Sensing the Census

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Counting over a billion people is no easy task. But the Census 2011 has done just that, giving India its newest headcount. At 121 crore population, it’s the combined population of USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan. But the good news is that despite a growth rate of 17.64 percent in the last decade, it is the sharpest decline in population growth rate since independence. But demographers say, it’s too early to celebrate.

The country has registered a 9 percent jump in literacy from 64 percent in 2001 to 74 percent today. And, of the total literates added during the decade, females have outnumbered the males. But despite this small encouragement, experts feel India still has a long way to go.

But the big shocker is the Child Sex Ratio – at just 914, it’s the lowest since independence.

The total number of children in this age group has gone down by 50 lakh since 2001. The government is now worried.

It’s now up to the policy makers to take a hard look at these figures and the reality they reveal. The nation’s cultural preference for male children continues to shape the population. The child sex ratio in the country declined to 914 females to 1,000 males, the lowest figures since 1947, the data suggested. In this rather predictable story of higher than expected population growth in Eastern and Central India, the Northern region shows a different picture. Uttar Pradesh actually shows a provisional population number which is 1.2 million below the projection.

The numbers for Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi are about two million below projection and the discrepancy in Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh is below the national average. In the Western region, the big difference is in Gujarat, where the provisional numbers are 1.4 million (i.e. 2.3 percent) higher than the projections, while Maharashtra and Goa are actually below the projection. The big surprise is in the Southern region, where we thought the demographic transition was well under way. Tamil Nadu’s provisional population numbers are 4.7 million (i.e. 7 percent) higher and Karnataka’s 1.7 million (i.e. 2.9 percent) higher than the 2006 projection. However, Kerala shows a negative discrepancy of 1.2 million (i.e. 3.4 per cent) relative to the 2006 expectation and Andhra Pradesh is more or less spot on the projection.

We, of course, have to wait for the detailed results to see whether this is due to a slower than expected change in the vital rates or changes in migration patterns that were not anticipated in 2006. But a tentative conclusion from the numbers is that the demographic transition in the East is delayed by a few years and it will come more slowly in the South than what was anticipated. However, the story for the North and the West (with the exception of Gujarat) could well be different and more promising.

Udit Bhatia

Image Source: [http://edutail.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/india-census-2011.jpg]

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