People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 02, 2011


Provisional Census Findings:

Indicators of Distress or Prosperity?

Archana Prasad


THE provisional population figures for Census 2011 released this week show an alarming growth in urban population. After 1921 this is the first census in which the growth of urban population has outstripped the decadal population increase in rural areas. The decadal growth of the urban population was projected at 31.08 per cent, which was much higher than the overall decadal population growth of 17.64 per cent.  This indicates an abnormal degree of urbanisation and movement of population from rural to urban areas. The increasing rate of the urbanisation process is also indicated by the alarming increase in the number of towns from 5161 in 2001 to 7935 in 2011, i.e., a decadal growth of 53.7 per cent. Interpretation of these initial trends may be manifold. In conventional wisdom, urbanisation has often been equated with economic growth and progress. This argument may also be used by the advocates of neo-liberalism to advocate the view that economic reforms are leading to greater prosperity and employment opportunities for the people. But such an interpretation of these trends is far from the reality that faces us today and hides the real picture of distress that can emerge from a more detailed analysis of these trends.




A closer look at regional patterns in the census figures reveals a link between the pattern of urban population growth, corporate investments and rural distress. In several states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh the number of census villages has declined and the number of settlements classified as towns has increased at an alarming rate. For example in Maharashtra the number of census towns increased from 378 to 535 in a period of ten years, in Karnataka they increased from 270 to 347 settlements and in Andhra from 210 to 353. Most of the increase was in semi-urban settlements which have not yet been classified as ‘towns’ in revenue records. But such existence of such townships indicates an increase in corporate and the other investments in resource rich rural areas. It is well known that the states mentioned above have not only attracted such corporate investments but have also been facing agrarian distress in the last decade and a half. Thus the reclassification of settlements as indicated in the census is a pointer towards the way in which corporate capital is penetrating the rural areas. This is also reflected in the increasing landlessness amongst the agricultural workers between 2000 and 2008 which is seen in the post reforms surveys done by the NSSO. The level of such landlessness is highest amongst the dalit and tribal people, particularly in states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, fuelling displacement and forced migration from these regions.


The second factor that points towards the link between rural distress and the growth of the urban population is the percentage of urban population growth in states facing rural distress. The point is made by a comparison between the rates of urbanisation of some selected states which are known to have high rates of corporate investments like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and all India. In these states, the rate of growth of urban population is much higher than the all India rate of growth. Thus while India has an overall decadal urban population growth of 31.80 per cent, in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka the urban population grew at  33.49 and 38.57 per cent respectively and where as in Gujarat and Maharashtra it increased to 42.58 and 45.23 per cent respectively. Here it is important to record the percentage increase of the decadal growth rate was highest in Gujarat (increase of 5.2 per cent) and Andhra Pradesh (increase of 6.19 per cent). This high rate of growth is also significant because three of these states i.e., Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra are also known to be regions that have been the hub of agrarian distress in the country. In contrast if we look at the resource rich states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, where corporate capital is looking to exploit natural resources, the rate of growth of urban populations is not as high as the other four states. Orissa has one of the lowest rates of growth of urban population at 16.68 per cent, whereas Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh had a growth in urban populations by 25.05 and 23.24 per cent respectively. This indicates that the corporate penetration within these areas is more extractive in character. Here dispossession and displacement is taking place because of the exploitation of cheap raw materials and labour. The dispossession arising from this is likely to lead to migration and the growth of urban populations in other states. Such migration is hardly ever captured in either census or NSSO figures, but several field studies show how female tribal and dalit labour is forced into seasonal migration, especially in industries like brick kilns and other casual labour. Hence a more detailed analysis of the census findings can be used to gauge the different forms of corporate capital exploitation and its links to the movement of labour from rural to urban areas.   




Another aspect that requires closer scrutiny is the gendered nature of the urban population growth. Provisional figures indicate that the decadal increase in the female urban population was 33.73 per cent as compared 30.06 per cent increase in the population of urban males. This is especially significant because the decadal increase in rural population was relatively similar for both males (12.12 per cent) and females (12.25 per cent). Here again the regional patterns point towards a complex picture. It is interesting to note that percentage decadal growth of female urban population in the states of Gujarat (35.78) and Andhra Pradesh (37.63) is higher than the all India decadal growth rate of 33.73 per cent. At the same time the resource rich states of Jharkhand (35.32) and Chhattisgarh (43.69) also have a high percentage of decadal growth in urban female population. This figure does not reveal much in itself, but makes sense when we see the difference between the urban male and female population growth percentages. In Gujarat this difference is just 0.11 per cent but in other states it is higher. In Andhra it is 2.69, in Jharkhand 14.55 and in Chhattisgarh it is 4.33 per cent. Such differentials may indicate that women from these regions are coming to urban areas, not merely because of marriage but also for other reasons that are not generally reflected in census figures. One explanation for this burgeoning growth of female urban may be simply that the number of females born in the urban areas is more than that of the males. But this explanation does not hold much weight as it comes in the wake of a dipping child sex ratio in the urban areas from 906 to 902 per thousand. In contrast to this the increase in the gender sex ratio by residence is an alarming 26 per cent. Such a trend however needs to be corroborated through other data that is yet to be released in this census.


In this context it is possible to surmise that the provisional findings of the census point towards a rural-urban imbalance that can be explained only if it is related to the rural distress and corporate penetration that has signified two decades of neo-liberal reforms. It indicates that more and more people are being forced into flight from rural areas because they are unable to meet their daily needs in the rural areas. This has significantly impacted on the nature of the burgeoning working class that is not only informal in its character, but also a migrant workforce that will now form the bulk of the urban poor. If these implications of the census findings are any pointer, the democratic movement will have to intensify its struggle for the rights of such a mobile labour force and also find new and innovative methods of organising them.