whole was predominantly rural with majority of the people living villages. W.W. Hunter in his A Statistical Account of Assam Vol.I has rightly remarked that the population of the districts of Assam is entirely rural, and the people do not evince any tendency towards urban life7. During the British rule in Assam according to the statistics of Assam, 1853 published in the Mills Report on the Province of Assam, there were six Zillah (District) in Assam 8. The districts had one or two sub divisions, which were the main urban centers on those days. Thus Guwahati in 1836, Barpeta 1841, Mangaldoi 1835, Tezpur 1893, Goalpara 1875, Dhubri 1883, Dibrugarh 1847 was the main urban center. In 1901 there were only 14 urban centers in the Brahmaputra valley. Later on more urban centres grew up either for commercial or administrative purposes such as North Lakhimpur (1914), Tinsukia (1919), Tihu (1951), Kokrajhar (1956), Barpeta Road (1959), Kharupetia (1960), Rangapara (1960), Pathsala (1961).9 To minimize the expenditure on administration the colonial ruler did not paid their attention for the growth of more urban centers. As agriculture is traditionally the mainstay of economy of the valley, Assam is essentially rural. Both the towns and villages are, by and large small. In fact, many of the towns are administrative centers with subsequent addition of some tertiary activities like trade and commerce, transport and communication and elementary services. There are hardly any secondary activities like manufacturing. In such a situation towns are bound to stagnate 10.

Over the years there has been an upward trend towards urbanization and it got momentum particularly in the post independence era. In the post independence period, urbanization has entered new and more important phase. In contrast with the British period, which witnessed a period of urban stagnation, the post independence period is notable for rapid urbanization. In the 19th century, when coal was the principal industrial fuel and most overland transport was by railways, industries concentrated in the coalfield, along railway line or at the seaports where coal could be imported cheaply. Rail transport in Brahmaputra valley region (South bank 1883 and north bank 1905) was developed to meet industrial needs 11; but outside the region, it itself became a major determents of industrial and urban growth and even of settlement of new areas.

Pattern of Urban Growth:

The Census Report, 1901 shows 25.85 millions urban population with a P.C. of 11.00 of total population in India and 1941 shows 44.15 million urban population with 14.10 P.C. of total population. The post Independence period starting with 1951 Census shows 62.44 million urban population with a growth rate of 41.42 and 17.62 P.C. of total population. The latest available census report (2001) marked 285 million urban population with 27.8 P.C. of total population. Table 1 explains the trend.

Table 1 Growth of Urban Population in India, 1901-2001

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Sources: Census of India, 1971, General Population table

Census of India 1981 and 2001, General Population Table.

Thus it is established that urban population is increasing gradually and the number of urban centers also subsequently increasing 12. However it is not very encouraging considering the fact that not even one fourth of the total population of the country resides in urban areas. 13.

The urban growth is the product of two forces working simultaneously; (a) natural increase in the urban areas and (b) migration from rural areas of which the latter is gradually taking a greater role than the former with serious consequences 14. As already stated there were six districts in undivided Assam prior to the independence viz. Goalpara, Kamrup, Darrong, Nowgong, Sibsagar and Lakhimpur. As an administrative unit Kamrup was constituted a district in about 1834 in the same year Goalpara, Darrong, Nowgong were formed in to separate district. Simultaneously Sibsagar and Lakhimpur also formed separate district. Since 1834 Kamrup includes the country along both banks of the mighty river Brahmaputra from river Manas in the west to tne barnadi in the east. Its capital was at Gauhati which was also the headquarter of the commissioner of Assam 15. Traditionally, Gauhati ( Guwahati) has been an important administrative and trading center and a river port. The name Guwahati is derived from two Assamese words; guwa (Areca nut) and Haat (market place) 16.

This may be called the beginning of the first urban center developed for administrative purpose. Thereafter for administrative reason the districts have been divided in to sub-divisions or circles for the purpose of collection of revenue and settlement of land disputes. Throughout the history of urbanization in India the landlocked North-eastern periphery experienced a relatively slow and low growth. Because of the remoteness and insecure location of the area the union government never took initiative to encourage large-scale infrastructural-institutional extension and industrialization in spite of the region’s exceptional richness in natural resources. Even today, most of the bordering hilly areas are extremely poor in transport and communication where urbanization is yet to make any headway. The growth of towns and urban population had been very slow before the launching of five- year plans in 1951. In 1901, there were only 16 towns with a population of 1.68 lakhs (i.e.3.9 % of the total population) in the entire north east. The number of towns was doubled in 1951 when urban population increased to 4.60 lakhs ( 4.48 % of the total population) . The extension of infrastructurel facilities and developmental services in independent India under the five-year plans however, boosted the rate of urban growth which is well reflected in the rise of number of towns to 68 and urban population 11.02 lakhs (7.61% of the total population of north eastern region. 17

Till that time Guwahati was the main urban center where the Government made almost facilities available. At a later stage, decentralization started and new urban centers or township grew up to meet the tertiary requirement like cultural, educational, industrial, health care and commercial. Development of railways and air services linked the places of importance gives birth to new towns and sub urban areas like Tinsukia, Mariani, Lumding, Rangapara, Tezpur, Rangiya, Barpeta Road, Bongaigaon, dhubri and so on. Airport established at various localities in Assam also developed sub urban areas as primarily those localities are at the outskirts of the main towns. However due to transport and other facilities developed in course of time convert those areas to urban areas like Borjhar( Guwahati) , Mohanbari (Dibrugarh) Salani (Tezpur) etc. The airports were renamed as the main town or city’s name thereafter like Guwahati Airport now LGB International Aiorport upgraded to International Airport in 2001.


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Growth of Urban Centres in the Brahmaputra Valley in the Post Independent Period
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growth, urban, centres, brahmaputra, valley, post, independent, period
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Jyotirmayee Devi (Author), 2007, Growth of Urban Centres in the Brahmaputra Valley in the Post Independent Period, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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