Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

Quiet numbers tell district tales – rural and urban India, part 4

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Dense colonies of low-rise apartment blocks in north-eastern Mumbai (Bombay). These date from the 1980s and despite their disrepair are out of reach for some 60% of the giant city's population which live in 'upgraded' slums.

Dr C Chandramouli, Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, presaged the insights that would be provided by new census data in his introduction to the first provisional paper on the 2011 Census: “It provides valuable information for planning and formulation of policies by the government and is also used widely by national and international agencies, scholars, business persons, industrialists, and many more. In addition, the Census provides a basic frame for conduct of other surveys in the country. Any informed decisionmaking that is based on empirical data is dependent on the Census.”

When taken together with the 355 districts whose rural populations are all a million and above, the implications of such a concentration of the 0-6-year-old population in talukas and tehsils (more than those in town wards) become manifold. An immediate rendering of this concentration will take place in the health sector for it is there that imbalances in public expenditure and budget have been most severe.

The change in literacy rates for India's states from 2001 to 2011, with the 0-6 year olds excluded. The colours are: red (75% and below), ochre (75-80%), yellow (80-85%), lime green (85-90%) and green (90% and above). Maps: Census of India 2011

The Government of India has time and again claimed that the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12) has sought to raise the share of public expenditure on health (both central and in the states) from less than 1% of GDP in 2006-07 to 2% and then 3%. For this, the National Rural Health Mission (launched in 2005) was intended to strengthen healthcare infrastructure in rural areas, provide more sub-centres, better staff and equip primary health and community health centres.

Census 2011 will, over the months to come, indicate the degree to which these lofty aims — often held up as evidence of the government’s commitment to social equity — have been met. To do this, the ratios will be layered between study outputs that bring out the insights of correlating large demographic data sets — district health services, the national family health survey, planned rounds of the National Sample Survey and, despite the defensible criticism levelled against it, the 2011 BPL survey. Within this dauntingly complex data framework will need to be placed the Plan targets relating to infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, total fertility rate, under-nutrition among children, anaemia among women and girls, provision of clean drinking water for all, and raising child gender ratio for the age-group of 0-6.

Where do the 640 districts and their rural populations lie on a simple child gender ratio scale? Ranked by female to male ratio within the 0-6 years category of population, the top 10% of all districts (that is, 64 districts) register a gender ratio of at least 0.97 and up to 1.01. The districts with the 20 most favourable female to male ratios for the 0-6 population are Dakshin Bastar Dantewada, Bastar, Bijapur, Koriya, Rajnandgaon, Narayanpur and Korba (all Chhattisgarh); Tawang, Papum Pare and East Siang (all Arunachal Pradesh); Nabarangapur and Malkangiri (Orissa); Lahaul and Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), Nawada (Bihar), Chandauli (Uttar Pradesh), Mamit (Mizoram), Pashchimi Singhbhum (Jharkhand), Tinsukia (Assam), South Andaman, and West Garo Hills (Meghalaya).

Vegetables being farmed on agricultural land between two city wards of Panaji (Goa). As the populations of smaller towns in India has risen, their footprint on cultivable land has grown.

Among the top 10% of districts with gender ratios for the 0-6 age group that are favourable to females, Chhattisgarh has 14 while Orissa, Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have 6 each. These are considered, by their states and by the central government’s ministries and departments, to be ‘backward’ districts, tribal in character, lacking in infrastructure and below par in economic development (discounting for this index the proclivity of the state to steal natural resources in the commons, the better to convert it to GDP with). Yet the residents of these districts have proven, as the 2011 data so emphatically shows, that they practice an equality that is far closer to that enunciated in our Constitution than is to be found in the ranks of the million-plus cities.

Even so, the picture at the other end of the scale is a worrisome one. Within the 0-6 years category of the rural population of districts, there are 154 districts whose female to male ratio is less than 0.90, ie 9 girls or less for every 10 boys. In this large set of districts with unfavourable gender ratios amongst the rural population category of 0-6 years, the range of this ratio drops to 0.70 (the average gender ratio for this group of districts being 850 girls to 1,000 boys). There are 24 districts in UP in this set (out of the state’s 71 districts), 20 districts each in Punjab and Haryana (out of their totals of 20 and 21 respectively), 18 each in Rajasthan and Maharashtra (out of 33 and 35 respectively) and 14 in Jammu & Kashmir (out of 22).

[This is the fourth 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. See the first in the series here; see the second in the series here; see the third in the series here.]

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