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Population: Distribution, Density, Growth and Composition- NCERT Notes UPSC

Mar 21, 2022


India is the second-most populous country after China in the world with its total population of 1,210 million (2011). India’s population is larger than the total population of North America, South America and Australia put together.

The topic Population- Distribution, Density, Growth, and Composition, is an indispensable part of the UPSC exam preparation. Candidates preparing for the upcoming IAS exam must refer to this detailed article for all the important facts and information pertaining to the topic.

Distribution of Population

India has a highly uneven pattern of population distribution:

  • Uttar Pradesh has the highest population followed by Maharashtra, Bihar, and West Bengal.
  • The share of population is very small in the states like Jammu & Kashmir (1.04%), Arunachal Pradesh (0.11%) and Uttarakhand (0.84%) in spite of these states having fairly large geographical area.
  • Close relationship between population and physical, socioeconomic, and historical factors.
    • The North Indian Plains, deltas and Coastal Plains have higher proportion of population than the interior districts of southern and central Indian States, Himalayas, some of the north eastern and the western states.
  • Reasons for moderate to high Population in areas which were previously very thinly populated:
    • The development of irrigation (Rajasthan). 
    • Availability of mineral and energy resources (Jharkhand). 
    • Development of transport network (Peninsular States).

Socio-Economic and Historical Factors of Population Distribution

Evolution of settled agriculture and agricultural development; the pattern of human settlement; development of transport network, industrialisation, and urbanisation.

  • Though resources like land and water degraded in northern plains of India the concentration of population remains high because of history of human settlement and development.
  • Urban regions of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Jaipur have high concentration of population due to industrial development and urbanisation drawing a large numbers of rural-urban migrants.

Density of Population

It is expressed as number of persons per unit area. It helps in getting a better understanding of the spatial distribution of population in relation to land.

Physiological Density = Total population / net cultivated area. 

Agricultural Density = Total agricultural population / net cultivable area. 

Agricultural Population includes cultivators and agricultural labourers and their family members.

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Growth of Population

  • It is the change in the number of people living in a particular area between two points of time. Its rate is expressed in percentage. 
  • Population growth has two components:
    • Natural Growth: It is analysed by assessing the crude birth and death rates.
    • Induced Growth: They are explained by the volume of inward and outward movement of people in any given area.
  • The decadal and annual growth rates of population in India are both very high and steadily increasing over time. The annual growth rate of India’s population is 1.64 per cent (2011).
  • The growth rate of population in India over the last one century has been caused by annual birth rate and death rate and rate of migration and thereby shows different trends. 

Four Distinct Phases of Growth in India

Phase One

  • The period from 1901-1921 is referred to as a period of stagnant or stationary phase of growth of India’s population, since in this period growth rate was very low, even recording a negative growth rate during 1911-1921
  • Both the birth rate and death rate were high keeping the rate of increase low.
    • Reasons: Poor health and medical services, illiteracy of people at large and inefficient distribution system of food and other basic necessities.

Phase Two

  • The decades 1921-1951 are referred to as the period of steady population growth
  • An overall improvement in health and sanitation brought down the mortality rate. 
  • Better transport and communication system improved distribution system.
  • The crude birth rate remained high leading to higher growth rate than the previous phase. 
  • The performance was impressive at the backdrop of Great Economic Depression, 1920s and World War II.

Phase Three

  • The decades 1951-1981 are referred to as the period of population explosion in India which was caused by a rapid fall in the mortality rate but a high fertility rate of population.
  • The average annual growth rate was as high as 2.2 per cent
  • During this period developmental activities were introduced through a centralised planning process and economy started showing up ensuring the improvement of living condition of people at large. Consequently, there was a high natural increase and higher growth rate.
  • International migration bringing in Tibetans, Bangladeshis, Nepalies and Pakistanis contributed to the high growth rate.

Phase Four

  • In the post 1981 till present, the growth rate of population remained high but has started slowing down gradually.
  • A downward trend of crude birth rate is held responsible for such a population growth which was affected by an increase in the mean age at marriage, improved quality of life particularly education of females in the country.

The growth rate of population is, however, still high in the country, and it has been projected by World Development Report that the population of India will touch 1,350 million by 2025.

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Regional Variation in Population Growth

The growth rate of population during 1991- 2001 in the Indian States and UTs gives the following information.

  • The States like Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Puducherry, and Goa show a low rate of growth not exceeding 20 per cent over the decade.
  • Kerala registered the lowest growth rate (9.4) in India.
  • During 2001-2011, the growth rates of almost all States and UTs have registered a lower figure compared to the previous decade, namely, 1991-2001.
  • The percentage decadal growth rates of the six most populous States: Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh have all fallen during 2001-2011 compared to 1991-2001.
    • The fall being the lowest for Andhra Pradesh (3.5% percentage points).
    • Highest for Maharashtra (6.7 percentage points).
  • Tamil Nadu (3.9 percentage points) and Puducherry (7.1 percentage points) have registered some increase during 2001-2011 over the previous decade.

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Adolescent Population

  • An important aspect of population growth in India is the growth of its adolescents
  • At present the share of adolescents i.e., up to the age group of 10-19 years is about 20.9 per cent (2011).
    • The male adolescents constitute 52.7 per cent.
    • The female adolescents constitute 47.3 per cent.

Challenges of Adolescents

  • Lower age at marriage.
  • Illiteracy – particularly female illiteracy.
  • School dropouts.
  • Low intake of nutrients. 
  • High rate of maternal mortality of adolescent mothers.
  • High rate of HIV and AIDS infections.
  • Physical and mental disability or retardness. 
  • Drug abuse and alcoholism.
  • Juvenile delinquency and commitence of crimes, etc.

The Indian government has undertaken certain policies to impart proper education to adolescents:

  • National Youth Policy(NYP-2014):
    • It was launched in February 2014 proposes a holistic vision for the youth of India. 
    • The NYP–2014 has defined ‘youth’ as persons in the age group of 15–29 years.
  • National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (2015):
    • It was formulated to provide an umbrella framework to all skilling activities and to align these to common standards and link skilling with demand centres.

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Population Composition

It is a distinct field of study within-population geography with a vast coverage of analysis of age and sex, place of residence, ethnic characteristics, tribes, language, religion, etc.

Rural-Urban Composition

  • Composition of population by their respective places of residence is an important indicator of social and economic characteristics. It is very significant in country like India as 68.8 per cent of its total population lives in village (2011).
  • India has 640,867 villages according to the Census 2011 out of which 597,608 (93.2 per cent) are inhabited villages. 
  • States like Bihar and Sikkim have very high percentage of rural population.
  • Goa and Maharashtra have only little over half of their total population residing in villages.
  • The Union Territories have smaller proportion of rural population, except Dadra and Nagar Haveli (53.38 per cent).
  • Variation of size of villages: It is less than 200 persons in the hill states of north-eastern India, Western Rajasthan and Rann of Kuchchh and as high as 17 thousand persons in the states of Kerala and in parts of Maharashtra.
  • The proportion of urban population(31.16 per cent) in India is quite low but it is showing a much faster rate of growth over the decades.
    • The growth rate of urban population has accelerated due to enhanced economic development and improvement in health and hygienic conditions.
  • It is noticed that in almost all the states and UTs, there has been a considerable increase of urban population. 
  • The rural-urban migration is conspicuous in the case of urban areas along the main road links and railroads in the North Indian Plains, the industrial areas around Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru – Mysuru, Madurai – Coimbatore, Ahmedabad – Surat, Delhi – Kanpur and Ludhiana – Jalandhar.
  • Low Degree of Urbanisation: In the agriculturally stagnant parts of the middle and lower Ganga Plains, Telengana, non-irrigated Western Rajasthan, remote hilly, tribal areas of northeast, along the flood prone areas of Peninsular India and along eastern part of Madhya Pradesh.

Linguistic Composition

  • According to Grierson (Linguistic Survey of India, 1903 – 1928), there were 179 languages and as many as 544 dialects in the country. 
  • In the context of modern India, there are about 22 scheduled languages and a number of non-scheduled languages.
  • Among the Scheduled Languages: 
    • The speakers of Hindi have the highest percentage
    • The smallest language groups are Sanskrit, Bodo and Manipuri speakers (2011). 

Classification of Modern Indian Languages

Family Sub FamilyBranch / GroupSpeech Areas
Austric (NIshadal)1.38%Austro – Astatic 

Mon-Khmer MundaMeghalaya, Nicobar Islands West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra Outside India
Dravidian (Dravida)20%South-DravidianCentral DravidianNorth DravidianTamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala Andhra Pradesh, M.P., Orissa, MaharashtraBihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh
Sino-Tibetan (Kirata)0.85%Tibeto-Myanmart
Tibeto-Himalayan North AssamAssam-MyanmariJammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh SikkimArunachal PradeshAssam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalya
IndoEuropean (Aryan) 73%Indo-AryanIranian DardicIndo-AryanOutside IndiaJammu & KashmirJammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, U.P., Rajasthan, Haryana, M.P., Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa.

Religious Composition

  • The spatial distribution of religious communities in India shows that there is uneven distribution of people of different religions in different states and districts.

Religious Communities of India, 2011

  • Hindus are distributed as a major group in many states (ranging from 70-90 per cent and above) except the districts of states along Indo-Bangladesh border, Indo-Pak border, Jammu & Kashmir, Hill States of North-East and in scattered areas of Deccan Plateau and Ganga Plain.
  • Muslims, the largest religious minority, are concentrated in Jammu & Kashmir, certain districts of West Bengal and Kerala, many districts of Uttar Pradesh, in and around Delhi and in Lakshadweep.
    • They form majority in Kashmir valley and Lakshadweep.
  • Christian population is distributed mostly in rural areas of the country.
    • The main concentration is observed along the Western coast around Goa, Kerala and also in the hill states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Chotanagpur area and Hills of Manipur.
  • Sikhs are mostly concentrated in relatively small area of the country, particularly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi.
  • Jains and Buddhists, the smallest religious groups in India have their concentration only in selected areas of the country.
    • Jains have major concentration in the urban areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra.
    • The Buddhists are concentrated mostly in Maharashtra. 
      • The other areas of Buddhist majority are Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir, Tripura, and Lahul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh.
  • The other religions of India include Zoroastrians, tribal and other indigenous faiths and beliefs.

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Composition of Working Population

The population of India according to their economic status is divided into three groups, namely, main workers, marginal workers, and non-workers.

  • It is observed that in India, the proportion of workers (both main and marginal) is only 39.8 per cent (2011) leaving a vast majority of about 60 per cent as non-workers.
    • This indicates an economic status in which there is a larger proportion of dependent population, further indicating possible existence of large number of unemployed or under employed people.
  • States with larger Percentages of Workers: Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Meghalaya. 
  • Among the UTs: Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu have higher participation rate.

Occupational Composition

  • The occupational composition of India’s population which actually means engagement of an individual in farming, manufacturing, trade, services or any kind of professional activities.
Occupational Categories: The 2011 Census has divided the working population of India into four major categories

Agricultural Labourers.
Household Industrial Workers.
Other Workers.
  • About 54.6 per cent of total working population are cultivators and agricultural labourers.
  • Only 3.8% of workers are engaged in household industries and 41.6 % are other workers including non-household industries, trade, commerce, construction and repair and other services.
  • The male workers out-number female workers in all the three sectors.

Promoting Gender Sensitivity Through ‘Beti Bachao - Beti Padhao’

  • The division of the society into male, female and transgender is believed to be natural and biological. But there are social constructs and roles assigned to individuals which are reinforced by social institutions.
    • These biological differences become the basis of social differentiations, discriminations, and exclusions.
  • The gender issue is a global challenge, which has been acknowledged by the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) when it mentioned that “If development is not engendered it is endangered” (HDR UNDP 1995).
  • All efforts need to be made to address the denial of opportunities of education, employment, political representation, low wages for similar types of work, disregard to their entitlement to live a dignified life, etc.
  • The Government of India has duly acknowledged the adverse impacts of these discriminations and launched a nationwide campaign called ‘Beti Bachao – Beti Padhao’.

Female Labour Force Participation

The number of female workers is relatively high in the primary sector, though in recent years there has been some improvement in the work participation of women in secondary and tertiary sectors.

Occupational Trend

  • The proportion of workers in agricultural sector in India has shown a decline over the last few decades (58.2% in 2001 to 54.6% in 2011). Consequently, the participation rate in secondary and tertiary sector has registered an increase. 
  • Sectoral Shift: There is a shift of dependence of workers from farm-based occupations to non-farm-based ones.
  • Spatial Variation of Work Participation Rate: The highly urbanised areas like Delhi, Chandigarh and Puducherry have a very large proportion of workers being engaged in other services.
    • This indicates that large-scale urbanisation and industrialisation requires more workers in non-farm sectors.

Interesting Points

  • Population Doubling Time: It is the time taken by any population to double itself at its current annual growth rate.
  • Population Data:
    • They are collected through Census operation held every 10 years in India.
    • The first population Census in India was conducted in 1872 but its first complete Census was conducted only in 1881.
  • Religion and Landscape:
    • Its formal expression is manifested through sacred structures, use of cemeteries and assemblages of plants and animals, groves of trees for religious purposes. 
    • These may range from inconspicuous village shrines to large Hindu temples, monumental masjids, or ornately designed cathedrals in large metropolitan cities.
  • Standard Census Definition:
    • Main Worker is a person who works for at least 183 days (or six months) in a year.
  • Marginal Worker is a person who works for less than 183 days (or six months) in a year.

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