Functional Classification of Towns by Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra gave his functional classification of town in year 1991 based on industrial categories in Census of India (1971). He was the Registrar General of Census of India. He, like Harris and Nelson, also classified the towns and cities of India based on economic function. Ashok Mitra’s functional classification of towns is most appropriate in Indian context because of its flexible approach. He chose the proportion of workers in industrial activities as an indicator of the dominant economic function of a town.

  • There were nine major industries in Census of India (1971) i.e. ICultivators, II- Agricultural Laborers, III- Livestock, fishing, forestry, hunting, plantation and allied activities, IV- Mining and Quarrying, V- Manufacturing i.e. Household and Other than Household, VI- Construction, Trade and Commerce, VIII- Transport, Storage and Communication and IX- Other Services.
  • These categories of workers are based on Indian Standard Industrial Classification.
  • However, Mitra excluded the agricultural activities from the purview of this classification because he considered agriculture as a rural activity.
  • So, his final classification of towns includes the categories III to IX.

Mitra’s Criteria for Functional Classification of Towns

According to Ashok Mitra, it is the dominance of the major three economic activities which define the character of a town. So, he set the following criteria for classification of towns into the above three categories.

1. Manufacturing Town

  • Industries marked III, IV, V and VI are part of the manufacturing sector. These activities, generally, comprise the processes of value addition to the raw materials.
  • We can classify a town as a manufacturing town when the proportion or percentage of workers in manufacturing activities is greater than the rest of economic activities.
  • In such towns, manufacturing is the predominant economic function.

2. Trade & Transport Town

  • Economic activities marked as VII & VIII are part of the trade and transport sector.
  • These activities are necessary for the flow of raw material, goods, labor and services from one place to another.
  • One can classify a town as a trade & transport town when the proportion of workers in trade & transport activities is greater than the rest of economic activities
  • In such towns, trade & transport is the predominant economic function.

3. Service Towns

  • Those economic activities marked as IX are part of the service sector. These activities provide skill, knowledge and help of any kind to other sectors for their smooth operation.
  • We can classify a town as a service town when the proportion of workers in service activities is greater than the rest of economic activities.

Ashok Mitra carved the whole India urban landscape into three broad categories because he believed that Indian towns are multifunction. For example, a religious towns are also manufacturing towns. Hence, accruing a very specific function to a city is not possible. However, these three major economic functions exist in every city.

Degree of Specialization of Economic Function

Ashok Mitra believed that the towns are multifunctional and the degree of specialization or dominance of a certain function varies from one town to another. Therefore, each manufacturing town or service town may not be kept in one category for formulation of development policies. So, he used the Ternary Diagram for determining the degree of specialization of an economic function for a given town. Once we have decided the broad functional class of a given town, we plot the share of the most dominant function of the city in the ternary diagram to get a degree of specialization.

Fig. 1: Ternary Diagram Showing Degree of Specialization © (2022)
  • Ternary diagram (Fig. 1) refers to a diagram which shows the percentage or proportion of any three indicators on the three sides of the triangle and the percentage increases from the median of the sides (A, C, E) of the triangle towards the vertices (B, D, F).
  • In Ashok Mitra’s functional classification of towns, the ternary diagram shows the percentage of workers in manufacturing, trade & transport and services on the three sides of the triangle.
  • Here, the blue, red and yellow lines show the percentage of workers. The percentage increases from zero from the medians of triangles at points A, C and E towards the points B, D and F. For example, in the case of services the percentage of workers is zero at point E and increases towards F. The percentage at F is 100.
  • Further, the smaller triangle (black) shows the 50 percent limit. When the line EF crosses the smaller triangle, it denotes that the percentage of workers in the service sector is greater than 50 percent.

Classes of Specialization

Mitra drew three circles from the center of the triangle, proportionately, to show the degree of specialization. When we plot the percentage of workers of a dominant function in the ternary diagram, we get following categories of specialization.

  1. Diversified Towns: The center point of the triangle shows 35 percent. Any point falling with in the purple circle shows diversification of economic activities.
  2. Moderately Specialized: Any town falling between purple and black circle shows moderate functional predominance.
  3. Highly Specialized: The town falling between black and green circle points towards high functional predominance.
  4. Very Highly Specialized: Lastly, the point falling outside the green circle shows very high degree of specialization.

Relevance and Conclusion

Ashok Mitra designed a very practical classification of cities and towns in India. He knew that India cities are multifunctional and can not be put in a specific category. Therefore, he classified cities based on most dominant economic function. Although, there were not inexplicable cut-points to qualify for a certain functional category but this classification categorizes the broad categories into classes according to degree of specialization. However, he ignored the rural nature of India cities. He excluded the agricultural activities from classification of towns whereas we come to see so many agricultural activities in India cities e.g. horticulture on the flood plain of Yamuna in Delhi. Nonethless, this classification retains great flexibility as well as objectivity.