Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 1
The regular release of data by the Census of India is slowly building up the picture of human development and social sector gaps over the last decade. When read together with the large body of field and social science study on national and state experiences with development routes, the insights that Census 2011 provides can be a powerful tool for planning and public participation.
New data on urban and rural populations, gender ratios on literacy and in the 0-6 years population bands are already providing early indicators of leading and lagging districts, building up a detailed picture of how each of the country’s 640 districts is faring.
Data from early and provisional Census 2011 releases has led most commonly to comparisons of urban size, the speed of urbanisation that has taken place in the leading economic clusters of India, and has prompted forecasts about the size of India’s economy based on the trend of continuing population growth in existing and new urban centres.
This however is only a part of the Census 2011 picture. The numbers are provisional and their verification is a slow process, to culminate in the district level handbooks which will contain the primary census abstracts for every panchayat and block in India.
With the data releases coming during the final stages of the consultation rounds for the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17), the Census has the potential to inform and guide the policy-making process, provided of course the correct inferences are drawn from what is available.
The vast numbers which characterise the Indian census lead the popular focus to the immense scale of demographic movement in the country, which can be seen in the increase, from 2001, in the urban population from 286.1 million to 377.1 million, in the rapid addition to the already large group of towns in India, from 5,161 in 2001 to 7,935 in 2011 – an astonishing addition which has meant the transformation, at the rough rate of five a week for 10 years running, of 2,774 settlements into towns, however loosely the term ‘town’ is used.
Less impressive numerically but very significant economically is the increase, in the last 10 years, of the number of urban agglomerations. For the Census, an urban agglomeration is a continuous urban spread comprising one or more towns and their adjoining outgrowths. These have increased in number from 384 in 2001 to 475 in 2011 and are 91 chaotic, new, barely-municipal reminders that the flow of people from rural tehsils to urban wards has strengthened even further in the last decade. The central government sees much good in this transformation, and foregrounds the economic benefits of this change by employing a one-way lens.
What happens when such a lens is used to assess such a change can be seen in its treatment by the ‘Approach Paper to the Twelfth Five Year Plan’, finalised by the Planning Commission of India in August 2011 and released in September. “It is well known,” said the Approach Paper, “that agglomeration and densification of economic activities (and habitations) in urban conglomerations stimulates economic efficiencies and provides more opportunities for earning livelihoods. Possibilities for entrepreneurship and employment increase when urban concentration takes place, in contrast to the dispersed and less diverse economic possibilities in rural areas.”
[This is the first of a small series of postings on rural and urban India, which reproduces material from my analysis of Census 2011 data on India’s rural and urban populations, published by Infochange India.]