Monday, 29 August 2011

What ails India – galloping population growth or corruption?


A day after making Parliament bow before the people’s will to have strong mechanism to fight corruption from top to bottom, the 74-year-old Gandhian, Anna Hazare, accepted a glass of tender coconut water mixed with honey from a Dalit and a Muslim girl -- Simran and Ikrah -- at 10:20 am on Sunday (August 28, 2011) on the dais at the Ramlila Ground, New Delhi to break his 12-day fast that began on August 16.  This blog discusses: what ails India – galloping population growth or corruption?

Both corruption and overpopulation are symptoms of India's main problem, and not the main causes. When one tries to examine this issue in depth, he/she will find that all these are consequences of population explosion. The annual growth rate of population averaged at more than 2 per cent per annum since 1951- one of the highest among the major developing countries. In absolute terms, the population of India has increased by a whopping 849 million during the last 60 years. The net addition in population during each decade since 1951 has increased consistently, as shown in Table 1.

                        Table 1 India: Trends in population growth since 1951

(in million)
Absolute Decadal growth
(Persons  /
Source: Census of India 2001 and Census of India 2011 (provisional)

As a result, population pressure increased many times in the last sixty years. Soon after Independence in 1951, the density of India was as low as 117 persons per sq. kilometre and this steadily increased from one decade to another to reach 382 in 2011. The persons living per sq. km. has increased by 216 per cent in the last sixty years. This is a matter of great concern as it puts immense pressure on India’s natural resources in general, and water in particular. It also adversely affects the quality of life of people as will as governance.

India's growth rate especially during the first 40 years after independence was low[1]  by standards of developing countries. In 1947, the average annual income in India was $439, compared with $619 for China and $770 for South Korea. By 2010, the respective numbers were $2,960, $6,020 and $28,120 (PRB 2010).

As a result, the vast numbers of people competing for all kinds of services, leading to demand hugely outstripping supply, coupled with people's ignorance and therefore lack of power, enables corruption to flourish in India. Providers of any service can demand bribes for just doing their job, and the public are willing to pay "extra" to get that elusive service. In a society that is poor, unaware and divided, politicians can afford to launch all kinds of huge public projects, steal staggeringly large amounts of money, and leave the projects incomplete.

Stopping, or at the least curbing, corruption is important, but there are many ways to work towards that effort. India’s legislative efforts to protect whistleblowers and those who work to fight corruption is a step in the right direction, however more must be done.

The population of India is expected to increase from 1210 million in 2011 to 1370 million in 2021 that is in the next ten years – an increase by 160 million during the decade.  As a consequence, the population density will increase from 382 to 435 persons per sq. kilometre in 2021, creating more demand for additional resources like water, food, education, health, housing, etc. thus providing favorable ground to promote corruption. Thus, one of the best solutions for complete corruption eradication is having a right control on population growth.

From Adam Smith onward, economists have recognized important linkages between population and socio-economic development. Yet, the attention given to these linkages in current development thinking in India is not very clear. This is because one can argue that it is not rapid population growth but rather weak government, corruption and social injustices that are preventing economic and social development. The counter argument is that rapid population growth exacerbates the problems of weak government, corruption and social injustice. However, one has to recognize that population is an important factor in development, especially when it is growing seemingly out of control[2] .

The next blog (September 5, 2011) discusses  “India and China: A comparative analysis”.

[1] Also known as the “Hindu rate of growth” is a controversial and derogatory expression used to refer to the low annual growth rate of the socialist economy of India before 1991, which stagnated around 3.5% from 1950s to 1980s, while per capita income growth averaged 1.3%.  The economy of India has been growing at rate of around 6-8% since economic liberalization began in the 1990s.

[2]For details, see: Gavin W. Jones. 2005. Why are Population and Development Issues not Given Priority?” In Asia-Pacific Population Journal, Vol. 20, 2005, pp.5-9.


  1. You open your piece with bizarre argument that population explosion is the main cause for corruption. Do you mean to say that people are turning corrupt to feed more mouths in their families?

  2. Prof Kothari,
    Southern states seem to have the situation under control, if I interpret the recent stats correctly. What lessons are to be drawn?
    "NEW DELHI: Call it the curse of development. Kerala seems set to experience negative rate of growth of population, much like developed Europe and Japan in the recent decades, trends visible from the provisional results of Census 2011 suggest.

    The state recorded its slowest decadal increase in population of 4.8% between 2001 and 2011, or a compounded average annual growth rate of 0.48%. In contrast, the population of the country as a whole rose 17.64% over the decade, while states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh saw a 25% and 20% rise, respectively.

    The slowing of population growth is not surprising. The state has been experiencing sharp deceleration in its population growth rate since the decade of 1961-71. For instance, after a rise of 26.29% during that decade, the population growth slowed to 19.24% in 1971-81, and to 14.32% in 1981-91."

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