The spatial spread of population in India is not uniform. There are very wide regional variations. Many factors are responsible for these variations. All such factors affecting the population distribution and density may broadly be grouped into two major categories.
They are (A) physical factors and (B) socio-economic factors.
Physical factors play a vital role in the density and distribution of population. Physical factors include landform, climate, soil, etc. Though there is a lot of improvement in technology but the patterns of population distribution all over the world continues to reflect the influence of varied physical factors.
It influences the distribution pattern of population. The most important attributes of landforms which determine population density and distribution are the altitude and slope. The most striking evidence of the influence of altitude and slope on population density and distribution have been observed between mountains and plains.
For example, take the case of most densely populated Indo-Ganga plains on the one hand and a highly mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh on the other. Other than this, factors like drainage, and water table have also been affecting population distribution.
It is one of the essential elements of the physical factors which influence the spatial distribution of population through temperature conditions and the amount of precipitation. Take the case of hot and dry deserts of Rajasthan and the cold and wet Eastern Himalayan region where very low temperature and heavy precipitations prevail. This is the reason for uneven distribution
and low density of population here. Almost even distribution and high density of population are found in plains of Kerala and West Bengal where rainfall is high. It is low in the regions of Rajasthan, and lee-ward sides of Western Ghats.
It is another factor which affects the density and distribution of population. One may be tempted to question the validity of the role of soil in the present day highly industrialised society. But even today about 75 percent of population in India lives in villages.
People in villages earn their livelihood from agriculture which depends upon the quality of soil. That is why alluvial region of northern plains and coastal and deltaic regions of India continue to support high densities of population. On the other hand, vast tracts of land in desert areas like Rajasthan, Rann of Kuchchh in Gujarat, Terai region in Uttarakhand have been suffering from problems like soil erosion and soil efflrresce which support only low density of population.
In any region, the density and distribution is influenced by more than one factor. Take for example North-Eastern region of India. Here several factors are responsible for low density of population. These factors are high rainfall, rough terrain, dense forests and poor quality of soil.
Like physical factors, socio-economic factors also play an equally important role in density and distribution of population. However, there may not be a perfect agreement upon the relative importance of these two determinants.
In certain places physical factors play a vital role whereas in some places socio-economic factors have a greater impact. It has generally been agreed that the role of socio-economic (non-physical) determinants increases. Various socio-economic factors which have impact upon the population are (i) socio-cultural and political factors (ii) exploitation of natural resources.
(i) Socio-Cultural and Political Factors
Mumbai-Pune industrial complex is a good example to show how social, cultural, historical and political factors collectively have contributed to its rapid growth of population and its density.
Less than 200 years ago, there were small insignificant islands of the Thana Creek on the western coast. The adventurous Portuguese seamen claimed these islands for their monarch. They in turn gifted these islands to the Royal Family of England by way of dowry. These couple of sleepy fishing village located on these islands could never guess that they would shortly turn into India’s largest population conglomeration.
East India Company of England set up a trading centre on these islands and later made it the capital city of Bombay Presidency. Enterprising trading and business communities of Parsis, Kuchchhis and Gujaratis played a leading role in setting textile mills, development of water power and laying roads and railways across the Western Ghats connecting it with its hinterland.
Unexpectedly, the Suez international navigation canal made Mumbai the nearest Indian port to Europe. Availability of educated youth from Mumbai and Pune and inexpensive and disciplined labour from Konkan also contributed to the rapid population growth. The discovery of Bombay High oil and natural gas fields gave boost to its petro-chemical industry. Today, Mumbai is known as commercial capital of India backed by international and domestic airports, major sea ports and national road and rail terminals. Similar is the case with other cities like Kolkata and Chennai which were established by the colonial rulers.
(ii) Availability of Natural Resources
The Chhotanagpur Plateau region has all along been a rocky and rugged terrains. This rainy and forested region has been a home of several tribes and was one of the sparsely populated parts of the country. However, a string of industrial towns and centres have sprung up over the past century soon after rich minerals such as iron-ore, manganese, limestone, coal, etc. were found in unusual abundance and close to one another.
The rich coal and iron fields have attracted heavy industries particularly iron and steel, heavy engineering, metallurgy and transport equipment industries. The region has also important super-power thermal stations from where power is supplied to far off areas. After liberalisation, many multi-nationals as well as national companies have been establishing their industries in large numbers.