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The 400 million mark in urban India

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Urban_India_400million_201405By 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. There is – in India’s 4,041 statutory towns (large cities included) and 3,894 census towns – little by way of monitoring and regular assessment of their populations.

Such an attitude simply means that policies and measures drawn up by administrations, universities, civic groups and voluntary organisations are out-of-date the instant they are final – because they are based on the population recorded in 2011 by the Indian Census of 2011 (which fixes the population in March of that year).

Measures to control and lower growth rates of population has become a subject on which there appears to be an unmentioned taboo, just as the subject of migration has become taboo, for as long cities and urban areas continue to absorb citizens who are forced to consume more, the growth rate of GDP can be maintained.

The implications of India’s urban population rising unchecked are not forecast or discussed by central and state planning agencies, nor is this done regularly by the many think-tanks and academic research units. Industry does so only insofar as estimating the size of various markets, for example the processed food, consumer finance, vehicle purchasing numbers, or dwelling units.

In 2011 March, the Census of India recorded the country’s population as 1,210.2 million – the rural population at 833.1 million (up by 90.47 million from 2001) and the urban population at 377.1 million (up by 91 million from 2001). The population growth rate for India between 2001 and 2011 was 17.64%, but while the rural population grew over the decade by 12.18% the urban population grew by 31.8%.

At the overall urban growth rates, here are the new population marks to be seen in 2014 June for a set of cities that will be familiar to many:

* Rohtak in Haryana will have a population of 406,400 (it was 294,577 in the 2001 Census); Gaya in Bihar 500,800 (394,945); Patiala in Punjab 501,600 (323,884); Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh 502,800 (413,616); Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh 506,400 (335,293).
* Udaipur in Rajasthan 509,900 (389,438; Nanded in Maharashtra 601,800 (430,733); Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh 1,006,400 (641,583); Hubli-Dharwad in Karnataka 1,006,700 (786,195).
* Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh 1,019,900 (669,087); Durg-Bhilai in Chhattisgarh 1,115,600 (927,864); Asansol in West Bengal 1,310,600 (1,067,368); Jamshedpur in Jharkhand 1,430,600 (1,104,713).
* Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh 1,526,500 (1,203,961); Meerut in Uttar Pradesh 1,532,400 (1,161,716); Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh 1,607,900 (1,039,518); Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh 2,067,300 (1,458,416).

These increases show the immense scale of this residential transformation, as every year several million citizens move to cities and towns. For what we consider a bloc of urban population, there is a band – which is imprecise, rather than a particular forecast, which does not take into account variations in the growth rate after 2011 – that lets us estimate the annual addition to total urban population.

The upper bound is the 3.18% annual urban population growth rate of the 2001-2011 decade, while the lower bound is the 1.76% annual total population growth rate of the same decade. In 2014 June, the total urban population of India will be between 399 and 417 million. Here is the result:

RG_urban_population_201405

An agency that has been specifically given the task of stabilising the country’s population is the Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh, an autonomous society of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The Kosh runs activities aimed that help states and districts find ways to stabilise their populations – this means, halt and where possible reverse the growth rates. But the Kosh is also limited in its aims (and possibly its abilities) by what the central government says is the need of sustainable economic growth, social development and environment protection – that ‘growth’ delusion again has intervened in so serious a matter as controlling population growth.

One of the aims of the Kosh is to “facilitate the development of a vigorous people’s movement in favour of the national effort for population stabilisation”. This cannot be done without a clear and firm statement that indefinite ‘growth’ must be abandoned as a central economic idea, for only then will population growth, environmental degradation and humane urban settlements take shape.

Seven billion in 2011

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India-Its steaming streets crammed with vendors, pedestrians, and iconic Ambassador taxis, Kolkata throbs with some 16 million people—and more pour in every day from small towns. In 1975 only three cities worldwide topped ten million. Today 21 such mega cities exist, most in developing countries, where urban areas absorb much of the globe's rising population. Photo: National Geographic/Randy Olson

India-Its steaming streets crammed with vendors, pedestrians, and iconic Ambassador taxis, Kolkata throbs with some 16 million people—and more pour in every day from small towns. In 1975 only three cities worldwide topped ten million. Today 21 such mega cities exist, most in developing countries, where urban areas absorb much of the globe's rising population. Photo: National Geographic/Randy Olson

The National Geographic has a special on the world’s population. Some time later in 2011, according to the United Nations Population Division, there will be 7 billion people on Earth. The resource demands of the 80 million people being added to the global population every year are immense, and a longish commentary in the New Statesman tries to tackle some of the politically and socially sensitive issues.

The NG special has a main introductory article, which has a good bit of reportage on and from India:

“At Lok Nayak Hospital, on the edge of the chaotic and densely peopled nest of lanes that is Old Delhi, a human tide flows through the entrance gate every morning and crowds inside on the lobby floor. ‘Who could see this and not be worried about the population of India?’ a surgeon named Chandan Bortamuly asked one afternoon as he made his way toward his vasectomy clinic. ‘Population is our biggest problem.’ ”

Venezuela-Sharing a hillside with high-rise apartment dwellers, children dance at a shop in one of the squatter communities that ring Caracas, a city of three million. One in seven people on Earth lives in slums today. Providing them with better housing and education will be one of the great challenges facing a world of seven billion people and counting. Photo: National Geographic/Jonas Bendiksen, Magnum Photos

Venezuela-Sharing a hillside with high-rise apartment dwellers, children dance at a shop in one of the squatter communities that ring Caracas, a city of three million. One in seven people on Earth lives in slums today. Providing them with better housing and education will be one of the great challenges facing a world of seven billion people and counting. Photo: National Geographic/Jonas Bendiksen, Magnum Photos

Bortamuly is on the front lines of a battle that has been going on in India for nearly 60 years. In 1952, just five years after it gained independence from Britain, India became the first country to establish a policy for population control. Since then the government has repeatedly set ambitious goals—and repeatedly missed them by a mile. A national policy adopted in 2000 called for the country to reach the replacement fertility of 2.1 by 2010. That won’t happen for at least another decade. In the UN’s medium projection, India’s population will rise to just over 1.6 billion people by 2050. “What’s inevitable is that India is going to exceed the population of China by 2030,” says A. R. Nanda, former head of the Population Foundation of India, an advocacy group. “Nothing less than a huge catastrophe, nuclear or otherwise, can change that.”

“Successive governments refused to touch the subject,” says Shailaja Chandra, former head of the National Population Stabilisation Fund (NPSF). Yet fertility in India has dropped anyway, though not as fast as in China, where it was nose-diving even before the draconian one-child policy took effect. The national average in India is now 2.6 children per woman, less than half what it was when [Paul] Ehrlich visited. The southern half of the country and a few states in the northern half are already at replacement fertility or below.

Uganda-Schoolchildren, among them war orphans, pack a morning assembly at a public school in the northern city of Lira. Half of Uganda's 34 million people are children under the age of 15. Photo: National Geographic/Randy Olson

Uganda-Schoolchildren, among them war orphans, pack a morning assembly at a public school in the northern city of Lira. Half of Uganda's 34 million people are children under the age of 15. Photo: National Geographic/Randy Olson

In Kerala, on the southwest coast, investments in health and education helped fertility fall to 1.7. The key, demographers there say, is the female literacy rate: At around 90 percent, it’s easily the highest in India. Girls who go to school start having children later than ones who don’t. They are more open to contraception and more likely to understand their options.

Amarjit Singh, the current executive director of the NPSF, calculates that if the four biggest states of the Hindi belt had followed the Andhra Pradesh model, they would have avoided 40 million births—and considerable suffering. “Because 40 million were born, 2.5 million children died,” Singh says. He thinks if all India were to adopt high-quality programs to encourage sterilizations, in hospitals rather than camps, it could have 1.4 billion people in 2050 instead of 1.6 billion.