Centre for Smart and Resilient Development

Planning for Sustainable Development of Peri-Urban Areas

By Ramakrishna Nallathiga | March 9, 2022

Urbanisation | Peri-Urban Areas | Sustainability | Development Planning | Governance and Institutions



India has been on a steady march towards becoming a largely urban society for the last few decades. According to Census (2011), India's urban population constituted 32 per cent of the total population, which would have further risen to 35-40 per cent by 2021 (Census survey for 2021 is yet to be made on account of an ongoing pandemic). The McKinsey Report had estimated that India's urban population would grow from 290 million in 2001 to 590 million in 2030 [1]. Large cities i.e., cities with more than a million population, will continue to have a larger share of the urban population, and their number was estimated to rise from 35 to 58 during this period. The growth and expansion of Indian cities bring to the fore the sustainability challenges in terms of physical resources (energy and natural resources), socio-economics, ecology and environment. Such sustainability challenges assume importance in not only already boundaried urban areas but also areas outside them. Urban planning is practised in India with lesser intensity and application, which gives rise to more challenges to overcome at the ground level [2].

Peri-urban area or urban fringe refers to the borderline area of cities. It lies on the boundary of a city, surrounding it but also distinct from the countryside.

Such areas do not have a clear delineation and exhibit a blend of both rural and urban characteristics. They begin from the sub-urban area, where housing is sparse, end in rural area, wherein farms and natural environment emerge. Peri-urban areas are, therefore, the zones with both rural and urban influences with a fluid border in most situations. They form a spatial complex with a peculiar pattern depending upon physical, topographical and environmental conditions as well as connectivity linkages. With the rapid growth and expansion of large cities, peri-urban areas emerge as buffer zones attracting rural – urban migrant populations subject to haphazard development without any development regulation and infrastructure service provision. The demographic pressure and low development densities of cities necessitate their spatial expansion in all directions, which results in urban sprawl and associated loss of natural environment in the peripheral areas.

Importance of Peri-urban Areas

Peri-urban areas have not received the attention of town planners, policymakers and decision-makers, as they are viewed as `temporary zones' awaiting urban expansion and development with an uncertainty of such transformation. Such transient nature of their development gives rise to sustainability issues such as land use conversion, resource exploitation, perverse social changes, piecemeal growth, low scale economic activities, pollution of ecology and environment. Empirical studies show how peri-urban areas can become environmentally degraded areas [3]. Much of it is due to the lack of development planning and fragmented governance structures. Therefore, they require urban planning that guides land use and activity, harnesses scale and intensity and includes socio-economics of the region. Balanced development of peri-urban areas is important for the sustainable development of the city regions.

Municipal governments prepare development plans (or, master plans), which lay down the foundation for spatial development and socio-economic organisation in cities.

Urban planning in India is largely confined to the areas under municipal jurisdiction (or, declared urban area); in the process, it neglects other spaces on the frontier especially peri-urban areas. India's urban population has been largely concentrated in peri-urban areas, especially around large cities, partly because planning policies of Indian cities follow the old paradigm of low development density [4]. These areas do not receive the attention of urban planners, who are more preoccupied with planning within urban area without realisation of the consequences of the neglect of peripheral areas wherein the growth takes place. Whereas the planning practice of advanced countries harness the development potential of peri-urban areas by planning in advance [5]

Shortfalls of Development Planning

First, planning is rather confined to the core urban areas within municipal boundary and peri-urban areas are neglected in the process. Planners continuously prepare, revise and update the plans for central cities without undertaking such planning for the peripheral areas. Central city plans do not account for and integrate the peri-urban area plans with that of the central city.

Second, the lack of effective planning in the central city, in terms of allocating land and regulating development for growing population and economic activities, affects peri-urban areas. Several Indian cities prescribe low development density in central cities [4], which leads to more people moving to the suburbs/ peri-urban areas; more so when urban land becomes expensive. Such planning failures of central cities lead to the organic development of peri-urban areas.

Third, the lack of regional planning, especially in larger urban agglomerations or metropolitan regions. Regional development plans can be effective in guiding the development of peri-urban areas by allocating land/space to suitable uses e.g., institutional uses, strategic infrastructure, recreation areas, industrial parks and biodiversity zones etc. They also can lay down some mechanisms for coordination and resolving conflicts so that services can be delivered.

Institutions and Governance Issues

Apart from the planning shortfalls, there are issues of governance and institutions that lead to sporadic, uncoordinated, unsustainable and iniquitous development of peri-urban areas.

(a) Fragmented Development

The city-regions in India experience organic rather than planned development, as the peripheral areas of cities, are easily accessible to the country's people. The absence of planning and development authority in these areas leads to the lack of regulation that results in haphazard and informal land development; sometimes, the overlapping jurisdictions of public agencies create more confusion. It is compounded by the limited jurisdiction, regulations and capacity of rural local governments in peri-urban areas.

(b)Lack of Institutional Capacity

Rural areas on the periphery are governed by local government i.e., village panchayat or nagar panchayat, which has a low capacity to manage the rapidly developing peri-urban areas. Further, these local governments do not coordinate well with each other and there is an absence of a coordination institution to resolve the issues related to services. Panchayats do not have the capacity to prepare development plans, formulate zoning and subdivision regulations and provide suitable services; as a result, peri-urban areas witness haphazard development.

(c) Stakeholder Involvement

Peri-urban area development is a complex process that involves many interest groups and their concerns. Therefore, the planning process in peri-urban areas cannot be merely physical and authoritative but it needs to involve stakeholders either formally or informally. Therefore, development plans in peri-urban areas need to have both strategic and tactical dimensions, and they have to be based on participatory and consultative approaches.

Way Forward

India has been becoming largely urban, and cities assume importance in the development of the nation. Planning has traditionally been confined to central cities while neglecting peri-urban areas, which gave rise to haphazard and unsustainable development witnessed by several large Indian cities. Peri-urban areas need development plans which promote the sustainable development of the region; such plans should not remain static but become relevant to dynamics/ changes on both physical and socio-economic terms. Planning in peri-urban areas also needs to go beyond conventional tools to deploy land assembly mechanisms, strategic infrastructure development and integrated township (residential, industrial, recreational and institutional) development. Besides it needs to deploy bottom-up tools like stakeholder and public participation.


[1] MGI, India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth, New York: McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), 2010. (accessed at https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/urbanization/urban-awakening-in-india)

[2] Niti Ayog, ‘Reforms in Urban Planning Capacity in India’, Report of Niti Ayog, New Delhi: Government of India, 2021.

[3] Nallathiga, R., S. Taneja, A. Gupta and B. Gangal, ‘Sustainability of Urban Fringe Development and Management: A Case Study of NCT-Delhi’, in J. Mukherjee (ed), Sustainable Urbanization in India: Challenges and Opportunities, Singapore: Springer Nature, 2018, pp 109-133.

[4] Nallathiga, R., ‘The impact of density regulation on cities and markets: Evidence from Mumbai’, International Journal of Regulation and Governance, 5(1): 13-39, 2005.

[5] Gallent, N., J. Andersson and M. Bainconi, Planning on the Edge: The context for planning at the urban fringe, London/New York: Routledge, 2006.


This blog was prepared by the author in his personal capacity. The views expressed in the blog are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of NICMAR or CSRD.


About the Author

The author is an Associate Professor at NICMAR Pune who teaches and conducts research in wider areas of cities and regions – planning, development, economics, policy, governance and management. He can be reached at – nramakrishna@nicmar.ac.in