Mumbai is ageing and growing more slowly
The Environment Status Report from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is an annual publication on how the city is changing. The statistics reveal whether the city’s residents are becoming healthier and getting better access to clean water and less polluted air. The statistics indicate if the city has more trees and protected open spaces than the previous year. The report also gives an insight into Mumbai’s population and demographic trends over the years.
The latest report says that the municipal corporation is preparing for a population of 17.2 million residents in 2041, but the demographic trends revealed in the same document indicate that this could be an exaggerated figure.
Between 1991 and 2001, Mumbai’s population increased from 9.92 million to 11.97 - growth of 20.6%; the number or residents grew to 12.64 million in 2011, an increase of just 3.8%. The fastest decennial growth was between 1941 and 1951 when the city’s population grew from 1.8 million to 2.99 million – a growth of 66%. This expansion in numbers could be largely because of the movement of refugees from areas that became Pakistan. The rate of decennial growth has fallen since then. Between 2001 and 2011 the number of people living in what is called the ‘island city’ actually declined while the population in the suburbs grew the slowest in decades. The report does not look at population trends in the other cities and towns in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) which have grown faster. What the demographic trends reveal is that the population growth has shifted to places outside the area administered by the BMC.
The information on the city’s birth rate – the number of babies born per 1,000 residents – explains why the city’s population growth has slowed down. The rate is now 13.83 which is lower than many European countries.
Demographers said that the trend is similar to what is happening in other big cities. “I think it is not surprising,” said demographer Irudaya Rajan who added that Kolkata – the city, excluding the other towns in the agglomeration - has a birth rate that is even lower. “It is a result of the housing crisis in cities; migrants are moving in without their families and they are not looking at the city as a place to settle down permanently. They are coming and then leaving without raising families.”
Another reason, according to Rajan, why the birth rate in cities is falling is what he calls ‘the modern couple’s mind’. “The trend is to imitate what is happening in China - couples with only one child: this happens more in the big cities than in rural or semi-urban areas,” said Rajan.
Sudha Deshpande, former teacher of demographics at University of Mumbai, agreed. “The cultural change, in a sense, where young couples, especially when both the husband and wife are working, do not want to go for a large family; maximum they may decide to have one child,” said Deshpande who suggested that there were two important causes for the slowing down of population growth in Mumbai.
One reason is that migration to Mumbai has been declining and migration to Maharashtra declined in the period between 2001 and 2011. “In fact Maharashtra is growing slower than many other states,” said Deshpande. “The second reason is the aging population that is left behind when younger people move out of the city. Most working couples cannot afford to buy a home in the city and may start a family, in say, Navi Mumbai.”
A lower proportion of people in the reproductive age increase the percentage of those who are aging. Deshpande said that the trend is visible in areas like Vile Parle where she lives, or in Dadar, where there is an increase in the number of families that largely include older people. “The aging process – the increase in the number of people in the higher age groups – in India is quite significant, but in Mumbai it will be more pronounced,” said Deshpande.