By Omkar Goswami
For long, I have been interested in the disparities between the districts and states that constitute India. For 2001 and 2011, some of the key differences could be culled out from two successive nation-wide censuses, which enumerated the extent to which regions, states and districts differed across the country, and showed how the central and eastern part of India remained significantly worse off economically versus the north, the west and the south. Unfortunately, thanks to Covid-19, we have not conducted the decennial census scheduled for 2021. We are still unaware when this will be carried out. (Parenthetically, this is the first time since 1881 that the census has not been conducted on schedule.)
In its absence, we have had two National Family Health Surveys (NFHS): the NFHS-4 (2015-16), which covered 601,509 households, and NFHS-5 (2019-21), with a sample of 636,699 households. These can’t be substitutes for the census data. However, the sample sizes are large enough and everything suggests that these are reasonable proxies for the population. In any event, with neither the 2021 census nor a large national sample survey on household consumer expenditure since 2011-12, these are what we have.
Also Read: Linking rural producers with value chains
In this two-part series, I shall be asking two questions. First, in 2019-21, which states were better or worse off than the all-India average? And second, is there a distinct spatial anomaly across India? In the first part, we will discuss seven important indicators under three broad themes-female infanticide, infant and under-5 mortality, and literacy.
It is best to begin with childbirth. What has been the sex ratio at birth (SRB), measured in terms of girls per 1,000 boys, and what does this say about female foeticide? Internationally, the natural sex ratio at birth lies between 1.07-1.03 males per female, or between 935 and 971 girls per 1,000 boys. Both China and India perform woefully on this score—China’s SRB for 2011 was 855 girls per 1,000 boys; and India’s was 910, as per the 2011 census.
First, the good news. Versus 910 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011, the NFHS-5 sample survey shows that India’s SRB has improved to 929 for 2019-21. Moreover, the data suggests that some states have made serious efforts to improve their SRBs-especially Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, which had SRBs that were significantly worse than that of India’s in 2011. Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends.
In census 2011, 10 states had SRBs that were lower than India’s. These were: Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
In 2019-21, 13 states had worse SRBs than India’s. Particularly troublesome is that other than the north Indian perennials such as Punjab, Chandigarh, Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan, there are several other states where the SRBs were better than India’s in 2011 but have worsened in 2019-21. Among these are Jharkhand, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Kerala, Nagaland and Mizoram.
If the NFHS-5 data are correct, we are seeing a worrisome trend-that of many newly nasty states, which have taken to foetal sex-determination testing and quiet abortions. Consider Kerala, the darling of all centre- and left-wing social scientists—here, the SRB has dropped by almost 3% from 978 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011 Census to 951 in 2019-21. That’s not all. In that cohort are Tamil Nadu (939 to 878); Goa (939 to 838); Himachal Pradesh (912 to 875); Jharkhand (930 to 899); Odisha (939 to 894); Mizoram (988 to 969); and Nagaland (956 to 945).
This is a real concern. Households are getting better off on average. The top 30% are earning appreciably more disposable income than before. There is far greater urbanisation, and female foeticide in urban India is significantly higher than in the rural tracts. The boy child remains important. And the total fertility rate is reducing, so most women now want to have lesser children. We are starting to show the Chinese syndrome: smaller families wanting lesser children, but definitely at least one boy child. The cost of illegally aborting a girl foetus is trivial compared to the future cash outflows of bringing up a girl child, including dowry.
Infant- and under-5 mortality
The good news is that the infant mortality rate for India has fallen from 47 per 1,000 live births in 2011 to 35.2 in 2019-21. So too has under-5 mortality-from 55 per 1,000 live births in 2011 as per the World Bank’s estimates to 41.9 in 2019-21 in NFHS-5. Moreover, as expected, states with higher per capita income tend to have lower mortality rates. However, the mortality rate for some states have remained persistently above the national averages. Regarding infant mortality, the serious laggards are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand. These states also feature in under-5 mortality, in addition to Uttarakhand and Tripura.
I examined four indicators of literacy in NFHS-5.
Women who are literate, 2019-21: Literacy implies the ability to write one’s name. The all-India average was 71.5%. Nine states were worse than India. These were Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.
Men who are literate: The all-India average was 84.4%. Ten states were worse than that, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.
Females (6+) who ever attended school: The national average was 71.8%. Eleven states were worse off: Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.
Women with 10 or more years of schooling: The average for India was 41%. Fourteen states were worse off. These were Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.
In the concluding part, I will examine two more themes-marital & fertility indicators and economic well-being-and assess the performance of the states by reading together their showing under the the five themes.
(First of a two-part series)
The author is Chairman, CERG Advisory