Urbanizing India (URBIN) – Urbanization, Exclusion and Climate Challenges

Led by Halvard Buhaug

Mar 2013 – Mar 2016

​​​​This three-year research project on urban security in India is funded by the Research Council of Norway’s INDNOR program.

This three-year research project on urban security in India is funded by the Research Council of Norway’s INDNOR program. It involves PRIO researchers Halvard Buhaug (project leader), Kristian Hoelscher, Jason Miklian, and Gerdis Wischnath, as well as researchers from the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.

The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities. Nearly 3 billion additional people will be absorbed into urban areas in developing countries by 2050, posing a diverse range of challenges to inclusive growth, security and governance. India will be the major contributor to this global transformation with its current urban population of around 380 million expanding to over 900 million by 2050 (UN 2011). Twenty-first century India will be defined by three key challenges:

  1. managing rapid urbanization and unplanned urban sprawl;
  2. ensuring sustained social and economic urban inclusion; and
  3. preparing for environmental change.

URBIN will study the interaction between these three related social challenges and their implications for urban security in India.

The project is explicitly multi-disciplinary and will combine quantitative analysis with qualitative fieldwork-based research. URBIN is a collaborative project between PRIO and Observer Research Foundation, lasting from March 2013 through December 2015. The project consists of four Research Packages:

Research Package 1: Understanding Urban Expansion in India

Rapid and largely unplanned urbanization in India imposes significant demands on federal and local government providers of public services. The challenges of urbanization and rapid economic expansion are sharpened by social divisions, inadequate infrastructure and poor growth management. As such, poorly managed urbanization can trigger violence, posing direct threats to social welfare, discouraging investment and productivity, undermining political legitimacy and exacerbating fragmentation

This Research Package will focus not only on how individuals and groups are included in and affected by urban transitions, but also how the security and governance of settlements themselves are differentially affected by urbanization depending on city size, composition and urban policymaking.

Research Package 2: Urban Exclusion, Horizontal Inequality and Violent Conflicts

While India’s current urbanization process reproduces inequalities that exist in the larger society through exclusionary settings, inclusionary barriers in urban spaces also disproportionally affect the urban poor. Muslims, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) constitute large percentages of India’s urban poor, they are at the receiving end of an urbanization process which is deeply exclusionary and unequal. Without working governance protections, these social groups routinely are deprived basic services such water, health, education, sanitation, and legal protection. India’s current urbanization process is producing urban ‘winners and losers’ and the excluded often express their frustrations and impotence through violence.

In this Research Package, we focus on urban service delivery and security provision by city, state and national actors, assessing how these indicators of 'inclusive urban growth' are related to rates of exclusion, urban livelihoods, and social disorder as defined by horizontal inequalities.

Research Package 3: Urbanization, Environmental Change, and Political Violence

Increased environmental stress caused by groundwater depletion and climate variability have an immediate impact on agriculturally-dependent rural livelihoods but can also translate into urban food insecurity through inflating prices of basic food such as rice and staple crops. Lowered agricultural production and food price shocks have disproportionate impacts on the poor, and may thus intensify extant social inequalities and grievances and increase personal incentives to use violence if required to redress those grievances

This component of the project seeks to uncover how local climate variability and subsequent impacts on food production and food prices relate to urban social unrest across India.

Research Package 4: Interaction and Integration

In this Research Package, we will integrate findings and knowledge produced in Research Packages 1–3, devoting special attention to complex cross-cutting challenges that require a more overarching perspective with the focus on inter-relational effects of climate, communal violence and urbanization.

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