Village in the City – new slums? -China’s and India’s approach

By Nidhi Batra, PRIA

Urbanisation is a continuous process which involves expansion of the urban areas and also rural-urban migration. It is often assumed that the cause of urban poverty in Indian cities is the rural to urban migration. Instead as proved my many reports and studies, it is the growth of urban areas and engulfing of villages in the city boundaries – urbanising the villages that are more a reality in Indian situations.

These urban villages are not new to India. Most newly planned cities ignored these urban villages while planning for new cities. This can be seen right from the beginning in Delhi Master Plan 1962 where it did not have any clue on how to address urban villages that now lie in the boundary of the city. They just got left behind as ‘Lal Dora Areas’, hubs of no –regulation and close to slum situations. Gurgaon’s laissez faire development saw many of these urban villages being left as ugly eye sores with no addressal of growth and development of the existing villages. Naya Raipur plan of the city is no different, in the city limits are existing villages but wonder if there is an effective policy to regulate that these villages would not end up being the urban slums of this city. Raipur intense urbanisation over last few years has seen the boundary of municipal limit being revised again and again and villages on the outskirts now being officially ‘urban’. Though these villages maybe declared now part of the municipal limits, the City Development Plan was quick to term them as slums!

There is often a massive resistance to cling to the tag of rural areas, which attract a much larger share of welfare funds from the centre and escape higher taxation. This results in poor infrastructure development and administrative chaos, partly explaining why a large majority of urban poor continues to be concentrated in newly-developed small towns.

China’s Approach – Seal the village!

Recently I read about unfortunate policy that China has adopted for these urban villages – ‘ a sealed management’ policy for Chengzhongcun that are areas classified as rural villages which have been absorbed into China’s growing cities and are becoming thriving unregulated rental markets for rural migrants in the process (Ref: Shutting the poor by Constance Brehaut)


The main street of Laosanyu, where Beijing’s “sealed management” policy was first trialled during the Olympic Games in 2008, and remains in force. Photo: Constance Bréhaut

The formation of these villages-in-the-city is characteristic of the Chinese dual land tenure system which distinguishes between rural and urban land, and separates land use rights from land ownership: urban land is generally state-owned, while rural land is owned by the rural collective, and cannot be transferred, sold or leased for non-agricultural use. During the urbanisation process, local authorities could buy agricultural land, but the ownership of the village remained collective, and villagers could still dispose of their land use rights on their housing plots. The villages maintained their status as “rural” areas, as the government did not want to deal with the potential relocation and compensation cost of the villagers.

But this administrative status does not match the reality anymore. To compensate for the loss of their agricultural land, a major source of revenue, many villagers redevelop their housing at high densities, creating an informal rental market, which matches the needs of rural migrants in search of cheap housing opportunities close to work. As the majority of migrants cannot afford to rent private accommodation in the centre of Beijing, they have to rely on alternative housing opportunities. Often, urban villages are the only affordable option available.

The physical environment of the village is characterised by narrow roads, face-to-face buildings, streets packed with shops, grocery stores and service outlets. Highly dense and unregulated, they are considered by Chinese authorities and media as a source of social disorder and neglected urban planning.

This policy of “sealed management” (封闭管理 or fengbiguanli in Chinese) first appeared in Laosanyu during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Under the policy, selected chengzhongcun inhabited by migrant workers were fenced in and security stepped up: gates, walls, police boxes, 24-hour patrols and permits necessary for outsiders to enter the village. It is a pilot policy, first directed towards 16 urban villages in Daxing District in the spring of 2010, and then extended to other districts in Beijing. It has attracted much media attention, where it has been described as creating “gated communities for the poor”.

These measures, supporting the sealed management policy, are characteristic of the official will to eradicate any sign of informality and “neglected urban planning” in these villages. They also have a symbolic dimension: a clear sign to outsiders that they are entering a regulated, controlled and “protected” environment.

How does India treat its village in the city?

India does not stop its citizens from internal migration .People are free to move across states to escape destitution or in search of better opportunities, economic or otherwise. However, local governments and India’s middle class largely view economically poor migrants as outsiders making illegitimate claims to life in cities. Recently, scholars have started pointing out the growing hostility of urban governments, as well as middle class citizens, towards urban poor, especially migrants to the cities. The 2010 Common Wealth Games held in Delhi saw the forced eviction of large numbers of urban poor, mostly rural-urban migrants.(Ref:Urban migration and exclusion by Preeti Mann)

While most migrants would qualify as lawful citizens of the land, in urban India, the rights of citizens get operationalized through a host of official documents such as property lease or ownership papers, PAN cards, bank statements, bills, and voter IDs. Bereft of these, the paperless migrant accesses basic goods and services at a premium in the black market economy. Ironically, the most marginalized and poor also have to pay the most dearly. The underground economy is also indicative of the state’s absence in service delivery and lack of institutional support. From a migrant’s perspective it is the opportunity to enable a better life, economically or otherwise, that draws them to urban spaces. However, for a rural-urban migrant to move, there are additional costs that result from functioning in the informal economy. Opportunities cannot be readily undertaken if that means having to enable an entire environment that mostly depends on the back market economy and social networks.

Urban development, if done in an inclusive manner, can enable social mobility and integration of migrants in the real sense of the word by providing a renewed opportunity to challenge or change some of the traps or processes of impoverishment. This involves planning for services like access to safe housing, water, electricity, schools, and healthcare. Just as important, it requires a concerted effort by governments and civil society to identify and reduce structures and processes of exclusion in urban spaces. This, in turn, would be incumbent upon integrative planning, political will, and capability-enhancing policies that propagate access.

The Chinese policy of gated urban poor settlement is not a solution, but that does not ignore the fact that India needs a policy to address these transition areas. Prevention is still a possibility in small and medium towns which are undergoing fast pace urbanisation, while a cure needs to be recommended for the larger cities.


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4 thoughts on “Village in the City – new slums? -China’s and India’s approach

  1. terraurban December 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm Reply

    Manu Bhatnagar • Villages get engulfed in urbanizations which are expanding, itself a result of urban economic vibrancy. Initially villages acquire slum like characteristics, subsequently redevelop at high density. The high land and rental values, under-regulation ensure that the inhabitants are economically upwardly mobile. The villages are filling a requirement for low end housing [and even better], a first stop for migrants. Their economic character depends on the nature of the surroundings – thus villages adjacent IIT Delhi offer PG digs to students as well as report and thesis preparation facilities. Those near the airport offer guest houses. Those near construction sites offer markets for construction goods.

    Unfortunately the quality of life and planning standards are in great contrast to the surroundings and there is a conflict between increasing prosperity and lack of amenities.

    The recommendation is that when village lands are acquired a green belt be retained around the abadi which would enable the village provide primary services to surrounding urbanization, prevent urban design conflict, preserve land for providing modern amenities to the village.

  2. […] conditions. Such villages in the city are becoming increasingly common across Indian cities. Yet city planners tend largely to ignore these areas, or at the most, term them urban slums. The dichotomous approach of the urban planner and the […]

  3. _______ February 17, 2017 at 11:46 am Reply


  4. George Joseph MiringAY January 22, 2019 at 10:29 am Reply

    am doing PhD on Administrative Transformation of Township and the emerging of Land use Dynamics my Research Issue is Village Within a City please let us keep in touch

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