Population Growth in India

Of late, politicians have been vocal in pushing the population control debate. It has erupted in a paroxysm of deep fear of demographic disaster and complete exhaustion of natural resources due to over consumption. At this age of the sixt mass extinction and the Anthropocene, India is talking about its population, policy and the environmental fallout in the same breath.

Many states have already enacted penal provisions to control population, or to encourage smaller families. Recently Assam government has decided to implement the Population and Women Empowerment Policy of Assam, passed more than two years ago. Under this, “no person having more than two children would be eligible for govern- ment jobs in Assam from January 2021”. Twelve states have similar provisions restricting access and eligibility conditional to two-child policies. It includes debarring people from contesting elections to Panchayati Raj institutions.

A debate on population is inevitable in a country that would surpass China’s, currently the most populous country. As per the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs estimates, India’s population will reach 1.5 billion by 2030 and hit 1.64 billion in 2050. China’s population will reach 1.46 billion by 2030. At present, India hosts 16 per cent of the world’s population with only 2.45 per cent of the global surface area and 4 per cent of the water resources.

For Homo sapiens, a 2.1 TFR would keep the country’s population stable. The number accounts for one child per mother, one per father, and an extra 0.1 for children who die in infancy and women who die before childbearing age. The UN Population Division terms this as the replacement-level fertility.

India is very close to this point now, as many states have, in fact, TFR below 2.1. This means India’s population is about to hit the replacement level. Or, there will be no effective population growth. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4, conducted in 2015-16, found India’s TFR had reached 2.2. Most Indian states had already achieved or were below 2.1 TFR.

The exceptions were Bihar (3.4), Uttar Pradesh (2.7), Jharkhand (2.6), Rajasthan (2.4), Madhya Pradesh (2.3), Chhattisgarh (2.2), Assam (2.2) and some north-eastern states.

The Economic Survey 2018-19 says, “India is set to witness a sharp slowdown in population growth in the next two decades.” As per it, population in the 0-19 age bracket has already peaked due to sharp decline in TFR across the country. The Economic Survey, in fact, suggested massive reorientation of public infrastructure like schools to prepare for less population.

Instead of celebrating an eminently successful campaign to control population, it has put the focus on further control that might negate what has been achieved. Starting from reduction in child marriage to increase in education level of women to rise in contraception, this is a success story that has not been debated.

Scenario in Bihar

Kerala and Punjab have 1.6 tfr, while Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have 3.4 and 2 .7 tfr respectively. The number of children per woman declines with her level of schooling. NFHS-4 data shows only 22.8 per cent women in Bihar attended school for 10 or more years in 2014-15. In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, the igure was 32.9 per cent. In contrast, 72.2 per cent women in Kerala attended school for 10 or more years.

A historical analysis of NFHS establishes the how fertility rates have declined over the years. From 1992-93 to 1998-99, India’s tfr decreased from 3.4 to 2.9. During this time, the number of women in 20-24 years age group who had married by the age of 18, declined by 7.7 per cent. At this time, the use of contraceptives by married wom- en increased by 17.26 per cent.

NFHS-4 shows increase in TFR in states with high number of child marriages. The number of women aged 20-24 years, married before 18 years, was 42.5 per cent in Bihar and 21.1 per cent in Uttar Pradesh. But it was only 7.6 per cent in Kerala and Punjab.

A 2018 study by the United States Agency for International Development (usaid) says, “From NFHS-3 to NFHS-4, TFR declined even more, by 18.5 per cent. The decline was due to increases in abortion (62 per cent) and in the age at marriage (38 per cent).”

Also, there is a surge in the number of women opting for smaller families.

India’s current population growth is attributed to unplanned pregnancies. Around 5 in 10 live births are unintended, unplanned or simply unwanted. Of the 26 million children born in 2018-19, about 13 million could be classiied as unplanned. Based on NFHS 1 to 4, it is estimated that 135 million out of 430 million births were the result of unplanned pregnancies.

In effect, India is on path to stabilise population. Therefore, the stress on introduction of punitive measures to ensure population control is misplaced. In fact, a few states that imposed restrictions in various forms to enforce the two-child norm are on the back foot now. Four of the 12 states which introduced the two-child norm have already revoked it. Punitive actions have failed to check population around the world.

Laws restricting the eligibility of people with more than two children in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan concluded that two-child norm violates the democratic and reproductive rights of individuals.

In 2013, China relaxed its infamous one-child policy imposed in 1979. The policy resulted in undesirable consequences like sex-selective abortions, depressed fertility levels, irreversible population ageing, labour shortages and economic slowdown,

Population has exploded. There is no argument over this fact. It took millions of years for world population to reach one billion in 1800 AD. It doubled within just 100 years and soon hit the six-billion mark. This exponential growth was driven by progress in agriculture, science and medi-cine, which increased people’s lifespan. As a result, in the 20th century, there was an overwhel-ming focus on population control and management of the planet’s limited resources.

Globally, the debate over population has now veered towards consequences of population dipping below the replacement level (tfr 2.1). The signs are clear. A 2017 report in British journal The Lancet found that half of the countries in world is in the midst of a “baby bust”, as opposed to the earlier “baby boom”. They have insuficient children to maintain their population

size. Populations of many countries are shrinking—Greece (1.3 TFR), Bulgaria (1.58), Hungary (1.39), Poland (1.29), Italy

(1.40), South Korea (1.26) and Japan (1.48). Even the developing world is witnessing this trend. China now has a

fertility rate of 1.5 and Brazil just 1.8. Since 1976, the number of countries that oficially say they are trying to increase

their birth rates has risen from under 9 per cent to almost 30 per cent now.