Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Emerging demographic divide: A dilemma for India


Devendra Kothari
Professor, Population Program Management

 

Over the last two decades, which are coterminous with the era of economic reforms, Indian economic growth has accelerated, making it the second-fastest growing economy in the world. But it has had highly regressive impact since inter-state disparities, for instance, has tended to widen even more than before. “Although the rising tide of growth has lifted all boats, the faster-growing, richer states have steadily pulled apart from the slower-growing, poorer states”, as argued by the Business Standard columnist, Chandra Mohan [1]. In other words, in the post-reform period the gap between rich and poor states has increased on many socio-economic indicators[2].  Although this growing divergence has been observed during earlier periods as well, factors responsible for it are not fully understood or explained.

The population related variables are very crucial[3], which are not given due importance in answering the question: Why should some states grow faster than others? The slowly growing states are invariably the Four Large North Indian (FLNI) States or so called ‘BIMARU’ states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, which are having vey poor demographic indicators[4].

 

What is holding back their growth story?  These States are growing slowing not because of poverty or low level of education but mainly due to their galloping population growth fueled mainly by unwanted or unintended fertility. In last 60 years the population of India has increased more than three times that is from 360 million in 1951 to 1210 million in 2011, and is set to be 1823 million by 2051, as per the joint publication of Population Foundation of India and Population Reference Bureau. Most of this population growth took place or will take place in the Four Large North Indian States. It changes everything. It appears that two contrasting demographic "nations" are emerging in India – one, comprising the FLNI States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh accounting for around 37% of the country's population and having a crude birth rate of 28 births/1000 population, and the other – the  "Rest of India",  with a crude birth rate of 18 in 2010, which indicates that 63% of the country's population has already reached the level required to initiate the process of population stabilization, as targeted  by the National Population Policy  2000 (Table 1).


Table 1: Emerging demographic divide
Items
Four Large North Indian States
Rest of Country
Total
% of total population, 2011
37
63
100
% of projected population, 2051
44
56
100
Births/1000 population, 2010
28
18
22
Infant deaths/1000 births, 2010
57
38
47
% of couple using contraceptives, 2005-6
28
51
43
% of 4+ Order Births, 2005-06
38
19
27
Note: Calculations are based on SRS, 2010 GoI and NFHS-3, 2007, IIPS, Mumbai.

This divide is more pronounced when we compare the FLNI States with Four Southern Indian (FSI) States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. India’s last census in 2011 revealed a sharp demographic divide between poorer FLNI States and economically advanced FSI States, where there has been a sharp decrease in the rate of population growth during the last two decades of economic reforms. In 1991, the FSI States had 23 per cent of India’s population and by 2011, that figure has declined to 21 per cent. In 2051, the combined population of these States is projected to be only 16 per cent of the country’s total. On the other hand, the population of the FLNI States increased from 34% in 1991 to 37% in 2011 and it will be around 45% in 2051. While all the FSI States have already reached below the replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per woman required to initiate the process of population stabilization, the FLNI States have a long way to go before they achieve this level. On an average a woman in India produces 2.7 children during her lifetime; however, there is a wide diversity of fertility levels among States. It ranges from 1.7 in Andhra Pradesh to 4.0 in Bihar, as per the NFHS-3.  

What are the implications of such scenario? Armed with reams of demographic and other relevant   data, Nicholas Eberstadt, a senior political economist and demographer at the American Enterprise Institute - a Washington, DC think-tank – argued that India is bisected by a great north-south fertility divide, in much of the north, fertility levels remain quite high, at four, five, or more children per woman; in much of the south India, however, fertility levels are at, or already below, the replacement level. He concluded: “In effect, this means that two very different Indias are being born today -- a youthful, rapidly growing northern India whose future population structure will be akin to that of a traditional Third World society and a southern India whose population growth will be slowing, where manpower growth will be coming to an end, and where pronounced population aging will be taking place”.

Eberstadt firmly believes that this emerging demographic peculiarity could have major ramifications as India attempts to continue its high growth rate over the coming decades. It is because India’s engines of economic growth are mainly its sub-replacement-fertility areas, which include much of the south with some parts of the west and practically all its major urban centers: Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, and Mumbai. According to Nicholas Eberstadt, however, “its demographics mean that the country's future workers will increasingly come from the high-fertility areas of the north. This reveals a fundamental mismatch: India's continued economic growth requires workers who are relatively well educated, but India's mostly rural high-fertility are producing a rising generation with woefully low levels of schooling.”  This places major constraints on the prospects for sustaining rapid rates of economy. Thus, according to him: "To oversimplify immensely the two different Indias, in the north, the baby factories and in the south, jobs and growth factories”, as shown in Table 2. This is a challenge for India's development in the decades immediately ahead.

Table 2: FLNI States – “The baby factories”: trends in total number of births
State
Population, 2011
( in Million)
Number of births
(in million)


1991
2011

Four Large North Indian States

Bihar
103.8
1.9
2.9

Madhya Pradesh
72.6
1.7
2.0

Rajasthan
68.6
1.5
1.8

Uttar Pradesh
199.6
4.7
5.6

Sub total
444.6
9.8
12.3

Four Southern Indian  States

Andhra Pradesh
84.7
1.7
1.5

Karnataka
61.1
1.2
1.1

Kerala
33.4
0.5
0.5

Tamil Nadu
72.1
1.2
1.1

Sub total
251.3
4.6
4.1

India
1210.2
24.9
26.7

Calculated by the author by using SRS and Census data.


Why blame Dr. Eberstadt for stating the truth? Even our own policy makes think in that way. A leaked US diplomatic cable has revealed that Home Minister P Chidambaram, in a discussion with American Ambassador Timothy Roemer, had said that "India could achieve 11-12 per cent (GDP) growth if it were the South and West only" and noted that "the rest of the country held it back". The cable dated August 20, 2009, originating from the US Embassy in New Delhi and released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks, stated that Chidambaram also commented "in passing, on the vast disparity between his native South and the rest of the country, with the South being the entrepreneurial and business hub of the nation."

Further, experts say the demographic imbalances could also fan political tensions. It is in this context that fear policies playing havoc with human numbers in the country is not largely unfounded[5]. According to the Indian Constitution the ratio between the number of Lok Sabha (Lower Parliament) seats from a State and its population should be the same for all the States as far as practicable. That is reason why the Article 82 of the Constitution states that upon the completion of each Census, the allocation of Lok Sabha seats to the States “shall be readjusted”.

It is because it was feared that the number of seats allotted to States with a good record in family planning may come down and States with a poor record in containing population growth may claim a larger share of Lok Sabha seats by virtue of the constitutional provisions.  For this reason. the respective strengths of the Lok Sabha have been frozen by the Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976, as part of an effort to boost the family planning campaign. It is obvious that the freezing of the number of Lok Sabha seats as per the 1971 Census figures has not helped in checking population growth. The FLNI States   continue to lag behind in family planning efforts.

Freezing of the number of Lok Sabha seats from each State may be an important step in ensuring a semblance of balance in the federal polity. A study has revealed that if the number of Lok Sabha seats is revised as per the 2001 Census figures, the total number of seats in the FLNI States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh would go up to 189 from 174. On the other hand, the total number of seats for the FSI States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and would come down from 129 to 115. The northern States will thus gain seats at the expense of the southern States. Therefore there cannot be any serious objection to freezing the number of Lok Sabha seats, even though it will inevitably lead to the problems of under- and over-representation, as shown in Table 3. The table indicates on an average a Member of Parliament from FLNI States represents significantly more people in 2011 as compared to 1991. However, the situation is not so alarming in the FSI States.

Table 3 Increasing number of persons per Member of Parliament (MP)
State
Number of Members of Parliament in Loksabha*
Number of persons per Member of Parliament
1991
2011
2031
Four Large North India States
Bihar
40
1.6
2.6
3.6
Madhya Pradesh
29
1.7
2.5
3.3
Rajasthan
25
1.8
2.7
3.9
Uttar Pradesh
80
1.6
2.5
3.6
Sub total
174
1.6
2.6
3.6
Four South Indian States
Andhra Pradesh
42
1.6
2.0
2.4
Karnataka
28
1.6
2.2
2.6
Kerala
20
1.5
1.7
1.9
Tamil Nadu
39
1.4
1.8
1.9
Sub total
129
1.5
1.9
2.2
India
552
1.5
2.2
2.8
*Lok Sabha is composed of 552 representatives of the people chosen by direct election on the basis of adult suffrage

Demography, therefore, in the next 20 years or so will pose serious challenges to economic growth, democracy and national unity by its sheer size. Unless the Centre and FLNI states engineer a common population stabilization program to lift these economies, the shadow of poverty and illiteracy as well as poor governance issue will continue to haunt India and thwart its tryst with destiny. This is a challenge for India’s development in the decades immediately ahead.

Next four posts discuss as how to resolve the issue of demography in each of the Four Large North Indian States.



[1] See, Business Standard, an Indian daily newspaper, dated January 30, 2012.

[2] See, “Seventh India Today State of Status Report”, India Today, September 17, 2009. According to the Report, FLNI States have been static for last five years and have been swapping places at the bottom.

[3] For details, see Kothari, Devendra and Sudha Tewari. 2009. Slowing Population Growth in India: Challenges, Opportunities and the Way Forward, MIPD Policy Brief No. 2, Management Institute of Population and Development, a unit of  Parivar Seva Sanstha, New Delhi.

[4]Bimaru, Hindi for sick, was first coined by noted demographer, Ashish Bose in mid 1980s as an acronym for the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh because of their poor reproductive health indicators like high fertility, high maternal and infant mortality, low contraceptive prevalence, low female literacy and a poor sex ratio amid poor socio economic development. The term, however, is a derogatory one; it's come to mean chronic backwardness and sickness. Such connotation can only demoralize people in the places it refers to. Why not give the nametag a timely burial? No doubt, these States are still behind.

[5] See: Devendra Kothari, “Likelihood if two ‘Nations’ emerging: A dilemma for India”, IIHMR UPDATE, Volume 2(1), Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur, 1999.

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