Fenced in: population growth rate

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By MEGHDEEP BHATTACHARYYA ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALAMGIR HOSSAIN
  • Published 6.04.11
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Calcutta, April 5: The rate of population growth in nine Bengal districts that share their borders with Bangladesh has come down in the past decade, a trend mainly attributed to an expansion in barbed-wire fencing and tighter vigil on illegal immigrants.

The provisional data released by the Directorate of Census Operations in Calcutta show a decline in the population growth rate in these districts (see chart) over figures of the last census, prompting the state authorities to claim success in containing illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

“The reduced growth rate of the population in districts such as Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur, Nadia and North 24-Parganas is the highlight of this census,” said a senior home department official. “This clearly indicates that illegal migration, a major headache for Bengal, has been checked substantially by fencing more border areas and stepping up vigil by the BSF,” he added.

State and district authorities attributed the drop primarily to the completion of fencing along most parts of the border. “The fence along the border has definitely helped in curbing illegal migration, thus bringing down the population growth rate in Nadia,” said Sanjay Bansal, the Nadia district magistrate. Since 2001, the district’s population growth rate has come down by 7.3 per cent. Eighty-eight per cent of the border in the district has been fenced.

India and Bangladesh share a 2,216.7km border, out of which 335km fall in riverine areas, which need no fencing. Of the remaining 1,881.7km, 1,360km has been fenced so far. Although the fencing began in 1986, over 60 per cent of the project was done in the past 14 years, sources in Writers’ Buildings said.

Illegal migration from the neighbouring country has been a major problem for Bengal since Independence. The problem amplified — and assumed social, economic and political dimensions — following the 1971 war leading to the formation of Bangladesh.

For four decades, crores of Bangladeshi nationals have crossed over to Bengal in search of a livelihood.

“In times of peace, illegal migration takes place because the poor from a less developed country want to move to a more developed one in search of better prospects,” said Arokia Sammy, a professor at the International Institute of Population Sciences (Mumbai).

Since the eighties, the Opposition has accused the Left Front government of aiding illegal migration to increase its vote bank.

Abhirup Sarkar, professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute (Calcutta), said the influx from Bangladesh had also decreased because that country’s economic growth was higher in comparison with Bengal.

“Opportunities have grown in Bangladesh, but they have vastly shrunk in our state over the past couple of decades. Bengal is not as lucrative as it used to be for Bangladeshi nationals. The resultant reduction in in-migration should also be accounted for,” Sarkar said.

Demographers said lower natural growth of population — decrease in birth rate — in Bangladesh was also a reason for the reduction in migration.

“Over the past two decades, Bangladesh has had a much lower rate of natural growth — barely 2 to 2.5 per cent,” said Sammy. “This has an immediate bearing on the population of Bangladesh and a cascading impact on the number of illegal migrants to Bengal.”

He said the reduction was far from enough. “The population growth rate for most districts (in Bengal) is around 15 per cent. In some, it is in excess of 20 per cent. There can be no comparison yet with developed nations, which register growth of 5 per cent or less,” he said.

The CPM leadership today congratulated the state administration for its “success” in bringing down the population growth rate in the nine districts.

“There has been a sustained campaign by the Opposition on how we supposedly endorse illegal migration and how the state does little to curb this problem. This census has proved them wrong,” said state secretariat member Rabin Deb.

The Trinamul Congress, however, said the reduction had “nothing” to do with the state government’s efforts to curb illegal migration. “Most people in the rural areas are now conscious of the need to have smaller families,” said a senior party leader.