Humans have been communal beings since the beginning of time. They would rather remain in groups and communities. Everything stems from people’s basic requirements, one of which is shelter and habitat. Numerous elements such as food, water, transportation, communication, and clothing emerged into the equation after diverse trade and interaction activities emerged. This gave rise to civilizations, which evolved into cities and towns. As the population and manufacturing of products increased following the industrial revolution, so did the demand for dwelling, resulting in unplanned growth. 

After an in-depth evaluation of these challenges, the solution was to effectively implement and design various sectors of the town to preserve the environment, stimulate economic growth, and give adequate space for all. Urban planning is a compilation of sociological, economic, environmental, and constructive activities aimed at making an urban area a decent, healthy place to live, work, and go around. It was done to resolve the harmful physical and social effects of the industrial revolution on individuals, particularly in metropolitan areas. 

History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet1
Dholavira, one of the river civilizations_©
History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet2
Portion of Indus Valley Civilization_©

The beginnings of urban planning in India can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation’s planned towns of Mohenjodaro and Harappa as early as 2500 BC. Cities and towns were also formed around forts and trade and commerce hubs throughout India’s history. The city was split into two parts. A fort-like structure was built to safeguard the city’s higher and upper levels. Perhaps the governing class of the towns lived in the protected region. The second section of town was lesser in elevation than the former, and common men lived there. Indus Valley’s main streets ran from north to south and east to west, meeting at right angles. 

The roadways were wide, ranging from 9 to 34 feet. They ran a mile straight. They were suitable for wheeled transportation. Lanes were connected to streets. There was a public square in each lane. The civilization‘s complex drainage system was a unique feature. Cities featured magnificent dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick piers, and fortifications. Massive citadels guarded the city against floods and invaders. Most city people were traders and artisans.

History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet3
A reconstruction of the form and land-use of a capital city of sixteen wards based on the text of the Arthasastra_©

The medieval period in India was a transitional phase, and under unpredictable political conditions, planned and systematic urban growth was not possible. Fortifications were built in several towns. Buddhist architecture and development are heavily affected. the well-known “Arthashastra,” a treatise on urban planning. It specified the following features: Community-based zoning regulation. The excavation at Patliputra, the capital of Magadha (now Bihar), demonstrates advanced planning expertise. During this time, Taksha-sila and Nalanda, the famed learning center, were founded.

As the years progressed, several leaders launched political invasions to conquer regions in search of a better lifestyle, status, and capital. Medieval towns, whether in India or elsewhere, were walled and surrounded by an outside moat. The entire town organization was divided into socially hierarchical classes that were controlled by the chieftain or jaghirdar. 

History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet4
Nalanda University_©,_Nalanda_Archaeological_Site.jpg

Mughals adopted the Hindu notion of Vaastu Sastra, as well as rectilinear form and pattern, in locating towns and cities, and were later influenced by the Rajput style in both buildings and layouts. Mughal supremacy reached its pinnacle under the reign of Shah Jahan. The city’s infrastructure was designed in a geometric layout. Both Persian and Hindu traditions of town planning and architecture can be observed with the Persian influence accounting for the rigidity and symmetry of the palaces, lawns, and promenades.

History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet5
The picturesque Mughal gardens_©Narendra Bisht

The Industrial Revolution and advancements in transportation influenced urban layout in India by the time the British settled and colonized most of India in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The introduction of railways accelerated urbanization. The nature of this economic activity characterized these colonial cities from traditional towns and urban settlements in India. Railway towns such as Jamalpur, Waltair, and Bareilly grew. In the mid-nineteenth century, the nature of the colonial city evolved even further.

Following the First War of Indian Independence, town planning in British India changed dramatically. Around this time, underground piped water supply, sewerage, and drainage systems were also installed. Thus, sanitary vigilance became another approach to governing Indian communities. The British design paradigm in the subcontinent comprises wide, straight roads; a supply of water and sewage infrastructure; segregation of land uses; provision of open space; garden communities; regulation of new development. Furthermore, the British Colonial era in India witnessed the emergence of contemporary urban planning and building codes.

In the years following independence, political leaders and international organizations were preoccupied with the issue of how the city should appear in an independent India. New cities were built, most notably in Chandigarh, but also in Bhubaneswar and Gandhinagar. The government also housed hundreds of thousands of Partition migrants by constructing houses in Delhi and Calcutta, as well as new towns in Punjab. Most critically for the institutionalization of planning, several cities began to develop Master Plans for the first time, with support from the Central Government and a push from the Five-Year Plans.

History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet6
Aerial View of New Delhi_©
History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet7
Chandigarh Planning_©

The post-independence era saw the introduction of Master Plans with a ‘Top-Down Approach.’ Plans that were land use plans with a proposed Circulation network of Ring Roads and arterial roads thrown in, along with a set of zoning regulations, building regulations, and layout rules- with execution given to both civic bodies and Development Authorities such as Water and Sewerage Board, Housing Board, Industrial Development Corporation, and so on. These Master plans were exceedingly ambitious in their plans for the city. They were creative solutions to a new environment for urban planning, resulting from collaborations between American and Indian planners, social scientists, and officials.

History of Urban & Town planning in India - Sheet8
Rajkot city master plan_©
Palava city master plan, Mumbai_©

India is accelerating its development to catch up with the developed nations. One such breakthrough is the implementation of the smart city mission. A smart city in India will provide its citizens with the best amenities. It makes good use of the available land. The Indian government set an initial goal of 100 smart cities. This project is almost finished. In its proposal, India’s list of smart cities includes practically every corner of the country. States and union territories are also responsible for carrying out this plan.

Building a ‘world-class urban India in a sustainable and methodical way is a herculean task. This necessitates a massive government urban planning effort that incorporates meaningful citizen participation. The government’s work must include collecting resources, modifying the rules of supporting technologies, and offering opportunities to residents. This will improve their ability to take advantage of appropriate learning opportunities, allowing them to play a role in the mission’s suggested ‘inclusive’ strategy.


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An explorer at heart, Kasturi Kunte is on a journey to discover the diverse world of art, architecture, and technology. She is a young architect who believes architecture is about binding humans, nature, art and built spaces together. She is currently exploring the field of writing and researching Architecture.