Census Figures Reveal a Vastly Rural India

Despite much urbanization, the majority of the country's growing population is living in rural areas and with few resources.

Image
Reuters

New figures are out from the 2011 Census of India, which offers a more detailed picture of exactly how population growth is playing out in the world's second most populous country.

As of March 1, 2011, India's population is 1.21 billion, up from 1.02 billion in 2001 – an increase of about 181 million people. As the census notes [PDF], that's like adding nearly a Brazil's worth of people to the country in just 10 years. [An interesting side note: Brazil's population of 190 million is certainly a close comparison to India's growth, but a more appropriate, if less politically correct, comparison to draw would have been with the 184 million people of Pakistan.]

A point that is striking is that while India accounts for a meager 2.4 percent of the world surface area of 135.79 million square kms, it supports and sustains a whopping 17.5 percent of the world population. In contrast, the USA accounts for 7.2 percent of the surface area with only 4.5 percent of the world population. As such, among the ten most populous countries of the world, only Bangladesh has a higher population density compared to India.

In discussions of major population growth and change, India tends to get grouped in with China, the most populous nation in the world. (The new census estimates that India will surpass China as the world's most populous country by 2030.) But while China's population recently crossed the threshold to become majority urban, India's population remains vastly rural. Only 31.1 percent of the population lives in an urban setting. That's a total of about 377 million, still more than the 313 million people in the U.S. both urban and rural.

This most recent release of figures, "Houses, Household Amenities and Assets," covers specific details of India's households – from sanitary facilities to construction materials to transportation modes.

A few facts of note collected from the 246.7 million households counted:

  • 46.5 percent have mud floors
  • 39.4 percent are one-room households
  • 31.5 percent house 6 or more people
  • 43.5 percent of households have tap water (though 26.5 percent of those are receiving water from untreated sources)
  • 33.5 percent of households get their water from handpumps
  • 67.2 percent of households have electric lighting (in urban households, that rate is 92.7 percent)
  • 31.4 percent rely on kerosene for lighting
  • 53.1 percent of households have no latrine facilities. 49.8 percent of households are left with no option but to urinate and defecate in the open
  • 4.7 percent of households have a "car/jeep/van"
  • 44.8 percent have a bicycle

While India's population will continue to grow, its transition to an urban country still has many speedbumps. Water and sanitation facilities stick out as major holes to be filled. As we noted recently, India's cities are expected to add more than 900 million people to their populations between now and 2050. It will need to invest heavily in infrastructure to make sure it will have safe and sanitary places to house this rising urban class.

Photo credit: Adnan Abidi / Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.