Population Growth

India was the first country in the world to adopt a programme to reduce birth rates aimed at stabilizing population 'consistent with the requirement of the national economy.' Ironically the programme could not achieve the desired results in the early decades of its implementation. Replacement level fertility is estimated to be achieved by 2026. Yet, because of population momentum, the population will continue to grow for some more time. Mukhopadhyaya (2000) observed that during 1901-1921, the population of India increased from 238 to 251 millions, in subsequent three decades the annual exponential growth rates were above 1%. After 1951 the population exhibited an average annual growth rate of around 2%. The second half of the twentieth century witnessed India's population increasing from 361 million in 1951 to 964 million in 1998.

While global population has increased threefold during this century, from 2 billion to 6 billion, the population of India has increased nearly five fold. India's current annual average 15.5 million people population increase is large enough to neutralize efforts to conserve the resource endowment and environment (Government of India, 2001) and most of the increase in food grain production has been absorbed by population growth. The growth rate of population has slowed down from 2.1% per annum in 1980s to 1.7% in the 1990s.

As India could not reduce its population growth to desired levels, the National Health Policy, 1983, set more specific goals. It stated the long-term goal of Net Reproduction Rate of unity (NRR = 1.0) by the year 2000 AD. This goal corresponds to a family size of 2.1, crude birth rate of 21, crude death rate of 9 and natural rate of population growth of 1.2% per annum. It would require a contraceptive prevalence rate of 60%.2

India's population was 361.6 million in 1950-51, which increased to 683.3 million in 1980-81 and to one billion in May 2000. The birth rate and death rate

2 United Nations Fund for Population Activities, (www.unfpa.org.in/Publications/FOOD/populationpress.htm)

were 39.9 and 27.4 in 1950-51, which came down to 33.9 and 12.5 respectively in 1980-81 and to 26.4 and 8.8 respectively in 1998-99. The fall in death rate is explained by better availability and access to medical facilities coupled with increased availability of food grains. If current trends continue, India will overtake China by 2045 to become the most populous country in the world.

Population projections

India's population growth rate has continued to decline since 1971. It came down from a high of 2.25% per annum in the 1970s to 1.69% in the late 1990s. The growth rate is expected to decline further with projections it will approach 0.92% by 2020. Numerous attempts have been made to estimate population at different points in the future. The India Vision 2020 Document considered two alternate scenarios for achieving population stabilization. In their optimistic scenario, based on achieving the demographic goals of National Population Policy 2000, life expectancy is assumed to rise to 71 for males and 74 for females by 2020. Under their realistic scenario, life expectancy is assumed to reach 65 for males and 69 for females by 2020. Under either scenario India's population would exceed 1.3 billion by 2020.

The growth rate of population is expected to be positive (0.33%) even in 2051 (Kulkarni, 2000) compared to growth rates of nearly 2% during 1980s and 1990s. The projected size of the population in 2051 is 1,646 million, an increase of nearly 95% over that in 1991. This makes the doubling interval about 60 years. Lower fertility rates would mean that the rate of growth of population shall be lower.

Projections for different age groups (Table 8.1) show that the 15-64 year age group will have expanded by 46% by 2020. The dependency ratios of the population shall also change and shall be lower at 46% than 67% which prevailed in the year 2000. Dependency ratio is a measure of the portion of population which is dependent (either because they are too young or too old to work) on the working population. The dependency ratio is equal to the number of individuals aged below 15 or above 64 (economically dependent) divided by the number of individuals aged between 15 and 64 (economically productive), expressed as a percentage. The World Development Report (1984) projects population to reach 1,522 million by the year 2050. The population growth rate during 1991-2000 was calculated using the figures of 846.6 and 1,000 million respectively which came to 1.853. It was then assumed that there shall be a reduction in this rate of growth by 0.3% in every decade. This gave a population size of 1168.2 million in the year 2010. The background paper for the Tenth Plan states that the population of the country is expected to grow from 1,027 million in 2001 to 1,409 million in 2026 and to 1,628 million by 2051 (Srinivasan and Shastri, 2002).

The difficulty is that depending on the requirements and objectives of their studies, different researchers have estimated population size for different years in future. For simplicity the target years taken in this study are 2020 and 2050. The population estimates in this chapter have been assessed more from the point of

3 Natural rate of growth was calculated using the formula a=be* where i=growth rate and t=time period.

view of getting a reasonably good idea of its possible size rather than very accurate mathematical precision as long term projections for such a variable will be influenced by numerous factors difficult to assess and measure. Factors like education, per capita GDP etc. are themselves dependent on other variables.

Table 8.1 Distribution of population by age category for 2000 and 2020 (million inhabitants)

Age category















Source: Bhat (2001).

Source: Bhat (2001).

Srinivasan and Shastri (2002) projected that the population of India would be around 1.4 billion in 2025. He goes on to state that the population size is expected to reach this mark whether India attains the goals of the National Population Policy for 2010 or not:, by 2051, India's population would almost be equal to that of China's. But India's population would still be growing at a rate of 1% per annum, even though the level of fertility required for long-run population stabilization would have been achieved by then (Bhatt, 2001). The trends of population growth in India has been broadly in tune with the classical theory of demographic transition into four phases and India is supposed to have entered now in the fifth phase, of rapidly declining fertility. The point of concern is that this growing population shall exert pressure on the economy of the country as well as the environment. It is with this view that the productivity of agriculture is discussed in the following section.

Table 8.2 Projection of India's population up to the year 2050 (million)


Average annual growth rate (%)

Author's projection
















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