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'As population spurts, India grappling with north-south divide'

As the world population touches the seven billion mark tomorrow, India is grappling with a north-south divide with demographic patterns and migration of unskilled labourers that has the potential to generate a cultural conflict in the country, says a noted expert in the field.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2011 12:47 IST

As the world population touches the seven billion mark on Sunday, India is grappling with a north-south divide with demographic patterns and migration of unskilled labourers that has the potential to generate a cultural conflict in the country, says a noted expert in the field.

India accounting for 17% of the world’s population has significant influence on deciding the demographic future of the world. However, unlike in the past when these celebrations are meant only to create awareness on rapidly increasing population, the rapid changes in demographic scenario both in India and world brings out other interesting issues than mere population growth.

According to Prof K S James, Head of Population Research Centre at Bangalore-based think-tank Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), there is still a significant north-south divide on population growth in India as seen in the 2011 census.

"The southern states are showing faster decline in the population growth rate as compared to the northern states. As a result of this, there is scarcity of unskilled labour in the south which is currently filled in by migration from other parts of the country", he said in a statement.

James expressed the view that the demographic divide and change and migration of poor unskilled labourers across states have the potential of generating more conflict within the country.

Urban section of the population with rapid demographic change resulting in higher female labour force participation would follow life styles different from other sections.

Late marriages, increasing number of divorces and living together before wedding were the characteristics of rapid demographic and economic change in western countries, and it would be interesting to see how things would pan out in such a scenario in India. It would be difficult for other sections of the population to accept such conduct due to religious and cultural reasons, he said.

Worsening sex ratio motivated by strong preference for two child norm with particular gender composition is a considerable challenge in terms of ensuring equal position of women in the society. It will have significant future impact.

India will have extremely different structure of population across states; while in some states the population age structure will be adult concentrated and will move to old age, other states will have still more concentration of child and young population. This implies that the governments need entirely different policies to tackle issues in these contexts, James said.

It’s also true that movement of unskilled labour has its own advantage since such a replacement migration is a key feature of demographic change of any nation. Ironically, while the developed countries depended upon migration from developing ones to fill in such scarcity, India is taking advantage of the demographic divide across states!, he said.

Also, unlike in some other countries of the world, India’s fertility change occurred without significant improvement in the literacy level or economic change. The poor, illiterate women accepted two child family norms. This has led to a demographic dividend for them in terms desire for educating their children, and women getting into labour force due to time at their disposal. This will have long-term positive impact.

In fact, one of the key features of 2011 census is that there has been a negative growth of child population (0-6) age group in the country to 158.8 million from 163.8 million in 2011. However, even with this decline, Indian population will grow from its current level of 121 crore to around 160 crore to 180 crore by the second half of the century.

Undoubtedly, the government has played a key role in promoting family planning programme in the country. The acceptance of small family norm by poor illiterate women in many states in India is considered to be the result of the success of respective state governments.

Those states having higher population growth need to concentrate more in this area. It is clear that the urban population growth has become faster in India in the last ten years compared to the earlier decades.

It is likely to go up in the future as demographic change and education of young cohort will have greater migration potential. As these migrations are opportunity based, it would be difficult to control them. As such it is important to have a better urban planning based on the anticipated rapid growth of urban population in the future, James added.

First Published: Oct 30, 2011 12:44 IST