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Modi has not paid enough attention to curtail population by discouraging births

By NS Venkataraman* 

The much publicized UNDP report that by 2050, India's population will reach 166. 8 crore, surpassing China's population at 131.7 crore. It is alarming. India will emerge as the most populous country in the world in the next one year. India already accounts for around 17.5% of the world population. This is a situation which would not make India proud,
Let not anyone think that this is India’s problem. On the other hand, it would be a world problem, as high population density in India beyond acceptable level will lead to several issues globally in variety of ways. If a country has a highly dense population where the economic growth cannot sustain such dense population by generating employment or opportunities , the people in such region are bound to spill over to other countries , where there could be opportunities. This could create issues for other countries in course of time disturbing the demographic balance.
It is said that India’s population growth is declining. This is not a reason for comfort, as even with declining population growth, India’s population will reach unacceptable level. Such population growth would happen , even if child bearing were to fall immediately to around two births per woman. Even with a declining fertility rate, India’s population is expected to increase at alarming level.
There is a consensus view that economic development, adult literacy and women empowerment and education will lead to reduced children per family, There is also a view that when families realise that they are undergoing severe economic problems , they would themselves reduce the number of children. However, the ground reality is that India cannot afford to wait for such slow pace of change to take place to reduce the population level.
There is also a vague view about “demographic dividend", where it is said that more hands would mean greater work output and consequent faster economic development. This is a lopsided view, as in condition where skill level cannot be imparted adequately due to high population density, it would not be a case of demographic dividend but only a case of demographic drag.
While it is pointed out that longevity of life due to medical advancement may also be a contributing factor for population issue, this is a negative way of viewing things. The only positive way of checking the alarming population growth is to prevent births by appropriate strategies and educative campaign. Obviously, this is not being done adequately.
The ground reality is that after the national emergency, when coercive methods were adopted to control the population growth and people resented this and the then ruling party lost power, the subsequent governments seem to be viewing the population control as a delicate issue and population control strategies and implementation have virtually gone for a toss.
It is surprising that while Prime Minister Modi is talking about several issues and is striving to find solutions, he has not paid enough attention to curtail the population level in India drastically by discouraging births . While Mr. Modi has occasionally spoken about need for population control, he has not given the thrust that he normally gives for other issues such as public cleanliness, climate management and environmental issues etc.
Government of India and the state governments should not only be conscious about the ill effects of population growth in an already densely populated country , they should also make it appear before the people that the government is concerned about this grim situation. It should convince the people that urgent measures to control the population growth are not an option but inevitable, even as such measures s should not be coercive to the extent possible.
Government of India should insist that there should be only one child for family from now onwards. Some critics of one child for family policy cite the example in China, where strict enforcement of one child norm has resulted in disproportionate elderly population and causing shortage of working hands. This again, is a false view, as with the better health scenario , people work for longer period in life and automation has reduced the manpower requirement in several sectors.
Religious groups may object to one family norm. Government should reject their views strongly and move ahead with its population control measures. Allowing one or two religious groups not to observe the one child family norm and other religious groups observing this norm would lead to severe demographic imbalance in the country that would create social issues.
Government should also strictly enforce the rule that there could be only one wife for a man and polygamy should be strictly banned. While there are some rules already existing in this regard, it is seen that this is not strictly enforced. There are several politicians in India , who have more than one wife and remain as legislators, parliamentarians or ministers. Strict enforcement of one wife for one man could be a meaningful proactive strategy.
Several disincentives should be introduced to prevent multiple children in families and there are many such disincentive possibilities.
It is well known that two states namely Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are largely responsible for population growth in the country and these two states account for a quarter of India’s population ( over 36 crore) Certainly, a highly focused population control campaign is required in these two populous states.
It is also necessary that a separate ministry should be created with a cabinet rank minister in central government and all state governments to focus and implement government policies on population management with firm time schedule.
Finally, Indians should be conscious of the fact that even if India were to succeed in bringing down the population growth to near zero level in a decade, India would still remain as the most populous country and most densely populated country in the world for long time to come. This scenario clearly highlights the seriousness of the present population issue in India.
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*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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