“Ever-rising population is a matter of concern and the small section of society which keeps their families small deserves respect. What they are doing is an act of patriotism,” PM Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day address. Overpopulation has been a major issue for India and with the Prime Minister’s address, the question is in focus again: Are we on track in resolving the issue? What are the challenges that we are facing presently and might face in the future and are we prepared to tackle them?
One of the main highlights of the Prime Minister’s speech at the 72nd Independence Day was the growing concern over the population explosion India has been facing. “There is one issue I want to highlight today: population explosion. We need to think; could we do justice to the aspirations of our children in future? There is a need to have greater discussion and awareness on population explosion,” PM Modi said. In essence, this has been an issue that Independent India has been constantly dealing with and with the rate at which the population continues to grow India would soon be the most populous country of the world, overtaking China by 2027, according to a report published by the United Nations.
India has failed in putting in its population growth in check thus it has resulted in abject poverty, with government welfare programs proving to be insufficient in catering to millions of people earning less than `200 per day.
“There are several factors for the high population. We have a large percentage of the population in the reproductive age group. Only 54 per cent of couples use contraceptives,” said Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to CNN.
Is population growth really worrisome?
We may see huge population everywhere we go whether it is railway stations, hospitals or shopping malls. But the recent trends suggest that the population growth is in control. Population growth rate and national fertility rate, which directly indicate the extent of population growth during a particular time period, have lowered significantly. Population Growth Rate has gone down from 1.77 per cent in 2011 to 1.20 per cent in 2019, while the fertility rate has declined to 2.2 in 2019 from 2.6 in 2011. This encouraging development can be attributed to the National Program for Family Planning’s focus on establishing a proper system to impart knowledge regarding the benefits of family planning to less educated sections of society.
The program has incorporated various initiatives like home delivery of contraceptives by ASHAs at doorstep of beneficiaries; Scheme for ASHAs to ensure spacing in births in rural areas; Easily accessible pregnancy testing kits; Placement of dedicated RMNCH counsellors (Reproductive, Maternal, Neonatal, and Child Health) in obscure regions of the nation in the past couple of decades. Such strategies have proven to be successful on paper.
The Government of India has increased domestic investment for family planning. In 2012 at the Family Planning Summit 2020, India committed to spend $2 billion by 2020 for family planning program and, in July 2017, India renewed its commitment to invest $3 billion by 2020. A more stringent proposal to prevent rapid population growth was brought by Rakesh Sinha, Member of Parliament,in the Rajya Sabha on July 12, 2019.
‘The Population Regulation Bill, 2019’ calls for punitive action against people with more than two living children, including disqualification from being an elected representative, denial of financial benefits and reduction in benefits under the public distribution system. If passed, the bill would make it mandatory for individuals to seek permission from officials if they want to have more than two children, permission that could be denied if sufficient cause was not met. In a first for Government of India, this bill introduces more stringent norms which makes itillegal to procreate more than twice, and hence, has been criticized and not implemented till now.
Even with the success of the various schemes which have been implemented by the government in the previous couple of decades or so, the rate with which the Indian population is expanding is double than that of China, which gets reflected in the population estimates as well as the cities, which are projected to share the greatest of the load of this excessive population in the future and hence cities would bear the brunt of the issue.
If one studies the success of the more draconian population control policies implemented by the communist regime of China, it can be speculated how policies such as the controversial ‘one-child policy’ amongst others would fare in India. Speaking with Urban Update, Alok Vajpayi, Joint Director/Head, Knowledge Management and Core Grants, Population Foundation of India said that such policies have historically proven to have inverse effects for India. Even for China, the policy, although reducing the fertility rate to 1.5 by its dissolution in 2015, has produced one of the world’s greatest gender imbalances as a desire for male children led to reported abortions and infanticides to ensure a couple’s only child was a boy. In 2016, there were 1.15 males for every female in China.
Taking the example of the ‘emergency’ imposed in 1975 which saw the Government of India initiate a forced mass-sterilization campaign, Vajpayi said that the mentality of Indian men toadopt permanent contraceptive methods has changed. The effect of the campaign has been long lasting, creating a misconception in the minds of Indian men that procedures such as Vasectomy would somehow effect their virility. The government, in order to find a viable solution to the growing population problem without meeting any resistance, has modelled the family planning missions as more women centric. In our discussion, Vajpayi expressed satisfaction with the pace with which the population growth level has been declining, “There is no population explosion as of now. We are pretty much on track. Like a car can’t be brought to absolute halt, same is applicable here. Resolving the issue would take time, but as of now, we are on track. 24 states have already achieved the targeted Total Fertility Rate (TFR) and developments in the remaining states to achieve the targeted 2.1 is on track as well,” he said. A more significant drop would be worrisome for us in the future, holding significant consequences for the demography dividend, similar to the problem that China is facing right now. “Population momentum is a consequence of the demographic transition. Population momentum explains why a population will continue to grow even if the fertility rate, the number of children per woman, declines. We have comparatively younger population as of now and reproduction at the rate of one per family would be fruitful in the long run. If we lower that, we will be facing the similar issue as China’s facing right now,” Vajpayi added.
When asked if the economic slowdown would be a hindrance in the wide scale implementation of family planning awareness campaigns, he said, “Budget allocated to the National Health Mission is 3 per cent. Family planning should be prioritised irrespective of the financial crunch.”
In conclusion, many experts share similar views to the population problem as Vajpayi and believe that Indian methodologies of introducing the benefits of family planning methods have been successful till now but awareness must be spread to all parts of India in order to bring down the population growth rate in the future.