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India’s population conundrum

NewsIndia’s population conundrum

Population control measures along with sound socio-economic policies are vital for the country.

“41.5 crore Indians exited poverty since 2005-06” says the recently published multi-dimensional poverty index by UNDP and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Index. This is encouraging news especially with Bihar, the poorest state seeing the fastest reduction in poverty index.
However, we cannot yet cheer because despite the progress the report notes that India has by far the largest number of poor people worldwide at 22.8 crore. Undernutrition, lack of access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation, housing etc., continue to remain a major detriment for bringing people out of poverty. Despite our long battle towards development and many key initiatives like POSHAN Abhiyan, Swachh Bharat Mission, Jal Jeevan Mission and many others we have a daunting task ahead of us.
This is at a time when we are vying with China to become an Asian power. However, according to current trends the only area we are fast outpacing China is the rate of population explosion. According to the decadal rate of growth of 1970-2020, most Western countries as well as China have managed to ensure decadal growth rate of population stays below 10%, while India is yet to achieve this feat. This control over population growth is attributed as one of the reasons for China’s spectacular growth.
We must face the reality that unbridled population growth negates even the most pragmatic of economic policies and will invariably result in weakening poverty alleviation programmes. Simply put, a lower rate of population control can help ensure that the socio-developmental programmes are more evenly distributed. We can ensure improved access to public education and healthcare systems with more quality services. Issues of hunger and unemployment too can be better tackled. Access to clean drinking water for everyone will be at shortage if we cannot control our population growth.
May thinking minds be one—this was the ideal propounded by our ancestors in the Rig Veda. Historically, despite high diversity and differences, what has kept the Indian people united is India’s spiritual consciousness. Despite the fact that there were numerous states which were ruled by different kings, yet the idea that each kingdom was a part of a larger Bharat was deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the rulers as well as the people. And it is to this that we must bank upon and maintain unity and resolve our population issue. For often the issue of population control being a matter of personnel law becomes a bone of contention.
India has developed several fractures over the years on the issue of population control.
Communal clashes, intolerance over essentially developmental questions such as Uniform Civil Code tend to deter any progress we try on the path to population control. But these are outward differences: internally, there is a common and similar fundamental philosophy of oneness. Despite differences in language, each language, in its core, propounds the same fundamental philosophy. The values of life, be it in the sense of devotion, reverence for the earth, the concept of karma, birth and rebirth, Nirvana, the idea of salvation etc. Further the urge to live with higher quality of life and see India in a developed stature is high among India’s Gen Y and Gen Z.
However, India, unlike China, is a democracy and authoritarian harsh measures are not the way forward for us. It is time for Indians to come together and take this issue up pragmatically. Population control is not a religious issue, but a developmental one. Indonesia is a great case study from which we can learn. Indonesia, a Muslim country, managed to slow its population growth in the 1990s through a mixture of community outreach, dedicated health care and women empowerment. After the birth of the first child especially, the mother and father had to attend continuous counselling sessions on the need for delaying the second child. Skilling and education programmes were also set up for women.
Further various religious clerics were roped in to reach out to the people of all religions to educate them on family planning. This multi-pronged approach and a strong political will power underline Indonesia’s population strategy. It currently also has started focus on the development of human capital along with the family planning programmes.
India can take a leaf out of these holistic measures for its population policy rather than the misplaced forced measures during the Emergency period. We have come a long way, with the latest data from the National Family Health Survey showing that India’s total fertility rate is currently at two. We must build on this with consistent health, education and empowerment measures. Most importantly, we must not fail to utilise the present demographic dividend that we have. The Indian economy is still unable to absorb the young men and women who want jobs. Thus, while we focus on improving future standards of living through population control, we must also push for upskilling, educating and providing jobs to India’s present potential of demographic dividend.
Here it is essential to come out of the climate of hate and utilise India’s spiritual heritage of promoting tolerance. India must embrace its ethos of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family). For most of India’s villages and communities, living together in social harmony is a reality and has manifested in times of crisis such as natural disasters. We must nurture the same towards creating a conducive environment for development.
In conclusion, India is on the cusp of moving onto its full potential and taking advantage of its demographic dividend. Population control measures along with sound socio-economic policies are vital for achieving this. Any intervention has to be along the length and breadth of India’s population strata. For this India cannot be guided by a climate of hate but that of unity and love.
Author is an Alumnus of University of California Los Angeles & Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Leadership. He is associated with India Foundation & Bihar Young Thinkers Forum. Twitter: @sammridh

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