Urban Development at the Cost of Rural Exploitation

Vipin Kumar

In India, technological advances, improvements in health services, development of better academic institutes, and massive scale of industrialization has caused the en masse movement of people from rural to urban areas. Large-scale urban development through the construction of residential complexes, hospitals, educational institutions, commercial complexes, parking lots, roads, service lanes, parks and gardens, created for the sustenance of this ever-increasing urban population, in turn, has entirely changed the demography of the urban areas. Urban population is ever-increasing and almost 30 per cent of the total India population resides in cities (Census 2011).

Directly or indirectly, urbanization affects the land and natural resources. For instance, urban structures increase the impervious surface area in the city. They also decrease the permeability of land for rainwater, causing a decrease in groundwater table and an increase in surface runoff which leads to floods in low lying areas. This kind of land use pattern also changes the species composition by providing favourable conditions and spaces for the establishment of non-native species.

Interestingly, urban areas are dependent on suburban and rural areas to a large extent for the provisioning of various resources. Often, suburban and rural resources like water-bodies and groundwater are overharvested in order to meet the demands of the urban thereby making the suburban and rural populations vulnerable. In addition, urban effluent discharge in water bodies make them unfit for use by suburban and rural populations. For example, adjacent to Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, industrial and real estate development in Gurugram has made it one of the prime commercial hubs in Southern Asia. However, this speedy developmental process has also severely affected activities such as agriculture and pisciculture in the region. Problems arise when altered geo-morphological cycles begin to obstruct the natural drainage pattern, thereby hampering the recharge of water bodies, resulting in their drying up (Narain et al., 2016). This dried area is then used as a wasteland for a certain time and subsequently turned into real-estate legally or illegally.

Urbanization is a necessary evil. Sucking out the groundwater in order to lay the foundation for high rise buildings is a common practice. Geomorphological changes during infrastructure development are known to change the hydrology and geochemical composition in urban areas. Since underground water is boundary-less, extraction of water at one construction site is bound to deplete the water table in the surrounding areas. This has a further effect on crop production since productivity depends entirely upon water and availability of nutrients. Ultimately, it makes the adjoining land unfit for agricultural use. Due to this scarcity of water, farmers often change their cropping patterns or may even engage themselves in other kinds of occupations after leasing out or selling their lands for real-estate development (Singh and Prakash, 2016). In Delhi’s Azadpur village, it has been observed that a water body (Johad) was parched in the last couple of decades. The recent development of a residential complex (M2K) in the area saw a reduction in the groundwater table from 40 feet to 78 feet in just five years.

Due to changes in the land use and land cover, people living in the suburban and low lying areas have to face regular threats of flood, drought and exposure to toxic chemicals. The natural availability of nutrients has declined and there is an influx of highly toxic chemicals in the environment due to alterations in the geochemical processes. This further increases the risk of exposure to heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and so on.

Uncontrolled and unregulated urban development is occurring at the cost of natural resources. Ironically, urban development is using natural resources, making the adjoining land and water bodies unfit for use, and also acting as a source of organic and inorganic wastes, thereby furthering pollution of the environment. It is very unfortunate for a nation like India which has to feed around 1.38 billion mouths, and where 75% of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. This is largely a result of the greed of developers and business tycoons, coupled with the failure of policymakers. Whatever may be the reason, it has to be looked at carefully and addressed while re-designing policies for urban development.


  • Narain V., Ranjan P., Singh S., and Dewan M. (2016). Urbanization, climate change, and water security in peri-urban Gurgaon, India. In: Water security in peri-urban South Asia, Narain V., and Prakash A., (), Oxford University Press, India, pp. 75-107.
  • Singh S., and Prakash A. (2016). Expanding city, shrinking water resources, and the vulnerability of communities living on the edge in Hyderabad, India. In: Water security in peri-urban South Asia, Narain V., and Prakash A., (), Oxford University Press, India, pp. 108-146.
  • http://censusindia.gov.in/2011-prov- results/paper2/data_files/india/Rural_Urban_2011.pdf

Featured Image by Gynna Millan for DPU-UCL

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