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MOST City Words Project
Inde du Nord / Northern India, Working Paper N° 4, December 1999

Words and concepts in urban
development and planning in India:
an analysis in the context of regional
variation and changing policy
perspectives

Amitabh Kundu, Somnath Basu
 
 

Abstract:

This paper proposes an analysis of the types of words used in the North Indian towns and cities of the Hindi belt, with emphasis on urban development and planning. Hindi words, but also Urdu words of Persian lineage and English terms are used in this area which has a long tradition of multiple cultures and a long history of urbanisation. Attention is paid to the various levels of languages: popular parlance or urban’s planners terminology for instance. Regional variations are also taken into account, through a few significant examples. The use of words borrowed from the general vocabulary, the strength of vernacular terms, the process of standardisation and, on the opposite, the impact of policy changes on terminologies are assessed, as well as the acronyms which symbolize today the importance of the state intervention in urban development.

The second part of the paper offers a thematic and commentated glossary which, while not aiming at exhaustivity, offers a significant panorama of the diverse terminologies found in Northern India, be they in Hindi, in Urdu/Persian, in English, and even sometimes in a mix of two languages. These samples – 68 of then – are grouped in four categories: process of urbanisation, urban economy (mostly refering to types of employment visible in the urban landscape); physical aspects of urban development, and intervention of the state and administration in urban development.

Urban Terminology against a Cross-Cultural Background

Understanding the evolution of words and concepts (used in urban context, changes therein through cross-cultural interactions and exogenous interventions etc.) in a vast country like India is a complex and ambitious job. There are, of course, regional variations in urban processes because of the differences in socio-economic conditions. Even when the basic process and its causative factors are the same or similar, their manifestations vary significantly across states and districts due to regional specificities. Also, there are perceptual cultural differences. Above all, articulation of all these through different languages and dialects adds further diversity. All these factors make the task of analysing citywords extremely challenging.

The trends and patterns of urbanisation, the nature of economic activities, land management practices, etc. vary across regions due to differences in physical, social, political and legal situations and these have an impact on urban terminology, as noted above. A few examples would be in order to illustrate the point. In cities, for example, where land acquisition by the state is common, as in case of Delhi, muhabza or compensation paid to the land owner for acquisition of his land, is the popular term. Further, as a result of restrictions on land transfers due to legal provisions there, land title is passed on from one person to another through informal channels, commonly described as benami transactions. Such words are, however, absent or not in common usage in situations where the "Delhi Model" of land management have not been adopted. Similarly, in West Bengal, where protection of the rights of the tenants and slum dwellers is a major concern of the state, the vernacular words like thikadar (viz. a person who has been given rights through a contract) is part of the urban terminology.

It is common to note different words being used to describe the same or similar phenomena in different regions. For instance, it is a practice in most of the large cities in the country to take a certain amount as advance when renting out a house/flat, the amount varying with the demand and supply situation. The modality of the payment, however, varies across cities/regions. In the city of Bombay, the amount, known as pugree, is generally as big as the value of the house and is not refundable. Payment of pugree makes the tenant a virtual owner of the premise which he can rent out by receiving a pugree. In Delhi, however, the amount is a few month’s rent and is adjusted against the monthly rentals, damages to property or refunded at the end of the tenancy. It is called "deposit" or "advance". In Calcutta, such payments are often described as selami. Similarly, one word may have different connotations in different places or contexts, bustee, for example, would imply any habitation in Hindi speaking areas, while in Bengal it refers to a slum. In the Hindi speaking areas a slum will be called a gandi basti or a dirty locality.
 

Evolution of Urban Terminology

It is important to understand and analyse the complex process of interaction among peoples of different regions and cultures – the process of acceptance/rejection of terms or phrases and the emergence of new words. Certain words from the local language or dialect, acquire general acceptability over time through the process of their use by academicians, administrators, policy makers etc. These words sometimes transcend language boundaries and their usage cuts across regions as a result of multilingual and cross cultural interaction. These, thus, become a part of the common parlance and many of them also end up in official documents.

The process can work in the reverse order as well. Words, introduced in official literature by planners and policy makers, may slowly gain acceptability across regions and over a period of time become a part of the mainstream vocabulary. A large number of other terms, however, remain restricted to a small region, language or a dialect. Similarly, several words designed by researchers, academicians or used in official and legal documents remain confined to small groups or specific purposes. These, then, do not become a part of the core of urban vocabulary. A few such words have, however, been included in the appended list as an illustration of an argument or to bring out regional variations in usage.

In practice, however it is difficult to identify and distinguish the terms in the core from those not in it. Also, several words may be used in the same language, describing the same or overlapping phenomena, varying as to their degree of acceptability. It would, therefore, be difficult to prepare a list of all the core terms and standardise their definitions for their day-to-day usages removing all ambiguities, since the task would largely be subjective. Importantly, words acquire their meaning only through a process of use over time. Any official judgement as to which words are in common parlance and their connotations, and which words are to be excluded from it, would be erroneous and risky.
 

City Words as a Sub-set of General Vocabulary

Urban vocabulary is a sub-set of general vocabulary and a large number of words used in normal communication are found in the former. However, terms that only have the popular/dictionary meaning (in Hindi, Urdu or English) and have not acquired a specific meaning through their use in Indian urban context have not been included in our list of urban vocabulary. As, for example, words like yojana or niyojan imply a plan or planning or vikas means development. The same is the case for terms like octroi, property tax etc. All these words, although part of official urban jargon, do not have any separate/specific connotation in urban context. Such words have, therefore, not been analysed here. However, certain terms, although used both in the rural and the urban context have a specific meaning in the latter. Adda, for example, implies a gathering in several regional languages; but a bus-adda in a town or a city is a bus terminus, an important term in urban planning literature.
 

Vernacular Terms in Citywords in India

Hindi was declared as the national language in the country after Independence in 1947 although English remains the medium of much of the intra-governmental communication even today. In building up the urban vocabulary, it would, therefore, be worthwhile starting by considering the English terms that have frequently been used in official communications to describe a typical Indian situation, institution or policy instrument and have thereby acquired a special connotation. The words having only the dictionary meaning are less important. "Public School", for example, means a private school mostly for the children of urban elites in India, which is a definition not applicable to all western countries.

Sometimes, the British planners and policy makers used vernacular terms to capture the local specificity of the situation. Since at the time of colonisation of India, the indigenous system of urban taxation and administration were fairly well developed, some of the legal and administrative provisions adopted during the British period were based on those of their predecessors. Consequently, Hindi and Urdu words are abundant in the official documents, laying down the foundation of urban governance in the country. It is worth mentioning that these words have acquired special meaning in the process of their use that now have general acceptability across a large number of regions and languages. Currently, some of these words are in use along with their corresponding English words. However, for several of these that describe specific local phenomena, appropriate English equivalents do not exist. In any case, Hindi/Urdu words have much greater acceptability amongst ordinary people, particularly in non-metropolitan urban centres, where English is less prevalent. An attempt has been made here to include all these English, Hindi and Urdu words in the illustrative list given below.
 

Standardisation of Terms for Comparative Research and Urban Policy

The ambiguity in identifying or defining terms and specifying their coverage can be a problem when these are used for generating data for spatio-temporal comparisons or for taking administrative and legal decisions. As a result, often, efforts are made to define the relevant terms rigorously so that there is no ambiguity in the official information system or administrative decisions/orders. This helps provide an unambiguous terminology for communication among policy makers, researchers and administrators associated with urban governance. This is not to suggest that all the terms, currently being used in planning, administrative or legal documents have clear-cut definitions, or that the data generated by using these terms are strictly comparable over time and across official agencies.

Urban planning being state-related means there are variations in the official terminology as well, between states. And the interpretation of certain terms proposed by a central agency may vary from state to state. Even a central data gathering agency like the Population Census may change the definition or effective coverage of certain terms or concepts over time. Nonetheless, attempts should be made to find consensus on the crucial terms, if used for administrative, legal or research purposes. It is relatively easy to prepare a compendium of such official terms as the definitions of most of these are available, although they are not necessarily without ambiguity, in the official publications.
 

Reflection of Urban Process and Policy Changes on the Terminology

Scrutiny of urban terminology, as given below, helps in identifying the characteristics of the process of urbanisation, its manifestation in different regions, its basic problems, recent policy interventions and related governmental efforts/schemes. Many of the terms have been taken from policy documents, official reports and standard academic literature.

The words commonly used in discussion of urban processes reflect a concern about concentrations of urban growth within a few cities and regions. The emergence of terms like "urban agglomeration", "out growth", "standard urban area" etc. is an indication of this concern. These also indicate a process of limited urban-industrial dispersal around the large cities. Urban expansion has generally led to legal or illegal conversion of rural land for urban use even within the lal dora limits that define the permissible boundary for residential construction. Such practices have continued despite attempts to control these by "notifying" lands in the periphery of growing cities as "development areas". The poor have found it relatively easy to occupy and squat in these areas and effectively expand the urban limits, as they do encounter less resistance from the authorities than in the inner city. These areas are of interest, also, to speculators whose activities (occupation, development, construction and sale) result in urban expansion and dispersal. The growing importance of these terminologies in urban literature reflects the importance of urban sprawl and expansion around large cities.

There has been much discussion lately regarding the lack of infrastructural facilities and basic amenities in small and medium-sized towns. These towns, described as ganjs, muffassil towns, manditowns, kasbas, etc. depending on their economic and administrative attibutes, have increased in importance in recent years, due to their phenomenal demographic growth, particularly in less developed regions. It has been envisaged under the policy of economic reforms that their problems can be solved largely by enhancing their internal resources. It is in this context that terms such as kar, chungi, mandi shulka, sankia etc., that were already in the literature, have regained currency in recent years. One could, therefore, argue that the economic reforms in India, instead of creating new words in the area of urban finance, have only popularised the use of certain existing words.

The policy of globalisation and reform and their effect on urban vocabulary are apparent when it comes to urban economy. Terms like marginal or casual workers, badli etc. in contemporary literature indicates a process of casualisation and informalisation of the urban economy. Interestingly, with the process of structural adjustment, launched in a somewhat ad-hoc manner during the eighties in the urban sector, various types of casual jobs, generally with a low wage/earning potential have emerged in urban areas. The popularity of words like thelawala, pheriwala, khomchawala, is understandable, reflecting the growing importance of such jobs undertaken by males within the informal tertiary sector. It may be noted that the percentage of casual male workers has gone up in the urban workforce from 13.2 % in 1977-78 to 16.2 % in 1993-94.

This informalisation has grown within urban economy, also, because people, confronted with a plethora of regulative and administrative controls, have resorted to various semi-legal and illegal working methods. The popularity of terms like benami transaction, pugree, hafta, etc. indicate that avoidance of legal systems in day to day dealings has become quite a common part of urban life. It is, moreover, unlikely that, with liberalisation and the curbing of the jurisdictions of the public agencies, such transanctions and resulting terminologies will disappear. However, with the changes in the system of governance and regulations, the nature and agencies involved in such transactions change and so do the meanings of some of the terms.

A major problem in urban centres is the population pressure on a limited basic services, resulting in growth of slums, poor living and working conditions and the deteriorating quality of life. The usage of the terms like katcha, jhuggi/jhonpri, bustee, chawl etc. reflects the unsatisfactory housing conditions of the people, particularly the poor. The shift from mass housing progammes to incremental housing has made a term like barsati (viz. one room set in the terrace) popular. There has been, at the same time, investment in housing by the elite, resulting in emergence of luxurious dwelling units, often described as bhawans, sadans, farm houses etc. To an extent the spectrum in the vocabulary reflects this inequality in urban structure.

The government’s scepticism as to the efficiency of market forces solving the problem of housing and the quality of life for the poor led to the launching of programmes for low cost housing, slum upgrading etc. in the sixties. It tried to improve the living conditions of the slum dwellers by delivering to them the minimum basic services. Acronyms like EWS (Economic Weaker Sections), LIG (Low Income Group), MIG (Middle Income Group), HIG (High Income Group) were designed to classify the beneficiary households and give them differential subsidies. Terms like yojana, niyojan, awas, samiti etc. were employed in the formulation and implementation of schemes and projects through which the government sought to intervene. The names of the schemes in their abbreviated forms like IDSMT, EIUS, UBSP, NRY etc. have also become a part of urban vocabulary due to their use by planners, administrators and ordinary men and women. All these terms indicate the growing importance of planning and state intervention in urban development in recent years.

It is difficult to measure the impact of "structural reform" launched in the country formally in 1991 but informally in the early eighties (particularly in the urban sector), on urban vocabulary. This is because the government has been careful not to convey to administrators and people at large that such drastic changes were being introduced or about to be introduced. The language of politicians and planners designing urban policy and bureacrats administering it have shown no major transformation or departure from the past. Also, many of the tools of reform have not impacted on the existing system, so have not been appreciated by the masses and therefore not captured in their vocabulary. Even those that were relatively successful did not bring about perception of real change. The reaction of the man in the street to changing situations or new policy perspectives has not been strong or long enough to be refected in his language, except for the few examples quoted above. Also, it should be said, a decade is a very small period in the life of a society to expect significant restructuring in the vocabulary of the common man.
 

A Thematic Glossary

Terms selected for the urban glossary here, have been placed in four categories, viz. (a) process of urbanisation, (b) urban economy, (c) physical aspects of urban development and (d) urban planning. The letter in brackets following the words listed here below indicates the language it belongs to or it originates from: (A) = Arabic, (E) = English, (H) = Hindi, (P) = Persian.

A - Process of Urbanisation

  1. Census Towns/Urban Centres (E): Besides the Statutory Towns, settlements having (a) a population of five thousand or more, (b) a minimum density of 1000 people per square kilometre and (c) at least seventy five percent of work force outside agriculture, are known as towns and treated as urban centres by the Population Census of India.
  2. Charge (E): An area with definite boundaries, identified for administrative purposes, subdividing the city into a number of smaller units.
  3. City (E): Large towns in common parlance. In the urban planning definition, towns with a population of one hundred thousand or more.
  4. Ganj (H): A market centre which has not grown into a fully-fledged town.
  5. Kasba (P): A subdivision town, next in hierarchy to a district headquarter.
  6. Lal Dora (H): Literally red thread; used in the past for demarcating the jurisdiction of a village. Presently implies the boundary of the territory of village within which norms and controls of a municipality or urban development authority are not applicable.
  7. Mandi (H): A market centre found in an urban area for trading agricultural products, generally having storing and warehousing facilities. A town where trading of agricultural products is the most important activity is called a Mandi town.
  8. Mufassil Town (A/E): A rural township wherein the rural folks go for certain types of services.
  9. Nagar (H), Shahar (P): Nagar is a Hindi word and sahar a Persian word for city. Thus mahanagar or badi sahar would imply a metropolitan or large city and chota sahar would imply a small town.
  10. Outgrowth (E): Conglomeration of houses outside the formal limits of a town (not constituting a settlement/village on their own), having a high degree of interdependence with the town.
  11. Shahar (P): see Nagar
  12. Standard Urban Area (E): An area with a town of at least 50,000 people with continuous growth around it, encompassing a number of smaller towns and rural settlements based round the core town, with the possibility of being urbanised within the next couple of decades.
  13. Statutory town (E): A settlement having an urban local body viz. Municipality, Corporation, Town Area Committee, Notified Area Committee, Cantonment, Town Panchayat,...
  14. Urban Agglomeration (E): A city with continuous spread around it encompassing a few other towns and outgrowths, based on the core town.
B - Urban Economy
  1. Anudan (H): A grant (interest free loan) transfered from a higher to a lower office, for developmental purpose, within the government.
  2. Badli (A): Casual workers but employed mostly by the same employer and hence recruited in a more personalised way.
  3. Bhatti (H): Establishments that brew and sell country liquor.
  4. Casual Workers (E): Employed generally by small entrepreneurs on daily or weekly basis on a low wage rate.
  5. Chowkidar (H): Security person responsible for the safety of a building or a locality.
  6. Chungi (H), Octroi (E): Chungi, the Hindi word for octroi has been retained in official documents in many of the northern states.
  7. Dhaba (H): A small open eating place on the road side, offering inexpensive Punjabi dishes.
  8. Hafta (P): Payment, mostly illegal, made on a weekly basis to officials in authority by petty industrialists, traders or slum dwellers.
  9. Kabariwala (H): A person who trades in waste or used materials, rags and junk for re-cycled use or second hand sale. Thus kabari ranges from old newspapers to used furniture and electronic items.
  10. Kar (H): see Shulka
  11. Khomchawala (H): Hawkers selling generally food products on a khomcha.
  12. Marginal Workers (E) (see Worker): In administrative and statistical urban terminology, persons who have worked but not for the major part of the year or the working season.
  13. Pheriwala (H): Hawkers selling small items or providing household services going around the localities, attracting their customers through loud calls. They carry their products on shoulders not necessarily in a cart; they may repair household goods or offer personal services.
  14. Pugree (H): Literally means a piece of cloth tied over the head for protection or as a mark of honour. In housing transactions, it means the sum of money deposited with the property owner by the tenant to gain right of occupation, to be returned to the latter at the time of vacating the premise. In large cities like Bombay, the sum equals the market value of the property which is never returned to the tenant. The latter receives pugree from the next tenant for vacating the premise, giving him the occupancy right.
  15. Rehriwalla (H): see Thelawalla
  16. Rojgar (P): Employment; often implies employment generated through governmental programmes and schemes, mostly for the people in the low income strata.
  17. Shulka (H), Kar (H): A common word in municipal finance, though not exclusive to the urban sector, kar principally refers to a tax realised by the government. Thus aaye kar would mean income tax and jal kar (commonly seen in municipal finance balance sheets) would refer to water tax. Shulka generally refers to a cess or fee payable to a public agency for using its premises or services. Thus traders in a mandi pays a mandi fee or cess to the mandi (samiti) authority.
  18. Teh Bazari (P): Tax collected on a daily basis by local authority from small traders for selling their items in a weekly market or any other public place.
  19. Tekha (H): Contracts, generally in the context of middlemen or labourers in the construction sector. Tekhedar is a person who organises the building materials or labourers at the construction site. Tekha can also imply an establishment selling country liquor.
  20. Thelawalla (H), Rehriwalla (H): Mobile vendors generally selling their wares from a thela or rehri (viz. a cart with a squarish platform). They generally stay at one place for a few hours or for the whole day and do not generally go from door to door.
  21. Worker (E): In administrative and statistical urban terminology, a person engaged in economically productive activities for most of the year or the working season.
  22. Zamadar (H): A sanitation worker cleaning toilets, streets and the neighbourhood.
C - Physical Aspects of Urban Development (including amenities)
  1. Ahata (A), Bara (H): An enclosure in a built up area, with small tenements let out on a rental basis, existing mostly in the cities of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  2. Bara (H): see Ahata
  3. Barsati (H): A one-room or two-room habitation on the terrace of a building usually for renting purpose.
  4. Basti (H), Bustee (in E): Congested settlement with a high population density, having grown in an unplanned manner and facing problems of infrastructural deficiency. Some-times the word is used for a slum (e.g., in West Bengal), but in Northern India the latter is generally described as gandi basti.
  5. Bus Adda: (E/H) A major bus terminus in the city, for buses either working within the town/city or between cities across districts.
  6. Chawl (H): A set of small multi-storied residential units, constructed mostly in the nine-teenth century, to accommodate industrial workers particularly in Bombay. These are sometimes described as "inner city, run-down, walk ups". Due to lack of upkeep, degradation of the area and high density most of the chawls are now part of slums.
  7. Jhonpri (H), Jhuggi (H): Informal structures built with bamboo, thatch, old building materials or raw bricks for residential purposes by the poor.
  8. Katcha (H): Literally means uncooked; often used as adjectives for houses of non-permanent nature, built with mud and bricks with thatched roofs and used materials etc. The term serves as an adjective also for employment without job security.
  9. Khokha (H, Punjabi): A temporary small counter for sale of various items; but most commonly cigarettes, beedis and betel leaves. Sometimes in commercial areas cheap lunch is also sold from khokhas.
  10. Mall (E): A major street used by the gentry for shopping and recreational activities.
  11. Nala (H), Nali (H): An open drain which commonly supports the sanitation system of a small or medium town. A nali carries all domestic and industrial refuse and sullage water from the town to a nearby river, often causing major environmental hazards.
  12. Parivahan (H): Generally refers to public transport (system).
  13. Public School (E): Generally an English medium school managed by private organisations, trusts etc. wherein the tuition costs and other payments are very high, thereby admitting the children mostly from the elite class.
  14. Pucca (H): Opposite of katcha. A third category viz. semi-pucca, has been used for denoting the houses having some characteristics of both katcha as well as pucca houses.
  15. Resettlement Colony (E): A colony created by removing a group of households from the congested city core or an encroachment in public places and locating them generally in the periphery of the city.
  16. Rickshaw (H, E from Japanese): A type of transport (which may resemble a cart) drawn either by a cycle attached to it or by a man (as in Calcutta).
D - Intervention by State in Urban Development and Planning
  1. Annual Rateable Value (ARV) (E): A measure of the ARV is carried out by a municipality to determine the value of property in a town or a city. Based on this value property tax in an urban area is fixed.
  2. Ashray (H), Awas (H): Residential units. In planning terms, these often refer to residential units built for the poor.
  3. Benami transaction (H/E): A method by which a person becomes the virtual owner of a house through the power of attorney (see below) although legally the property is not reported as bought or sold, consequently, the taxes due to the government at the time of such transactions are not paid.
  1. EIUS (Environmental Improvement of Urban Slums) (E)

  2. IDSMT (Integrated Development of Small and Medium Towns) (E)
    NRY (Nehru Rojgar Yojana) (P/H)
    PMRY (Prime Minister’s Rojgar Yojana) (E/P/H)
    UBSP (Urban Basic Services for the Poor) (E)
    IDSMT, EIUS, UBSP, NRY, PMRY are schemes in the central sector for urban areas in the Eighth Plan.
  1. EWS: Economically Weaker Section (E)

  2. LIG: Low Income Group (E)
    MIG: Middle Income Group (E)
    HIG: High Income Group (E)
    Income categories created by the public housing agencies for the purposes of providing subsidised land and capital inputs in a differentiated manner. Over the years the upper and lower limits of these categories have been revised upwards. Due to various laxities in administration, many richer sections of the population registered themselves under lower income categories. At present, the houses meant for the lower income groups are occupied by a mix households from different income brackets.
  1. Khasra (P): Refers to a plot of land which is numbered in the Master Plan of a city. Any developmental plan sketched on the basis of the Master Plan refers to a khasra number. If the khasras in a Master Plan are not properly numbered developmental plans gets hindered.
  2. Nagar Nigam (H), Nagar Palika (H), Nagar Parishad (H): Nagar Nigam refers to a Municipal Corporation and Nagar Palika or Nagar Parishad (nomenclature varies from state to state) refers to a Municipal Council. A corporation is higher than a council in the hierarchy of municipal administration. There are no strict norms for giving a municipality the status of a corporation or council – the decision is mostly political.
  3. Naka (P): Points on the boundary of the town, located on the main roads, used for monitoring and controlling the entry and exit of goods and people. Nakabandi means prohibiting all movements into or out of the town.
  4. Nazul Land (P/E): Land vested with the public authority for developmental purpose as per the stipulations of the authority.
  5. Notified Area (E): Any land area earmarked with the help of legal provisions for the purpose of future development, as stipulated in the Master Plan.
  6. Patta (H): Title to land. Under the slum upgrading and resettlement schemes, land title is being given to the residents in the hope that they would make further investment to improve their own housing conditions and living standards. This is also a guarantee against future eviction.
  7. Power of Attorney (E): Supposedly a legal provision through which the right of occupancy, management, and transfer of a property is given by the owner to another person. The Law Ministry has doubts about the validity of such transfer deals ; nevertheless, a large number of properties, particularly in north Indian cities, are changing hands, using this provision.
  8. Rain Basera (H): A scheme of night-shelter by the government to provide sleeping arrangement to houseless people at night.
  9. Samiti (H): A community-based organisation, responsible for resource mobilisation, management of basic amenities, payment of instalments etc., generally recognised by the public agencies as a partner in the implementation of certain schemes.
  10. Standard Rent (E): Worked out on the basis of the value of land and cost of construction when built, as per the provisions of the Rent Control Act with the objective of protecting the tenant from exorbitant rent and eviction.
  11. Vikas Pradhikaran (H), Development Authority (E): Every big city (mostly of more than a million inhabitants – but again there are no strict norms) has a Development Authority which supervises various aspects of Urban Management including land, housing, services etc. They also oversee legal aspects pertaining to building bye-laws, Master Plan norms etc. and develop perspective plans for the future.


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