Delhi's population growth rate halved during the last decade, a sign that for the rural poor - in search of a better livelihood - the Capital did not figure high on the list of destinations.
The capital's decadal population growth rate has hovered around 30-50% over the last 90 years, except for 1951, when it rose to 90%. During 1991-2001, Delhi's population grew by 46%. It was estimated to grow to 18.4 million by February 2011.
Instead, the provisional census results released last week threw up a population figure of just about 16.7 million. "It is not a happy development… there may be nothing to cheer about the low growth rate," said demographer Ashish Bose.
Migrant labour, often ridiculed by the urban middle class, is a reflection of economic activity in a city. "There are no jobs or housing for the poor in Delhi … why should people come here?" Bose said, pointing out that migrant labour might be going to the expanding suburbs of Noida and Gurgaon instead.
Economist Amitabh Kundu said he was "worried" at the sharp decline. "It is a very dangerous trend… This could indicate urbanisation slowing down… and could be the tip of an iceberg," he said.
Already, Prof Kundu said, there were surveys showing that rural-urban migration had gone down. "It means cities don't want unskilled labour." The only silver lining, he indicated, was the possibility that schemes such as the rural employment guarantee scheme were holding people back.
Noor Mohammed - till recently associated with the National Capital Region Planning Board - said he did expect a decline in growth rate but nothing this sharp.
"If people do not come, it means economic activity is low. Migrant labour is a resource and should be seen as such," he said, cautioning that if the decline continues, it could be counter-productive.