The theory of numbers | Imagining India, 10 years from now
Due to the massive disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, most of 2020 was spent tracking very short-term statistics; from daily tests and new cases to monthly, even weekly, indicators of economic activity. Important as they were and still are, the beginning of a new year is an opportune time to take a long-term vision of what India will look like ten years from now. Here are five charts that can help give us an idea.
1. India will be the most populous country in the world.
According to World Bank projections, India will overtake China to become the most populous country in 2023, when its population will reach 1.42 billion. The United States will remain the third most populous country this decade. According to the 2011 census, there were 1.21 billion people in India and there is still uncertainty as to whether the 2021 census will be completed on time or not. China’s population will reach a peak of 1.425 million in 2030 and will begin to decline after that. Most countries experience this phenomenon when fertility rates fall below replacement levels. It will take at least until 2048 for India’s population to start declining after peaking at around 1.6 billion, according to estimates released by The Lancet.
2. This is the last decade to make the most of the demographic dividend in India.
Contrary to what is often believed, a large population does not have to be an economic burden on nations. Countries with a high proportion of the working-age population (this is not a permanent phenomenon) also have more profitable hands. If people between the ages of 20 and 59 are taken as the working-age population, their share in India’s total population will almost reach its peak by the end of this decade. The population of the Indian working age group is projected to increase from 55.8% this year to 58.8% by 2031. This equates to a growth of almost 97 million people in the workforce, which means that the country needs to create job opportunities for large numbers of people. The elderly population is also projected to increase by 2 million, creating the need for social security measures to support the growing elderly population. Certainly, the population growth of the working age group will not be the same in all states and territories of the Union. States such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are expected to see the largest increase in the working-age population in this decade (it will increase by 23% in these three states combined). In contrast, the three southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are expected to record the lowest growth in this population (2.5% combined). This mismatch will mean that northern states will see a very high proportion of job seekers, compared to southern states, which can lead to increased north-south migration for work.
3. The structure of political representation could deviate from federalism
Uneven population growth in the northern and southern states will also have political consequences. The current state distribution of parliamentary seats is based on the 1971 census. With the growing gap in population at the state level, this distribution places more voters per seat in some states than others. For example, using the most recent electoral roll data (2020), Tamil Nadu has 1.56 million voters per member of Lok Sabha. This number is 1.8 million for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There is a constitutional freeze on the number of Lok Sabha seats in each state until 2026. The next delineation may not take place until the 2031 census is completed. This means that state asymmetry in population will continue to increase. . To be sure, there is another view of this story as well, which believes that a simple redistribution of seats by current population levels will penalize states that have done well to reduce their population growth. Either way, the resolution will put India’s federal structure to the test.
4. The consequences of the climate crisis will make their presence felt
India’s first climate change assessment by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), released in 2020, said that climate change observed in the country since the mid-20th century is expected to continue into the future. For example, the average temperature increased by about 0.7 degrees Celsius during 1901-2018, according to the assessment. By the end of the 21st century (2070-2099), it is expected to rise about 4.4 degrees Celsius compared to the recent past (1976-2005). The frequency of summer heat waves (April-June) is also projected to increase 3-4 times. While monsoon precipitation (rain) has decreased, there are more frequent dry spells and more intense wet spells, according to the report. According to an article published by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, last year (https://bit.ly/34WQLJ5) while the higher intensity rains will increase across India, the degree of increase will be greater in the southern region of India compared to north and central India at the turn of the century. According to a 2018 World Bank report, a large part of South Asia would be climate hotspots, where changes in temperature and rainfall negatively affect living standards, by 2030.
5. How well will the Indian economy grow?
Thanks to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Indian economy will witness its first contraction in 41 years in 2020-21. If the 2020-21 gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 7.5% (the Reserve Bank of India estimate), 2010-11 to 2020-21 would see the lowest 10-year GDP growth of India since the 1980s. There are divergent views on the prospects for the Indian economy in the future. The government and a section of economists see a rapid resurgence in economic activity. Others see a long-term loss of momentum. For example, Oxford economists expect potential growth for the Indian economy of 4.5% over the next five years (through 2025), which is less than the 6.5% projected before the viral outbreak. Whether or not the Indian economy can rediscover its mojo will determine how the country meets the challenges and opportunities presented by a high proportion of the working age population.