A decade ago, most people may have viewed towns like Panvel and Pen as the boondocks, but today, satellite cities are having the last laugh. In the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) towns like Kharghar, Thane, Badlapur, Belapur, Panvel, Kharghar and Kalyan-Dombivli, to name a few have registered a huge growth in population over a 10-year period. On the other hand, the island city’s population is down by 5%, while Mumbai’s suburban population has increased by only 8%. Data collected for the 2011 census drive shows that Kharghar tops the growth list —between 2001 and 2011, the town’s population has increased from a mere 6,000 to 73,000. That’s a 1,117% jump. Other top performers are Vasai-Virar, which has recorded a rise of 221%, followed by New Panvel (113%). The overall increase in population in MMR, with the exception of Mumbai, is 54% . The main reason for this growth, say experts, is the rise and rise of Mumbai’s real estate, which has prompted people to look beyond the city for affordable housing. Demographers and social scientists also attribute this trend to a combination of factors including the release of Sixth Pay Commission funds and nominal real estate prices in these regions. According to civic officials and town planners this is a positive trend. R Parasuraman, director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) said this shift has decongested Mumbai city. New industries and white-collar jobs are attracting people to satellite towns, he added. The population in Thane has risen by 43% from 12.62 lakh in 2001 to 18 lakh people in 2011. In KDMC and Mira-Bhayander, percentage growth is 50, while Navi Mumbai recorded a 48% growth. Development in the form of better infrastructure, connectivity, etc goes hand-inhand with a booming population. At Kharghar, CIDCO is planning to build affordable housing for an anticipated 4.5 lakh population in the coming decade. In Khopoli and Karjat, population has risen by 21% and 20% respectively. Uran recorded a 30% growth, Ambernath 28% and in Pen, it is 33%. The island city’s population has decreased by 5%, and there’s a marginal 8% growth in suburban Mumbai. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is the planning agency for the census, has attributed the drop to redevelopment of old buildings in the island city. “Not only have people moved out of south Mumbai because of the redevelopment of homes, many residential premises have been converted into commercial establishments,” said a BMC official.