Vernacular Words in Urban Realm

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)


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)


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.

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.

courtsey: from the paper of Amitabh Kundu and Somnath Basu

About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
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1 Response to Vernacular Words in Urban Realm

  1. Pingback: Urban Systems in India: Definitions | Rashid's Blog

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