A Brief Outline and Macro-dimensions of Population in Himachal Pradesh vis-à-vis other States in the Region

The history of human settlement in Himachal Pradesh goes back to the Palaeolithic period of which stone tools and flakes have been discovered in the valleys of the Satluj and Beas rivers and also in the foothill zone of the Shivalik hills. Numerous tribes settled in different parts of the region. The recorded history begins with effect from the Maurya period, i.e. 4th Century B.C. when this part of India was an outlier of Chandragupta’s kingdom. Throughout its history, the present territory of Himachal Pradesh remained segmented into a number of principalities, usually under the hegemony of an empire centered at Delhi. The area has also been a refuge for several freedom-loving population groups/castes, particularly Rajputs and Brahmins who refused to live under the imperial authority centered at Delhi.

They settled in specific parts of this region, which took the form of small/tiny states under the chiefdom of Rajput princes. The colonial empire brought them under the hegemony of the British Crown in 1859. They continued enjoying a degree of autonomy but were essentially in the nature of feudatory states. On the eve of Independence of India, half of the present territory of Himachal Pradesh was divided into 30 princely states and the other half was a part of the Punjab province of the British Empire. Himachal Pradesh acquired its present disposition in phases over time after independence.

Himachal is now recognized one of the most dynamic hill States of India. It scores significantly high on indicators of human development. Its resources of forests, fruits, minerals, health resorts, and hydel power hold the promise of great progress. Natural assets for tourism in the State are ideal. It has its own rich culture, physiography suited to almost all types of crops and fruits, and an independent administrative identity. Its notable accomplishments have been in literacy, health, diversified agriculture, horticulture, roads, forests, hydel power generation and tourism. Its vast potential for hydel power generation, because of its locational advantage, has attracted the attention of the entire nation, as a major resource awaiting full exploitation. Its physical diversity, its climate and its peaceful environment can derive high economic value from the development of the tourism industry.

Himachal Pradesh with an area of 55,673 square kilometres is one of the smaller States of India. It ranked 17th among the States and Union Territories in terms of area, which is one-sixth as compared to the largest State of India, i.e., Rajasthan. With a population of 60.8 lakh according to the 2001 census, Himachal Pradesh ranked 21st among the States and Union Territories. That the population of the most populous State, Uttar Pradesh, was 27 times the population of Himachal Pradesh, is an indicator of the smallness of its population size.

The State accounted for 1.7 per cent of the total area of the country and 0.59 per cent of the total population in 2001. With a density of 109 persons per sq. km., it ranked 28th among the States and Union Territories which was much below the all-India average of 324 persons per sq. km. The urban population constituted 9.79 per cent of the total population of the State, the lowest among all States and Union Territories.

Historically, Himachal Pradesh has not only experienced different stages of social transformation, but has also seen many changes in its size and administrative structure. Comprising 30 princely States, it came into existence as a Chief Commissioner’s Province in 1948, and graduated through a number of stages of administrative transformation to a full-fledged State of the Indian Union in 1971. To start with, it consisted of four districts – Chamba, Mahasu, Mandi and Sirmaur.

The changes in size and the administrative structure that the State has gone through between 1948 and 1971 have influenced the level and pace of its development. Himachal inherited a primitive economic system from its pre-independence governance structure, and an inadequate institutional framework, which constituted a weak base for socio-economic development. Thus, at the initial stages, the State was at a disadvantage in relation to the rest of the country in pursuing the process of development. In this context, the institutional task of setting up an integrated administration, transforming the pre-independence system into a modern democratic one, necessitating the abolition of all old practices and laws, and bringing in the new relevant sets of practices and laws was an enormous task.

The merger of the princely State of Bilaspur in 1954 enlarged the geographical area of Himachal Pradesh and increased the number of its districts to five. In 1960, a new district of Kinnaur was carved out of Mahasu district.

The States reorganization of 1966 transferred the districts of Kangra, Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti and parts of Ambala, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur districts to Himachal Pradesh, adding three more districts, namely, Kangra, Kullu, and Lahaul-Spiti. These areas were under the direct administration of the British Government before independence and were far behind the other progressive regions of Punjab and generally lagged in the matter of economic development until their integration with Himachal Pradesh.

Prior to 1st November, 1966, Himachal Pradesh comprised of 6 districts namely Mahasu, Sirmaur, Bilaspur, Mandi, Kinnaur and Chamba. The re-organization of Punjab in 1966 led to enlargement of the territory of Himachal Pradesh by transfer of territory from Punjab to the then existing Union territory of Himachal Pradesh and the area and population of Himachal Pradesh nearly doubled as a result of the transfer of these territories.

As a result of the re-organization of Punjab in 1966, the territories transferred to Himachal Pradesh resulted in increasing the geographical area of the State of Himachal Pradesh from 28,192 square kilometres to 55,673 square kilometres. Thus the transferred territories accounted for 49.6 per cent of the area of the present State of Himachal Pradesh. As regards population, 1961 census population of the then territories of Himachal Pradesh was 13.51 lakh and the population from the transferred territories was 14.61 lakh, adding to a total population of 28.12 lakh for the entire territory of the present Himachal Pradesh according to 1961 census. In this manner the population from the transferred territories was 51.96 per cent of the total population. The 1971 census took into account the full existing territory of Himachal Pradesh and the population recorded was 34.60 lakh.

On 25th January 1971, Himachal Pradesh becomes a full-fledged State. Una and Hamirpur districts were carved out of Kangra district and Mahasu district was reorganized into Shimla and Solan districts on September 1, 1972. “Chamba Lahaul” part of Lahaul sub-division was merged into Pangi sub division of Chamba district. From here onwards, the State has had twelve districts and no changes have taken place in the geographical boundaries of the districts.

Now that the provisional population totals for the 2011 Census in terms of macro-aggregates for the States have been released by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, it would be of interest to look at some core aggregate data for the State as a whole at this stage. The presently available data will let us have a look at the inter-state comparisons on total population, gender distribution and literacy aspects.

Between 1971 and 2011, the population size of Himachal Pradesh has increases from 34.60 lakh to 68.57 lakh, nearly doubling the pressure on land due to human habitation. The past decade has seen the decadal population growth in the State to fall to 12.81 per cent and an average annual exponential growth rate of 1.21 per cent. There are eight territories, namely Nagaland, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim where the population growth during 2001-2011 has been lower than Himachal Pradesh. In fact, Nagaland is the only State in India which has had a decline of total population in 2011 as compared to 2001, of the order of 0.47 per cent.

Let us take a regional view of population changes in the 2001-11 decade. The data for the neighbouring States and union territories is presented in the following table:-




State/UT Per cent Growth Rate for Per cent Share to all-India population
1991-2001 2001-2011 2001 census 2011 census
1 J and K 29.4 23.7 0.99 1.04
2 H P 17.5 12.8 0.59 0.57
3 Punjab 20.6 13.7 2.37 2.29
4 Chandigarh 40.3 17.1 0.09 0.09
5 Uttarakhand 20.4 19.2 0.83 0.84
6 Haryana 28.4 19.9 2.06 2.09
7 NCT of Delhi 47.0 21.0 1.35 1.38
8 All-India 21.5 17.6 100.0 100.0

There has been a deceleration in the rate of population growth in all the States in the northern region. However, the rate has been lower than the national average Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Chandigarh. The fall in the decadal growth rate has been highest for NCT of Delhi followed by Chandigarh. The population of Uttarakhand has, more or less, continued to grow at a simple rate of around 2 per cent in the 2001-11 decade as was the case for 1991-2001 decade.

With the exception of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, the per cent share of the population of various territories listed out in the table has increased in 2011 as compared to 2001. The implication of this transition is that these two States may become losers in all such central devolution designs where the population has a certain weight. In this case, the pro-activity of a State for population control may become a disability. The devolution formulae and designs shall be required to incentivize such States which do well in population control and slap dis-incentives where the population growth continues unabated at a rate higher than the national average. There is another aspect which will compound the adverse impact for these two States and that is the high per capita income these States have. Thus better development and better population management become negativities in the devolution design of resources from Centre to States. The story of differential population growth gets highlighted by the fact that the population of Uttar Pradesh was 27 times that of Himachal Pradesh by the 2001 census but it has grown to over 29 times by the 2011 census.

Let us now come to the gender data which is depicted in the table below:-

Sr. No.



State/UT Females per thousand males (Total) Females per thousand males (0-6 years age)
2001 census 2011 census 2001 census 2011 census
1 J and K 892 883 941 859
2 H P 968 974 896 906
3 Punjab 876 893 798 846
4 Chandigarh 777 818 845 867
5 Uttarakhand 962 963 908 886
6 Haryana 861 877 845 867
7 NCT of Delhi 821 866 868 866
8 All-India 933 940 927 914

As has happened at the all-India level, the inter-census period of 2001-11 has witnessed an improvement in the overall sex ratio in most of the States with the exception of only five entities (three States of Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar and Gujarat; and the union territories of Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli). In the northern region, all other territories witnessed a significant increase in the overall sex ratio whereas in the case of Uttarakhand it increased nominally from 962 to 963. Himachal Pradesh has the highest sex ratio of 974 females per thousand males.

The critical aspect of sex ratio change is demonstrated by the movement of the numbers in the case of 0-6 years age group which generally captures the new child births for the majority period of the decade. Here, a study of the data for all the States and Union territories presents a reverse trend. The ratio has shown improvement only in the case of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Mizoram, Haryana, Chandigarh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and in all other States it has shown a decline. This is a bothering trend. Does it mean that all the noise about prevention of female foeticide in the country and the hype by the governmental and non-governmental agencies that significant turnaround is on the horizon has been misplaced and a lot needs to be done in this direction. At an overall level, we need to internalize the hard fact that this ratio has been on the decline since 1961 for the country as a whole and has come down from 976 in 1961 to 964 in 1971, 962 in 1981, 945 in 1991, 927 in 2001 and 914 in 2011. These numbers over the 50 year period are indicative of the preference for the male child because genetics and the law of large numbers dictate that the number should be around 1000. This is area for serious introspection and policy interventions not only to stem the rot but also correct the situation.

Let us now look at the literacy scenario in the region. The data in this behalf are depicted in the sub-joined table:-




State/UT Total Literacy Gender gap in literacy
2001 census 2011 census 2001 census 2011 census
1 J and K 55.52 68.74 23.60 20.25
2 H P 76.48 83.78 17.93 14.23
3 Punjab 69.65 76.68 11.87 10.14
4 Chandigarh 81.94 86.43 9.67 9.16
5 Uttarakhand 71.62 79.63 23.65 17.63
6 Haryana 67.91 76.64 22.76 18.61
7 NCT of Delhi 81.67 86.34 12.62 10.10
8 All-India 64.83 74.04 21.59 16.68

For the overall literacy, the all-India figure increased by about 10 percentage points. The State of Jammu and Kashmir has achieved a higher improvement of over 13 percentage points whereas all other States and union territories recorded a comparatively lower improvement. Himachal Pradesh leads the States and also closes on the union territories of Chandigarh and NCT of Delhi. Kerala leads in literacy at 93.91 per cent and other States/UT’s having a literacy percentage higher than Himachal Pradesh are Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Tripura, Goa, Daman and Diu, Puducherry, Chandigarh, NCT of Delhi and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Himachal Pradesh ranks 11th in the overall literacy, 9th in the male literacy and 12th in the female literacy. Therefore, there is a need for a greater effort in the field of female literacy in Himachal Pradesh. The data on the gender gap also demonstrates this aspect. Himachal Pradesh still has a gender gap of 14.23 per cent which is worse than Chandigarh, NCT of Delhi and Punjab. For all the States and union territories of the northern region, the improvement in the gender gap in literacy has been lower than the all-India average except Uttarakhand where it was more than the all-India average.

For appropriate interventions, the disaggregated district-wise data will need to be looked into. Since the State is on the threshold of formulating the next five year plan, it should make efforts to well inform the planning process on the few aspects which have been flagged for attention.

* D.K.Sharma is a former Principal Adviser and Secretary (Planning) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh.

1. Provisional Population Totals, Census of India, 2011, released by the Registrar General of India.
2. State Development Report for Himachal Pradesh, Planning Commission, Government of India.

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