Debate I No Need to Panic, Northern States Are Catching Up

Northern states won’t be a burden for the rest of India as they are catching up on education and health fronts.

4 min read
(Photo: Lijumol Joseph/<b>The Quint</b>)

(The Quint Debate: Will the population of India’s EAG states cause a demographic problem for the country by 2050? This is the Counterview. You may read the View by Mohan Guruswamy here.)

Laggard States are Picking Up

India is likely to achieve the replacement level of fertility (2.1) before 2020. Fertility rates projections for 2022 for larger EAG states like Bihar and UP are 2.3 and 2.4, respectively. Major states like Bihar, UP, and Rajasthan are likely to achieve TFR of 2.1 by 2030.
2013 report of the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW).

While we may have missed the bus in the past, we are unlikely to do so this time round. The optimism has solid ground to stand on now as winds of positive change have begun to blow across erstwhile laggard states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Sample these facts:

  • Decadal population growth rate (2001-2011) fell for the first time in Empowered Action Group (EAG) states.
  • Decline was to the tune of 4 percentage points.
  • Uttar Pradesh saw a drop of 6 percentage points.
  • Bihar saw a fall of 3.55 percentage points.
  • Rajasthan witnessed a whopping 7 percentage points fall.

EAG states consist of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Odisha. What is more, since most of the decline happened in the second half of the last decade, the momentum likely would have continued well into this decade as well.

Also Read: At 6.3 Crore, India Has Largest Population Without Clean Water

(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/ <b>The Quint</b>)
(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/ The Quint)

UP, Bihar May Attain Population Stabilisation Earlier

The NIHFW report says, “the fertility rates have fallen by 2.7 percent per annum (2.8 to 2.5) over the 2006-10 period – a faster decline than the decline of 1.6 percent per annum (3.1 to 2.9) in the preceding five years.” Total fertility rate (TFR) at 2.1 means population has reached the replacement level.

Changes have been so dramatic that some demographers have begun to argue that population stabilisation in states like UP and Bihar may happen earlier than expected.

KS James, a demographer with Bengaluru-based Institute for Social and Economic Change, told me some time back, “fertility decline was sharp in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the last decade. And if you consider other factors, it seems probable that they are likely to make a demographic transition faster than anticipated.”

KS James has been a regular contributor to the prestigious social science journal Economic and Political Weekly (EPW).

Empowered Women Leading the Change

The change has been occasioned by the tried and tested formula of women empowerment. Marrying late, rising literacy levels, and greater adopting of modern family planning methods are some of the factors that suggest that the status of women has been consistently improving in EAG states.

Following the release of detailed 2011 Census data, I had written elsewhere that “the mean age at marriage in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh rose faster than the national average and they are now almost at par with demographically developed states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

In fact, the rise in mean age at marriage in Bihar between 2001 and 2011 was almost equal to the rise in the preceding 40 years. Uttar Pradesh has shown a similar improvement.”

(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/ <b>The Quint</b>)
(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/ The Quint)

Increase in Literacy Rate Among Women

The National Family Health Survey-4 data shows that on other parameters too the condition of women has shown marked improvement in states like Bihar and UP.

In Bihar, for instance, not only has the literacy level of women jumped significantly in the last decade, there was nearly 100 percent increase in number of women with 10 or more years of schooling. Similarly, there has been steep fall in infant mortality rate (IMR).

Demographers have been arguing that factors like IMR and literacy levels of women have huge impact on total fertility rates. While the improvement in UP on these parameters has been almost at par with Bihar, Rajasthan has done even better in the last ten years.


Population Projections

  • India is likely to achieve the replacement level of fertility (2.1) before 2020.
  • Fertility rates projections for 2022 for larger EAG states like Bihar and UP are 2.3 and 2.4.
  • Major states like Bihar, UP, and Rajasthan are likely to achieve TFR of 2.1 by 2030.

(Source: The National Institute of Health and Family Welfare)

Some Lost Ground Has Been Covered

After so many recent changes, can we base our planning on a 1996 technical committee report that had projected that India would reach replacement level of fertility by 2026? There is no denying that population growth in the country still has a very large regional variation.

That growing population density is going to be a huge problem in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, giving rise to out-migration from these areas to neighbouring cities. That the rapid pace of urbanisation is going to throw up a whole new set of problems. That we need to be prepared to take care of the needs of large pool of greying population. They all are valid issues to discuss, debate and respond to.

But any discussion must begin with the acknowledgement that the so-called BIMARU states have covered some of the lost ground. And any future projection and consequent planning must take that into account.

(Video editor: Sandeep Suman)

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