Settlement can be defined as any form of human habitation which ranges from a single dwelling to large city. The word settlement has another connotation as well as this is a process of opening up and settling of a previously uninhabited area by the people. In geography this process is also known as occupancy.

Settlements can broadly be divided into two types – rural and urban. Before discussing about meaning and types of rural and urban settlement in India, we should know some basic differences between rural and urban areas in general. (i) The major difference between rural and urban areas is the function. Rural areas have predominantly primary activities, whereas urban areas have domination of secondary and tertiary activities. (ii) Generally the rural areas have low density of population than urban.

Types of Rural Settlements:

Geographers have suggested various schemes of classification. If we group settlements found all over the country, these can broadly be grouped under four categories:

  1. Compact/clustered/nucleated settlement
  2. Semi-compact/Semi-clustered/fragmented settlement
  3. Hemleted settlement
  4. Dispersed settlement


Compact Settlements:

  • As the name suggests, these settlements have closely built up area. Therefore in such settlements all the dwellings are concentrated in one central sites and these inhabited area is distinct and separated from the farms and pastures.
  • Maximum settlements of our country comes under this category. They are spread over almost every part of the country.
  • These settlements are distributed over the entire northern Indo-Ganga plain (from Punjab in the north-west to West Bengal in the east), Orissa coast, basins of Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh, coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh, cauvery delta of Tamil Nadu, Maidaus of Karnataka, lower Assam and Tripura, in the valleys of Siwaliks etc.
  • Sometimes people live in compact settlement for security or defence purpose. The greatest example of this type is in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
  • In Rajasthan also people live in compact settlement because of the scarce availability of cultivable land and water body. Therefore, they want to make maximum use of available natural resources.

Semi compact Settlement:

As the name suggests, the dwellings or houses are not well-knitted. Such settlements are characterized by a small but compact nuclears around which hamlets are dispersed.

  • It covers more area than the compact settlements.
  • These settlements are found both in plains and plateaus depending upon the environmental conditions prevailing in that area.
  • Such settlements are situated along streams in Manipur Mandla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh, and Rajgarh district of Chhattisgarh. Different tribal groups inhabit such settlements in the Chhota Nagpur region. In Nagaland, such settlements may be in the form of blushing villages.

Hamleted Settlements:

These type of settlements, are fragmented into several small units. The main settlement does not have much influence on the other units. Very often the original site is not easily distinguishable and these hamlets are often spread over the area with intervening fields. This segregation is often influenced by social and ethnic factors. The hamlets are locally named as faliya, para, dhana, dhani, nanglay etc. These settlements are generally found in West Bengal, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and coastal plains. Geographically it covers lower Ganga plain, lower valleys of the Himalayas and central plateau or upland region of the country.

 Dispersed Settlements:

This is also known as isolated settlements. Here the settlement is characterized by units of small size which may consist of a single house to a small group of houses. It varies from two to seven huts. Therefore, in this type, hamlets are scattered over a vast area and does not have any specific pattern. Such type of settlements are found in tribal areas of central part of India covering Chhota Nagpur plateau, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, etc. Such patterns are also common in the hills of north Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.


There are three factors that influence the type of settlements in India. These factors are (i) Physical (ii) Ethnic or cultural and (iii) Historical or defence. Let us discuss these factors one by one.

Physical Factors:

These include relief, altitude, soil capability, climate, drainage, ground water level, etc. These factors influence the type and spacing of dwelling or instance, in dry regions of Rajasthan, water is a crucial factor and, therefore, houses are situated along a pond or well which guides the compactness of the settlement.

Ethnic and Cultural Factors:

These include aspects like caste, community, ethnicity and religion. In India it is commonly found that the main land owning caste resides at the centre of the village and the other service providing castes on the periphery. This leads to social segregation and fragmentation of a settlement into several units

Historical or Defence Factors:

In the past, mostly border areas of northwestern plains were conquered or attacked frequently by outsiders. For a long time, apart from attack from outsiders, there had been continuous fight between princely states and kingdom within the country therefore, security concerns favoured the evolution of nucleated settlements.


Type of urban settlement:

Like rural settlements, urban settlements are classified on various bases. However, classification based on size and function are most common. Let us discuss them one by one

Classification based on Population Size

According to population size, census of India classifies urban centres into six classes. Classwise urban settlements and their population

Class                              Population

Class I                            1,00,000 and above

Class II                          50,000 – 99,999

Class III                          20,000 – 49,999

Class IV                          10,000 – 19,999

Class V                            5,000 – 9,999

Class VI                          less than 5,000


There is another classification of urban settlements. The classification is as follows:

Town                                   Places which have less than one lakh population

City                                     Urban centres having population between one lakh to one million.

Metropolitan Cities          Cities having population in between one million to five million

Mega cities                         Cities having more than 5 million population

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