Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Urbanization of Poverty in India: Spatio-Temporal Disparities in Consumption Expenditures

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Urbanization of Poverty in India: Spatio-Temporal Disparities in Consumption Expenditures

Article excerpt

Over the past few decades, India's modernization process has led to rapid expansion of urban centers1 and remarkable rise in urban population. What has been of particular concern is that rapid urbanization has been accompanied by a steady growth in the number of urban poor and the "urbanization of poverty" (Piel 1997). The numbers of urban poor have risen by 34.4 percent, from 60 million persons in 1973-74 to 80.8 million persons in 2004-05 (GoI and MoHUPA, 2009). In contrast, the numbers of rural poor have declined by 15.5 percent over the same period. Urban poverty has been a problem affecting the Indian society for the last few decades and is a serious challenge to the intellectuals, politicians, and planners (Hashim, 2009; Nath, 1994). Since the Sixth Five Year Plan, a sizeable reduction in the magnitude of urban poverty has been one of the major objectives of planning in India.

The persistence of poverty in India has drawn more serious attention from scholars and policymakers alike in the past several decades, leading to a significant literature on the topic. However, most of the studies have been carried out by development economists concerned with the analysis of trends in rural poverty over time and the widening gap between urban-rural poverty levels (Jha 2000; Deaton and Dreze 2002; Sen and Himanshu 2004). A few others have examined certain problematical aspects of urban poverty, such as employment, the relationship between urbanization and poverty, and poverty of slum dwellers (De Souza 1978; Kundu 2000). The methodology for measurement of poverty in India--what poverty is, what the parameters of it are, and what distinguishes the poor from the nonpoor--has also been the focus of much debate (Dandekar and Rath 1971; Ahluwalia 1978). Although few studies on the regional analysis of rural and food poverty (Dayal 1989, 1993) provide some illuminating insights to regional concentration of poverty in India, little literature is available focusing on the analysis of urban poverty in India.

So far as studies on Indian poverty are concerned, the major focus of both the economic development and geographical literature has been on examining rural poverty, while paying little attention to the spatio-temporal variations of urban poverty, which are conspicuous in a large, rapidly urbanizing country like India. By overemphasizing food and nutrition, even the existing studies appear to have ignored several vital factors related to poverty, such as education, clothing, water, and sanitation.

The objective of this study is to identify and interpret the spatio-temporal variations of urban poverty in India (considering both food and nonfood items) and its patterns of change over time. The spatial scale of this study includes the twenty-nine major states of India and the temporal period consists of the years 2004-05, 2009-10, and 2011-12. The study moves forward the literature on poverty in India, and urban poverty in the developing world, by identifying the spatio-temporal variations that underlie urban poverty in a rapidly urbanizing economy. The results of this research serve academic and scientific purposes, as well as provide insights for policymakers, local and national governments, and development institutions involved in designing and implementing policies to alleviate urban poverty and provide for sustainable urban development at national and subnational levels in India.


In the context of development, the minimal concept of poverty is the lack of income to satisfy "minimum needs" for physiological survival (Sen 1979, 1981). People with income below the level required to satisfy minimum needs--often defined in terms of food consumption, especially caloric or nutritional requirements of a subsistence level--are considered "below the poverty line." Though the measure of absolute poverty is the typical procedure for estimating the poverty line, there are several problems with this approach. …

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