Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, while addressing the nation on the Independence Day on August 15, 2019, warned against the population explosion in the coming years. “Untamed rise in the country’s population is holding back the development of India”, he cautioned. This is probably the first time the Union Government is acknowledging the impending risk of population explosion and the urgent need for checking the growth rate. This raises many questions: Is India’s population growth no longer sustainable and hence in a critical state now? Have all the measures taken so far failed to yield results in controlling the spectre of population explosion? To get the answer to such questions, we need to study the population growth rate of those nations who faced the problem of population explosion and successfully resolved it. Experts conclude that India is still in a phase of population growth and that the stage of population explosion has not yet reached.
Population explosion refers to the rapid increase in the size of population of any species in the natural environment. The species of animals or human beings depend on the resources for their survival. Increase in the count of the species in the environment creates a demand for the resources and critically affects its survival. Human beings are the most evolved and dominant biological species who consume the resources more than any other species living in this nature. Unabated increase in human population will have serious effects on the natural environment. The United Nations projection for rise in human population (2019) says that the continuous rise of world’s population could reach its peak around the end of this century. The growth rate is slower compared to the population growth rate in 1950s. However, the rate of population growth is not consistent throughout the world or even in India across the different regions of the country. Some countries are showing reduction in the present population growth as compared to the last decades. The report says that more than 61% of the world’s population lives in the Asian and African nations. China and India are the two countries leading the population chart with more than 1 billion people, which are approximately 19% and 18% of the world’s population respectively. The report warns that India’s growth rate is in a critical state, and with the current trend of population growth, India is projected to overtake China as the most populous nation in the world by 2027. This will become a real challenge for India since the increase in population will put strain on its natural resources and land use patterns thereby impeding the measures to eradicate the social evils like poverty, income inequality, hunger, health and educational gap between different classes of people.
The new population projection indicates that many of the Asian and African nations will make up more than half of the projected growth of the global population by 2050. Most of these nations are either developing or already facing socio-economic crises like poverty, inflation, hunger, etc. Furthermore, increase in population will increase their burden to handle these socio-economic challenges. India is one among the nations projected to have twice the population with the current rate of growth by 2050. If we look at the population growth of India, there is a significant reduction in the growth rate when compared to the post-Independence period. However, this rate of population growth is not consistent across the length and breadth of the country. Still, many States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan are showing the increasing trend in the population growth index. Overall, Indian population growth seems to have stabilised. In fact, most of South India now has low, European-level birth rates.
Population explosion is a bigger challenge for India as it poses a greater barrier in providing welfare schemes to the people. Social evils like illiteracy, poverty and cultural backwardness are the direct and indirect result of uncontrolled population growth. For example, early marriage leads to the population growth in India. Child Marriage Restrain Act of 1929, popularly known as Sharada Act, was put into force by the British Imperial Government but it failed to produce the desired results. The core idea of the Act was to improve the status of women by restraining them from early marriage; the law indirectly paved the way for the population control by legally increasing the marriage age for boys and girls up to 18 and 14 years respectively. This prevented the early pregnancy and controlled the child count in the family. After Independence, the Indian Government has taken this Act as a base and increased the minimum marriage age for girls and boys as 18 and 21 respectively. Understanding the consequences of the population explosion and its effect on the society, the successive governments of the post-Independence era implemented various measures to control the population growth. Some of the important social measures implemented were family planning, educating people about population control, adoption and sterilisation schemes and providing economic opportunities. The family planning campaign was the most effective measure taken by the Government of India for controlling the population. The measures under family planning include providing contraceptives in rural areas through rural workers, awareness to maintain proper gap between child births, launching counselling campaigns and compensation schemes for those consented to sterilisation. Due to the government’s family planning measures, the decadal growth of population in India has declined from 21.54% in 1991-2000 to 17.64% 2001-2011. As per the Census 2011, the total fertility rate (TFR) of the nation has come down from 3.4 in 1991 to 2.4 in 2011 and more than 20 States have shown TFR of 2.1 or less.
In spite of this decline in the birth rate and fertility rate, the population of India is still high and is projected to be just the double of the current population by 2050. The reason behind the projection showing an explosion in the coming decades is that the population growth includes the birth rate as well as the present population count. Though there is a reduction in the birth rate and TFR, the population count is increasing every year. This trend is visible in many Asian and African nations. The new population projection says that the average life expectancy has increased globally in the last couple of decades. In contrast, average fertility growth has fallen from 3.2 births per women to 2.5 until 2019 and is further projected to reduce down to 2.2 by 2050. Though this rate varies across the nations, this has contributed to the increase in the living population in many countries, which will, finally, lead to the increase in older population in the world. The current decade has witnessed the increased rate of working age population in many countries, which is an advantage for the economic growth. However, this imbalance in the birth rate and living counts of population will pose challenge for the economic growth as pressure of earning will fall upon the relatively small group of available working population.
There are various factors interrelated to the above causes which contribute to the population growth in India:
Early Marriage: Though the legally marriageable age is 18 and 21 for girls and boys, early marriages are still prevalent in many places, especially in the rural areas. There are many reasons behind the cases of early marriage such as social pressure, family obligations and cultural background. Early marriages create possibility for increased family size.
Illiteracy: Illiteracy is another important cause for the population explosion in our country since many families are still following old cultural norms like preference shown for a male child as sons help in earning wages while daughters go away after marriage. Illiterate poor parents go on bearing children till they get a son. Some families feel that more members of family can contribute more income to the family’s kitty. Economic Survey 2018-19 has highlighted this old tradition of son meta-preference followed in our country and its ill effects on the family and society.
Illegal Migration: Illegal migration from the neighbouring nations has contributed to the population explosion in the recent decades. Many nations in the world are now facing the challenge of addressing the illegal migration since it causes rapid increase in the population, and adds pressure on the resource distribution and overall health of economy.
Medical Care: Better medical facilities are now available for many killer diseases of the last century. Advancement in science and preventive health care have increased the global life span and decreased the mortality rate caused due to health related problems. The members of UN in 2015 adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a universal call for achieving various standards like poverty control, better economy, zero hunger, affordable energy and many such targets by 2030. The member nations have to overcome many challenges to achieve the SDGs within the scheduled target period. If we study carefully, population explosion is coming up as a critical challenge for many nations to tackle it without any further delay, since it has the direct or indirect effect on most of the sustainable development goals. For example, India has introduced many centrally sponsored welfare schemes for the unprivileged population. The major portion of the nation’s GDP is consumed by the subsidy on food, energy and other essential amenities. In addition, high population is causing difficulties in finding the right beneficiary and distributing the welfares. Overpopulation raises the burden for the government to manage the socio-economic needs of the population, especially in the developing nations. Hence, the nations should frame better policies to control the growing population and for improving the economy. Elevating the status of women by providing education, better health care and economic opportunities can play a major role in controlling the population increase. The government should focus on educating the people about the population control and its consequent effects on poverty, economic growth, environment and the overall well-being of the society. Moral education focussed on behavioural change can help control the population increase and lead the way for the country’s progress and prosperity.