NEW DELHI — India added more than 181 million people to its swelling population in the past decade, growing to more than 1.21 billion people, according to official census data released Thursday.
“We are now over 17 percent of the world population, and India is 2.4 percent of the world’s surface area,” said C. Chandramouli, India’s census commissioner. “We have added the population of Brazil to India’s numbers this time.”
The total population grew from 1.03 billion people in 2001 to 1.21 billion this year, or an increase of 17 percent, according to the preliminary calculations of the massive census exercise that ended in February.
The population of India — the world’s second most populous nation after China — now almost equals the combined populations of the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan.
But the census’s most alarming finding is the continuing preference for sons over daughters in Indian society. In the past decade, the ratio of girls to boys for children age 6 and younger has plunged to 914 girls per 1,000 boys. The ratio was 927 girls to 1,000 boys in the previous census.
“This is a matter of grave concern. This is the lowest ever in the demographic history of the country,” Chandramouli said. “The tendency has worsened.”
In many parts of India, female fetuses are aborted or female infants killed soon after birth by families that look upon daughters as a financial burden. The trend is worse in the states where people are prosperous and educated, including the northern state of Punjab and the western state of Gujarat.
The trend has continued despite the government forbidding the use of ultrasound tests to reveal the gender of a fetus to its family.
“Whatever policy measures we have been following in the last 40 years will need a complete review now. They have not been effective,” said India’s home secretary, G.K. Pillai.
The overall ratio of females to males in India has improved, with 940 women per 1,000 men now, compared with 933 females per 1,000 males a decade ago. But the national capital region of Delhi has recorded a much lower gender ratio, with 866 females per 1,000 males.
The literacy rate also has gone up. Almost 74 percent of Indians are literate, a jump from 64 percent in 2001. The growth in the number of females who are literate has outpaced that of males.
Overall, India’s population grew during the past decade at a rate of more than 17 percent. This rate was slower than the 21 percent growth recorded between 1991 and 2001, or the 23 percent growth rate for the census before that. It represents the sharpest decline in the rate of growth since India’s independence in 1947.
But the absolute population numbers nevertheless continue to rise — an ongoing cause of concern for many analysts.
The population growth rate also varies wildly between states — another cause for worry, experts say.
“Our federal government sends funds to the states according to their population. This means that the states that have worked harder to reduce their population growth get less money from New Delhi,” said Devendra Kothari, a consultant to Management Institute of Population and Development. “The states with lesser population send fewer members to the Indian parliament. Their financial and political clout will go down.”
Officials said that final census numbers would be released over the next year.