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Why states should focus on improving living conditions and worry less about population decline

A demographic group, after reaching replacement rate, will continue to grow for the next few decades, mostly because the proportion of people in the reproductive age – born during the periods of fast population growth - is still high

mumbai Updated: Jan 06, 2019 22:46 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
India population,India states division,Demography
India's population tops 1.2 billion making it the second most populous country in the world after China. (AP)

Last month Andhra Pradesh chief minister, N Chandrababu Naidu, said that the state’s population had fallen by 1.6 per cent in the last 10 years. He announced that the state will offer incentives to couples willing to have more than two children and phase outlaws that bars people with more than two children from contesting elections in local administrative bodies like village panchayats.

Naidu is wrong about a population decline in Andhra Pradesh. India last counted its population in 2011 and the next enumeration will take place in 2021; other data on populations are just estimates. Andhra Pradesh’s population (including Telangana) was 76 million in 2001, a growth of 13.86% from 1991. In 2011, the state’s population was 84 million, growing 10.98% over 2001. The state’s population did not decline during the decade; what had declined was the growth rate.

India’s decennial census shows that the country’s population growth rate has been declining too. The population grew by around 21% between 1951 and 1961. In the next decade, it grew by 24.8%. After similar growth rates in the next two decades, the rate of increase has been declining; the population grew 23.87% between 1981 and 1991 and 21.54% during 1991-2001. Between 2001 and 2011 it grew 17.7%.

No state in India has reported a decline in population. Nagaland reported a 0.5% decline (Around 10,000 fewer people) between 2001 and 2011, but experts said that this could be due to flaws in earlier counts.

Paranoia about population decline exists across the world. Japan’s population is declining and China will soon join a group of countries in East Asia and Europe with a falling population. In 2017, Poland’s government told the country of some 38 million people to ‘breed like rabbits’ to reverse a possible decline in population. In the case of Poland, the decline is not far away – its fertility rate was 1.32 children per woman in 2015.

India and Andhra Pradesh are decades away from this situation. Andhra’s fertility rate is around 1.8 which is close to what is called the ‘replacement rate’ of 2.1 when the number of children is just enough to keep the population stable. The latest National Family Health Survey puts India’s fertility rate at 2.2, 1.83 in AP and 1.78 in Telangana.

Demographers said that a demographic group, after reaching replacement rate, will continue to grow for the next few decades, mostly because the proportion of people in the reproductive age – born during the periods of fast population growth - is still high. Increasing life expectancy also contributes to population growth. Andhra Pradesh, like other states in south India, Goa, West Bengal, Punjab, among others, is in the middle of this trend. “Andhra’s population will continue to grow in absolute numbers for the next two decades,” said RB Bhagat, professor and head of the department of migration and urban studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai.

“The state should focus on improving life expectancy (68.5 years in 2014, according to the NITI Aayog. This is similar to the Indian average of 68.5 years. Bangladesh does better, with a life expectancy of 72.16 years in 2015, according to the World Bank) Focus should be on improving health conditions, nutrition and overall development,” said Bhagat.

Naidu can also focus on primary education. The state’s literacy rate – 67% in 2011 - was the lowest in south India and is lower than the national average (74.4%).

Andhra’s worry can be explained to its fear that as the state’s share of the country’s population falls, its share from population-based dividends coming from the XV Finance Commission will decline. If Lok Sabha constituencies are redrawn to reflect the new population numbers, the state, like the rest of south India, could have fewer seats in Parliament. This is because while south India’s population has been growing, it has been increasing at a lower rate than states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. Andhra’s share of the country’s population fell from 7.4% in 2001 to 6.99% in 2011.

Naidu said he is worried about a decline in the number of people in the working age. Population growth is linked to incomes, among other things. When countries reach middle-income status – India is close; it is now classified as a lower middle-income country – they witness a decline in the share of the working-age population. As China’s working-age population declines, India’s working age population will soon be the biggest in the world before it starts falling here too.

First Published: Jan 06, 2019 22:46 IST