3 April 2011

India’s Population 2011: Thoughts on the Preliminary Results from Census

The Office of the Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner (ORG) has again pulled off the unthinkable and published the preliminary results of the population of census of the country conducted during February March 2011, within a month of completing the census. The fitting logo of this census is “Our Census, Our Future”! To compile from each enumerator the basic information, aggregate the same at different levels up to the district, check on the quality of data, tabulate and then publish the preliminary results on the current population of the country for each district, state and nation as whole by 31 March, within a month after the census count, wherein a population of over 1.2 billion has been counted from house to house, is a gigantic administrative and statistical exercise. Three cheers to the Registrar General and his team; they certainly deserve the appreciation of the nation as a whole.

The much sought after first publication of the 2011 census “Series-1, India, Provisional Population Totals, Paper-I of 2011” has been released on the morning of 31 March and the same has also been put on the web site. Fact sheets giving summary measures on selected indicators have also been released in a number of states, with district level information of the state.

The Preliminary Results are provided for each of the 640 districts of the country, and for each of the 35 states and Union Territories, as on the sunrise of March 1, 2011. The information on nine variables: population( males , females and total); population below age 6 ( school going age: boys, girls, and total), population above age 6 who are literate (males, females, and total). Using these information, data have been published for each district, state and the country as whole on:

• Population (Total, Males, Females); Decadal Growth (2001-2011); Sex ratio, Density (persons per  sq.km);
• Child Population 0-6 Years, Child Sex Ratio (0-6 Years);
• Literacy rate (Persons), Literacy rate (Males), Literacy rate (Females).

As expected, the results evoke mixed emotions of success and failure at the collective level. The basic information emanating from the report is that the population of India, as of sunrise of 1st March, 2011 is 1,210.2 million (1,210,193,422 to be exact), with 623.7 million males and 586.5 females, giving a sex ratio of 940.3 females per 1000 males. In the earlier 2001 census the population sex ratio was 932.9 and hence there has been an increase of 7 points in the sex ratio. In all the developed countries , the population sex ratio is more than 1000, which means that there are more women than men in the population, but indicating that women live longer than men, even though there is a biological excess of male births to female births in all human populations under normal circumstances ( 106 boys born for 100 girls ) because females have better survival chances at every age compared to males. Thus, the females outnumber the males in any society where there no undue bias against women. Even in India which is a patriarchal society, known to have strong son preference and lower status for women at all levels, the improvements in the population sex ratio, albeit of small magnitude, is indicative of the progress in modernization and development. In the state of Kerala, which had a matriarchal system for a long time, the sex ratio in 2011 is 1084 , the highest in the country. The lowest sex ratios are seen in Delhi, at 866, and, among larger states, Harayana, at 877.

While there was jubilation on the increase in population sex ratio from 933 to 940 between 2001 and 2011, there was absolute despair on the declines in child sex ratio (number of female children to 1000 males in between ages 0 and 6 age group) from 927 to 914. If there are no pre natal sex selective abortions of the females ( female feticide) and no differentials in the health and medical care of the female children compared to male children, then this ratio should be more than 1000 , as is found in any modern developed society. On the contrary, there seems to have been a continuing decline in the child sex-ratio from 1971 onwards across the country, and especially in the states of Haryana, Punjab, and Delhi, after the 2001 census. A number of voluntary organizations supported by the government initiated the PNDT Act (Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques Act) in the parliament, legally prohibiting the identification of the sex of the child during pregnancy when sonography is performed for medical diagnostic reasons during pregnancy), and making the sex identification a cognizable offence. A number of educational programs were also undertaken in support of the female child. In spite of these efforts, the decline in the child sex-ratio from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011 is a bit puzzling to say the least. Massive programs to improve the survival of the girl child could not have been this counter productive. There is a possibility that females under the age of 6 may be underreported since many girls in the ages of 4, 5 and 6 may have been enrolled in schools under the compulsory primary education program (under the Right to Education Act) by overstating their ages as 7 years or older. In such case, there will be surplus of girls over boys in the ages 7 to 10 and this can be checked only when the full age tables are published. For the present, there is already uproar among various women’s groups, and the debates over the issue is likely to increase in the coming months. As a popular newspaper in an editorial on April 2, 2011 pointed out: “this trend and scale of decline in rising India is shocking.” Development seems to have become gendered in India.

On the other hand, in Kerala which had relatively lower economic growth during the decade of 2001 to 2011, the 2011 child-sex ratio is 959, compared to 830 in Haryana, 866 in Delhi and 886 in Gujarat, which all have recorded faster economic growths during the last decade. Economic development and improvements in the status of women do not seem to go hand in hand in India, as is expected in modernizing societies. Within a few hours of the publications of the census results, great concerns have been raised by a number of women’s welfare groups and activists as to whether the present pattern of economic development in India, which is market oriented, male biased structural growth, should be supported at all by women in the coming years. We can expect to see more heated debates and discussions on this issue.

The 2011 census results have given encouraging news with regard to population stabilization and literacy programs. During the decade 2001-11, the decadal growth is 181 million people or 17.64% over a decade, and for the first time since 1921 the actual growth has slowed down compared to the earlier decade. The annual growth rate is 1.67%. The expert committee on Population projections set by the ORG in 2005 has projected the population of the country in 2011 at 1,192.5 million, which is just 17.7 million short of the actual count. The annual growth rates in the four northern states have declined faster in 2001-2011 compared to the earlier decade: in Uttar Pradesh (from 2.3% to 2.0% ), Bihar (2.5% to 2.2%), Rajasthan ( 2.5% to 2.1%), and Madhya Pradesh (from 2.0% to 1.8%).

On the other hand, in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the census found the growth rates to be higher than what was originally assumed. In Tamil Nadu, the committee had assumed, rather correctly on the basis of available data at that time, less than 9% decadal growth, thereby putting the estimated population of the state in 2011 at 67.4 million, from 62.41 million in 2001. In reality however, the population seems to have grown at 15.6 %, with the census recording a population of 72.1 million in 2011, a net addition of 4.7 million or almost 6% of the state population. The population projections for the state, if subjected to the natural increase as a result of surplus of actual birth rate over death rate, as recorded by Sample Registration System (SRS), during 2001-09 would only be about 68 million by 2011. The additional 4.7 million has definitely come about mostly by net immigrants from other states and to a smaller extent from legal and illegal international migration, mostly refugees from Sri Lanka on account of the civil war in that country. A large number of workers engaged in the construction industry, especially in the housing sector, has been drawn from the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. There is growing southward migration from the northern states and this is bound to increase in the coming decades in order to fill up the acute labor shortage felt in the southern states, because of earlier reductions in fertility and to some extent governmental schemes such as National Rural Employment Gaurantee Act (NREGA) that resulted in channelizing the local unskilled laborforce to other types of employment. The migration into Tamil Nadu appears to be family migration, because of lack of differentials in the surplus between the projected and actual male and female populations. Such a large scale family migration is beneficial to both the sending and the receiving states and should be encouraged. This will also promote national integration cutting across linguistic barriers.

Similar observations, the estimated natural increase with the census figures, can also be made with regard to the state of Karnataka. The demographic diversity in India has helped the nation's overall development through the demographic force of migration, and will continue to do so for the next two decades.

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