A RECENT scholarly estimation on fertility rates at the district level in India shows that fertility has gone below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman in as many as 12 States and Union Territories, corresponding to 174 out of 621 districts, or 28 per cent of all Indian districts.
A vast majority of districts with fertility levels below the replacement level of 2.1 are in the five States in the south, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in the north-west, West Bengal, Odisha and Tripura in the east, Maharashtra, Goa and less than 10 per cent of Gujarat in the west.
Kerala (Total Fertility Rate 1.58) and also Tamil Nadu and Goa have recorded fertility levels close to 1.5 children. There are 24 districts in India where fertility averages below 1.5 children per woman, according to Irudaya Rajan of the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, and Christophe Z. Guilmoto of the Centre for Population and Development, Paris, who did the estimation on the basis of 2011 Census data.
Their paper on Fertility at District Level in India: Lessons from the 2011 Census shows that the lowest fertility level in India (of 1.2) is estimated in Kolkata. Similar unusually low fertility levels have been estimated from districts in other parts as well. They include cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Coimbatore; Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram and typically rural districts such as Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Alappuzha and Kottayam in Kerala; Chikmagalur and Hassan in Karnataka; and Kanyakumari and Namakkal in Tamil Nadu.
Such a situation of lowest-low fertility of levels dropping below 1.3 children per woman in these Indian districts has been observed earlier in developed countries of East Asia such as China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, and of Europe such as Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy and Spain.
Bihar and Meghalaya are the only States where average fertility still stands at above four children per woman. In four isolated districts of Meghalaya, estimated fertility levels are even higher than five children per woman.
There are 72 districts scattered across many other regions of India with fertility estimates above four, the study has found. Apart from Bihar and the north-eastern States, many such high-fertility districts are located in western Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. We can see in this region a high-fertility area of north-central India, extending from the Indo-Gangetic plains to drier areas of the Deccan plateau, Irudaya Rajan said at a recent seminar on emerging fertility patterns, held at the CDS.
The largest number of States and districts lie between these two extremes, with fertility ranging from replacement level to four children per woman.
These are also the areas where fertility decline has proceeded at a faster pace in the past decade. Unlike Bihar, several Empowered Action Group States such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had the fastest speed of fertility decline during the past decade.
Rajan said that in this intermediate category, on one side are districts where women will very soon have, or already have in 2012, less than 2.1 children on an average, considering the speed of their recent fertility decline. (Among these are several advanced districts in the otherwise lagging States such as Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.)
On the other side, there are a large number of districts with higher-than-average fertility levels and where below-replacement levels are unlikely to be attained within the next 10 years in spite of the real progress achieved during the past decade.R. Krishnakumar
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