India accounts for a meagre 2.4 per cent of the world surface area of 135.79 million square kms yet it supports and sustains a whopping 16.7 per cent of the world population. In 1950, China with 22 percent share of the world population led the scene followed by India, which had a share of 14.2 per cent. It is now estimated that by 2050, India will most likely overtake China to become the most populous country on the earth with 17.2 per cent population living here.

The population of India, which at the turn of the twentieth century, was only around 238.4 million increased by more than four times in a period of hundred years to reach 1027 million at the dawn of the twenty-first century. India’s population growth during the twentieth century can be classified into four distinct phases as follows:

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1901-1921: Stagnant population

1921-1951: Steady growth

1951-1981: Rapid high growth

1981-2001: High growth with definite signs of slowing down

The population of India has increased by 180.6 million during the decade 1991-2001. The absolute addition to the population during the decade 1991- 2001 is more than the estimated population of Brazil, the fifth most populous country in the world. Although, the net addition in population during each decade has increased consistently, the change in net addition has shown a steady declining trend over the decades starting from 1961. While 27.9 million more people were added between the decades 1981-1991 than between 1971- 1981, this number declined to 17.6 million for the decades between 1981 -1991 and 1991-2001.

The percentage decadal growth during 1991-2001 has registered the I sharpest decline since Independence. It has declined from 23.86 per cent for me 1981-1991 to 21.34 per cent for the period 1991-2001, a decrease of 2.52 percentage points. The average exponential growth rate for the corresponding period declined from 2.14 per cent per annum to 1.93 per cent per annum.

Uttar Pradesh is by far the most populous state in the country with more than 166 million people living there, which is more than the population of Pakistan, the sixth most populous country in the world. The combined population of Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal is greater than the population of j Brazil. Nineteen states now have a population of over ten million. On the other j extreme, there are eight states and union territories in the country that are yet to reach the one million mark. Almost half of the country’s population lives in I five States, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

Of the 836,650,839 population recorded for the country in the Census of India, 1991 as many as 686,569,914 persons were aged seven years and above. Out of these 358,402,626 were literates and 328,167,288 illiterates. In the Census of India, 2001, out of the total population of 1, 014,651,65 8 the number of persons aged seven years and above is 858,219,695. Out of these 562,010,743 are literates and 296,208,952 illiterates. There has been an increase of 171,649,781 persons ‘ in the age group seven years and above during 1991 -2001, while 203,608,117 additional persons have become literate during the decade. The significant milestone reached in Census of India, 2001, is that the total number of illiterates has come down from 328,167,288 in 1991 to 296,208,952.

Out of the 203,608,117 added to the literate population during 1991-2001, 107,986,561 were males and 95,621,556 were females. On the other hand, during this period the contribution to the total decrease of 31, 958,336 among illiterates, is dominated by males (21,445,145) as compared to the females (10,513,191).

It has been estimated that around the year 2000, the world had 986 females against 1000 males. It is interesting to note that the sex ratio in U.S.A., Indonesia, the Russian Federation and Japan has always remained above unity for the last half a century. In U.S.A., it has shown an improvement from 1002 to 1029 in the last fifty years. Bangladesh has shown a continuous improvement in its sex ratio to reach from 880 in 1950 to 953 in 2000. Pakistan and China have also shown an improvement. Thus among the major nations of the world, India is the only exception.

According to the Census of India, 2001, the sex ratio stands at 933 for the country as a whole. This is an improvement from the 1991 Census, which had recorded 927 females for every 1000 males.

The sex ratio in the country had always remained unfavorable to females, the sex ratio at the beginning of the twentieth century was 972 and the real showed continuous decline until 1941. In 1951 there was a marginal increase of one point, but thereafter it again dropped for two consecutive decades to reach 930 in 1971. In fact between 1961-71, the country saw the sharpest decline of 11 points in the sex ratio. Thereafter, it has fluctuated marginally around 930 in successive censuses.

One of the important indices of population concentration is the density of population. It is defined as the number of persons per square kilometre. The population density of India in 2001 was 324 persons per square kilometre, which means that now 57 more people live in a square kilometre area in the country than the number that lived a decade ago.

At the beginning of the twentieth century i.e. in 1901 the density of India was as low as 77 and this steadily increased from one decade to another to reach 324 in 2001. The persons living per sq. km. has increased by 21.3 per cent in 2001 as compared to 1991.

The population density within the country widely varies across the States and Union territories. It varies from 13 persons per sq. km. in Arunachal Pradesh to 9294 persons per sq. km. in Delhi. Tourna between and 2001 but huge variations in the rate of increase 1 in density major states, West Bengal is still the most ‘ thickly populated, where population density has gone up from 767 in 1991 to 904 in 2001. However, among major states, Bihar is now the second highest densely populated State pushing Kerala to the third spot in terms of ranking. Similarly, Punjab and Tamil Nadu have now interchanged their relative position of tenth and eleventh ranks respectively in 1991.