Because of 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 continue to be, the beginning of a New Year is an opportune time to take a long-term view of what India will be like 10 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 the World Bank’s 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 continue to be the third most populated country in this decade. There were 1.21 billion people in India according to the 2011 census and there is still uncertainty about whether or not the 2021 census will be completed on time. China’s population will hit a peak of 1.425 billion in 2030 and start declining after that. Most countries experience this phenomenon as 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 published by The Lancet.
2. This is the last decade to make the best use of demographic dividend in India
Contrary to what is often believed, a large population need not be an economic liability for nations. Countries with a high share of the working-age population – this is not a permanent phenomenon – also have more earning hands. If one takes 20-59 year olds as working-age population, its share in India’s total population will almost peak by the end of this decade. India’s working-age group population is projected to increase from 55.8% this year to 58.8% by 2031. This equals a growth of nearly 97 million people in the workforce, which means the country needs to create employment opportunities for a large number of people. The population of elderly is also projected to increase by 2 million, creating the need for social security measures to support the rising elderly population. To be sure, the growth in the working-age group population will not be the same across states and Union territories. States like Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are projected to record the highest rise in working-age group population this decade (it will increase by 23% in these three states combined). On the contrary, the three southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are projected to record the lowest growth in this population (2.5% combined). This mismatch will mean that northern states will see a very high share of people looking for jobs, compared to those in the south, which may lead to a an increase in north-to-south migration for work.
3. Structure of political representation could veer away from federalism
The uneven growth in population in the northern and southern states will also have political consequences. The current state-wise distribution of parliamentary seats is based on the 1971 census. With the growing gap in the state-wise population, this distribution puts more voters per seat in some states than others. For example, if the latest (2020) electoral roll data is used, Tamil Nadu has 1.56 million voters per Lok Sabha member. This number is 1.8 million for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There is a constitutional freeze on the number of Lok Sabha seats from each state up to 2026. The next delimitation may not be conducted until the 2031 Census is completed. This means that the state-wise asymmetry in population will continue to increase. To be sure, there is another view to this story as well, which believes that a simple redistribution of seats by current population levels will penalise the states that have done well to bring down their population growth. Either way, the resolution will put India’s federal structure through a big test.
4. Consequences of climate crisis will make their presence felt
India’s first climate change assessment by the ministry of earth sciences (MoES), published in 2020. said that the climate change seen in the country since the middle of the 20th century is expected to continue in the future. For example, average temperature has risen by around 0.7 degree Celsius during 1901-2018, according to the assessment. By the end of the 21st century (2070-2099), this is expected to rise by around 4.4 degrees Celsius compared to the recent past (1976-2005). The frequency of summer (April-June) heat waves is also projected to increase 3-4 times. While monsoon precipitation (rainfall) has declined, there are more frequent dry spells and more intense wet spells, according to the report. According to a paper published by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, last year (https://bit.ly/34WQLJ5) while rainfall of higher intensity will increase all over India, the degree of increase will be more in the south Indian region compared to north and central India by the end 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 affect living standards adversely – by 2030.
5. How well will India’s 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) were to contract by 7.5% (the Reserve Bank of India estimate), 2010-11 to 2020-21 will see the lowest decadal growth in India’s GDP since the 1980s. There are divergent views on the prospects of the Indian economy going forward. The government and a section of economists see a rapid revival in economic activity. Others see a long-term loss of momentum. For example, Oxford economists expect potential growth for Indian economy at 4.5% over the next five years (till 2025) which is lower than 6.5% projected before the viral outbreak. Whether or not the Indian economy can rediscover its mojo will determine how the country deals with the challenges and opportunities presented by a high share of the working-age population.