Resources Research

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

The year of 1.275 billion Indians

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RG_population_2015_markersFour years ago the Census of India 2011 completed its count – the world’s largest human counting exercise, which required an army of enumerators to carry out. The final tally – which was fixed in late 2012 although the provisional estimates for India and the states came within a few months of the census having counted the residents of the last remote hamlet – was 1,210,569,573 of us (833,463,448 rural and 377,106,125 urban).

That tally was valid for a particular day only, which was the last day of March 2011. Although the 1.2 billion statistic was used (and continues to be, popularly) to describe India, Bharat, our people and their lives and work, it is of course an incorrect number. The population has been rising from the first day of April 2011 as the daily count of births minus deaths (to give the net addition) adds to that 1.2 billion. Now, the net daily addition is about 40,000 a day!

But remember that those who were counted as net daily additions in 2001 – when the previous Census was done – are today only 14 years old, so the total population tally is not adults, it is infants, toddlers, children, early teenagers, late teenagers, youth, adults, mature adults, senior adults, elderly folk and really old folk.

It would have happened in February 2013, the crossing of the billion and a quarter mark (1.25 billion). What will our tally be in March 2015, two months from now? It depends how complex you want your calculations to be. The simplest method would be to use 1.210 billion as the 2011 tally and multiply that by the yearly population growth rate based on the increase in our population between 2001 and 2011. The result would be an estimate which does not recognise different population growth rates for rural and urban regions, and indeed these differ in every state. Naturally, for states with large populations (such as West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka) the growth rate you apply can change your estimate by a significant number.

The population estimates for India by the Population Division of the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The four estimates use low, medium, constant and high fertility rates as their basis. Source: World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision (

The population estimates for India by the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The four estimates use low, medium, constant and high fertility rates as their basis. Source: World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision (

It was, I had estimated last year, that the 400 million mark was crossed for urban India: “By the end of 2014 June, a group of cities will cross important population thresholds. This upward procession of population numbers – for districts, cities and states – is scarcely observed by administration or by citizens, but continues apace.”

To find the startling numbers in this graphic, I have used the individual growth rates for rural and urban populations in all states and union territories, based on the 2001-2011 period. This helps, but for the demographic purist it isn’t enough (and I haven’t attempted it here) because it does not factor in the changes in fertility rates – and since 2012 there have been reports that the fertility rates have dropped faster than expected for the period after 2011 – and, more minutely, changes in the age at which women marry, the spacing of children and so on; these are the formulae of the careful demographer.

To do so is necessary. It is even vital because so much of public and social provisioning depends on understanding population trends well and preparing for what the next five, ten and twenty years will bring. There is the matter of food and the public distribution system (see ‘India’s 681 million hungry rural citizens’ and the question: “What do and what can rural residents spend on food and the essentials of living in India?”).

There is the question of how much towns and cities can expand, and two years ago, according o the Census 2011 data, India in 2015 would have 63 cities with populations of over a million (ten more than we had in 2011), which led to the question of whether India is ruled for its cities.

But the big picture remains. In 2015 there are a number of population markers that will be reached. The population of rural Bihar will cross 99 million, the population of Rajasthan will approach 73 million, the population of urban Punjab will approach 11.2 million, the combined population of the seven North-Eastern states (excluding Assam) will reach 14.8 million, and the population of rural Gujarat will approach 35.2 million.

Urban populations have grown more rapidly and the consequences of such growth includes cities that are more difficult to live in (see “When the 65 million who live in India’s slums are counted”). But the trend tells us that in 2015 the population of urban West Bengal will cross 30 million, the population of urban Maharashtra will approach 55 million, the population of urban Karnataka will cross 26 million, and the population of urban Tamil Nadu will be more than its rural population. And finally, at some time during 2015, the number of Indians will touch 1,275 million (or 127 crore).

Written by makanaka

January 11, 2015 at 09:17

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  1. […] or breathlessly seeking to profit from it in as many ways as there are flavours of potato chips. Who is left from the 1.275 billion Bharat-vaasis who can cast an appraising eye on the bit players and techno-buskers, and who can judge for […]

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