Thursday, March 31, 2011

Population growth slows. Economic grows. Awl is well India!

It’s come out on the 1st of April. But it doesn’t look like it’s a joke! I feel a sense of relief after reading the first cut figures of the Census of 2011. Overall population growth has been just 17.6% (“Just” is justified given the earlier decadal growth rates!). Even the worst 8 states (the likes of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand etc) have also slowed down significantly. Accompanying the drop in population growth is the increase in the literacy rate to 74%.....a significant jump over the 65% in 2001. Terrific news on this front too.... after all the good news that keeps coming on the economic and cricket fronts!

This is the first decade when India has added lesser number of people to its population that in the previous one.....both in % terms (17.6% this decade v/s 21.5% in the previous one) as well as in absolute terms (181 million added this decade v/s 182 million in the previous one). For the first time also, the population of the under-6 children has dropped by 5 million to 159 million. This indicates a slowing down of the birth rate. One has to also keep in mind that the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) must have come down (no data yet) and hence the birth rate must have come down even more significantly.

What is significant about the population growth reduction this decade is that it has happened through a voluntary and willful practice of family planning. As far as I can think, there is no active family planning program the Government of India runs. There’s been almost nothing in the last 15-20 years that I can think of. None of the high voltage advertising campaigns that used to be so visible in the 1970s and 1980s. None of the drama of forceful sterilization programmes. This time, the drop in the growth rate has been done willfully by the people themselves. Looks like people have finally realized the value of having a smaller family.

The improvement in the literacy rate is another data point that is in congruence with the drop in the population rate. Higher literacy leads to lower population growth rate. Everyone knows that Kerala is the highest in literacy rates (94%) and the lowest in the population growth rate. On the other hand, Bihar is the lowest in literacy (64%) and the highest in population growth rate. The “East of Kanpur” line continues to exist.....with some of the poorest and most underperforming parts of the country situated in this geography. Now I know many of us Indians view the literacy rate with an unsatisfactory feel. But we mustn’t forget that even if the quality of the literacy remains unsatisfactory and only minimal, it is still a good trend. It shows that parents are putting more of their younger ones into schools. It shows that they realize (finally) that an literate person has a far better future than an illiterate one. Let’s not be cynical about this. I am sure the quality of education will also improve in the years to come.

These are very strong tail winds which will propel India ahead even faster. These stats are reflective of and a result of the strong growth of the Indian economy. It’s taken us 20 years since the reforms started to reach a point where every indicator is showing us the same picture. That we are soon to lift ourselves out of the vicious spiral of poverty and illiteracy. We can say with a fair degree of certainty that we will be a far stronger nation 10-20 years from now than we are today......till now, this wasn’t so clear. The fact that the poorest and lowest performing states are showing improved trends is extremely heartening. Again, we’ve noticed that in the last ten years or so.....better governance has come to these states. Just look at Bihar (Nitish), MP (Shivraj Singh Chauhan), Orissa (Navin Patnaik), Chhatisgarh (Raman Singh).....and hopefully soon WB (Mamta Banerjee) all are states that have seen better governance in the last decade. The CMs of these states have been given the thumbs up by their people.....and re-elected......and that’s why I am confident that the better stats will continue.....and only improve going forward.

There’s a significant and somewhat unbelievable number that I would like to draw attention to. The population of the “town” part of Bombay (the island city) has actually shrunk by 5%. That’s truly remarkable. I don’t think we are used to this kind of a trend. Our cities always bloat; they never come down in size. Also, the suburbs of Bombay have grown by just 7% in a decade. That’s unbelievable. Hopefully, in the next ten years or so, with new infrastructure being built, we’ll finally start to see a better quality of life in both the “town” and suburbs of Bombay. The parts outside the city (Thane, Bhiwandi, Vasai-Virar, etc) have seen explosive growth.....upwards of 35% in all cases and much higher in a few. This shows that the city of Bombay is now much more than just the “town” and the suburbs. Just like the city of Delhi is much more than just the MCD and NDMC areas......the NCR reflecting the real size of the city.

The real truth is that in spite of everything, India is moving ahead. Fast. All is well. Population growth is slowing down. Literacy is up. Sex ratio is improving. And the economy of course is booming. Let’s savor this for a while.....and then continue to plough ahead. Let’s please not get distracted by the naysayers and those (especially in media) who drown themselves and the nation in self criticism. Nothing can go wrong with India in its progress. Just like nothing can go wrong for India in its final with SL on Saturday!

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