At present, India’s figure stands at nearly 134 crore while China is inhabited by nearly 140 crore. Which means in another two years, India will overtake China
A rapidly growing population is a stupendous national problem. Therefore, the suggestion of yoga guru Baba Ramdev to disenfranchise those having more than two children may sound preposterous but at least has raised a crucial issue, that of a demographic dividend quickly becoming a demographic slag. He has also suggested that such people should be deprived of other Government facilities to send a strong message to others to effectively control the fast-growing population of India. Whatever the nature of his suggestions, unless fresh restrictions are imposed, then India will soon surpass China to become the most populous nation in less than five years.
At present, India’s population stands at nearly 134 crore while China is inhabited by nearly 140 crore. Which means in another two years, India will overtake China. There is no denying that urgent and aggressive steps such as strict control policies and linking their observance with incentives are urgently needed to control the population. Until and unless the Government goes for some effective measures to adopt a comprehensive population policy, all attempts at economic progress and recovery will be a damp squib because the country will not be able to bear the burden of the burgeoning population. The population of the United States (US) stands at 33 crore but its landmass area is 9.834 million square km, making the density of the population 35 person per square km.
According to a UN survey, India will soon become the world’s most populous country as its population is predicted to surpass that of China within the next decade. It is expected to continue to grow until mid-century, reaching an estimated 1.68 billion in the 2050s. But an important piece of evidence tells us that population growth will come to an end: The number of children in India peaked more than a decade ago and is now falling. But the effects of a boom will haunt us for the next three decades at least.
If we study patterns of population change since 1950 and the UN’s projections of population by age bracket, then we would see that the number of children under the age of five (under-5s) peaked in 2007; since then the number has been falling. The number of Indians under 15 years old peaked slightly later (in 2011) and is now also declining. These are landmark moments in demographic change. Still India’s population will continue to grow as a result of “population momentum” — the effect often referred to by Hans Rosling and Gapminder as the “inevitable fill-up” when young generations grow older. Reaching “peak child” anticipates the later “peak population.” The number of children has peaked; the total population will follow and reach its peak in four decades.
India’s landmass area is 3.287 million square km and the density of its population is 382 per square km. Let us see the density of population of some other countries: China (152 per square km), Canada (four people) Russia (8.4 people), England (259), Germany (227), France( 118) and Italy (201). Even in Pakistan, the density of population is 251 per sq km, which is much less than India. Except for Bangladesh (1,120 per square km), all other neighbouring countries have less and lighter burden of population. In Sri Lanka, it is 325, in Nepal it is 201 and in Myanmar it is almost one-fourth of India ie, 95.
Our neighbour China has adopted a very harsh population measure of a one-child policy, which mandated that the vast majority of couples in the country could only have one child. This was intended to alleviate the social, economic and environmental problems associated with the country’s rapidly growing population. But the policy itself is now being relaxed in view of the skewed gender ratio and a growing geriatric population.
In India, however, it was a very liberal policy of “hum do aur humare do” (we two and ours two) adopted by Sanjay Gandhi during Emergency. Its timing and implementation were wrong but the policy was certainly commendable. Regrettably, successive Governments have thrown the child away with the bath water. Australia is a continent which is over twice the expanse of India — its population is less than 2.50 crore. An example is given in jest, which is also a fact, that the number of children born every year in India is equivalent to the population of Australia. But jokes cannot be appreciated when the burden on resources becomes unbearable. No country can then think of making any progress.
With increasing population, India is already at the receiving end of infrastructural pressure. More houses, hospitals, educational institutions, roads, parks and space for offices, manufacturing units, factories and other establishments will be needed. Construction of buildings will certainly need more land, which will ultimately eat into agricultural and forest areas. This can cause enough damage to the flora, fauna and the environment.
When you have more people to feed and less soil for farms, then howsoever scientific method of agriculture and dairy farming you adopt, there will always be a crisis of food and milk. One cannot expect to provide enough food and milk to the entire population. The demand for food will double in the year 2050 and even if India manages to feed its expanding population, its growth may not be ecologically sustainable. In India, the global demand for water in 2050 is projected to be more than 50 per cent of what it was in 2000.
We are already at the receiving end of malnutrition and further compromising national health may end up stressing hospitals and compounding the disease burden. This resource crunch is India’s biggest decelerator.
UN experts have also pointed out how India’s rate of urban population growth will climb because of migration and especially youths seeking jobs. “By mid-century, half of India’s population, about 830 million people, is expected to be urban dwellers, which will challenge government capacities to provide basic services and infrastructure. About one-fifth of the population lives without electricity,” wrote Joseph Chamie, the former director of the UN population division and Barry Mirkin, former chief of the UN’s population policy section, in a research paper in 2017.
“Healthcare also lags with about half of Indian children reported to be undernourished. About two-thirds of them are immunised for diphtheria/ pertussis/tetanus, compared to nearly all in China. Tuberculosis in India accounts for over a quarter of reported new cases worldwide, the highest of any country. Another public health challenge: the lack of sanitation facilities for more than half of India’s rural population,” they concluded.
It must be understood that a law on population control, if it is made, will be applicable to not only one community but for all sections of society. It is really very surprising that a senior advocate in the Supreme Court has come out with a bizarre logic, which does not have any leg to stand upon. He has said that more than a hundred Members of Parliament have got more than three children, does it mean that they should be debarred from participating in the elections? There is no need to tell that no such law can have a retrospective effect and it has been settled by the Supreme Court in Golak Nath case. So, there cannot be any fear to anybody on that count. Moreover, this is a suggestion which should be discussed by Parliament in detail. For test studies have predicted an increase in cases of desertion and bigamy, neglect and death of female infants, cases of pre-natal sex determination and induced abortion of female foetus, child given away for adoption as fallouts of possible legislation.
A consciousness has to be brought about, either by increasing the awareness of the people with a sprinkling of some punitive or coercive measures, which are bound to boomerang in a democracy like India. They can be successful only in authoritarian regimes like China, not in India. We do have existing policy and initiatives but there is no doubt that there has to be drastic enforcement.
(The writer is Advocate on Record at the Supreme Court of India)
Writer: Parmanand Pandey
Courtesy: The Pioneer