POPULATION STABILISATION INDIA’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE
The first meeting of the reconstituted National Commission on Population was held in New Delhi on July 23, 2005 with Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh presiding. The meeting was held after a gap of five years. The indifference to a debate and a decision on a vital subject that concerns the future of the country was demonstrated by the fact that of the seven Chief Ministers invited; only Mr. Babulal Gaur of Madhya Pradesh attended. Bihar Governor was however present, but the ‘best performing’ Kerala and ‘low performing’ Jharkhand did not even care to send a representative. A child is born every two seconds in India and by the end of a day approximately 42,434 newborns join the burgeoning population force! Can we afford to provide enough food, jobs, schools, housing, water supply and other basic needs to the increasing number of people in the villages and cities? We know we cannot afford it, but still we don’t have the political will to take concrete measures to stem the demographic tide. Population beyond the sustainable limit perpetuates poverty, child labour, school dropouts, malnutrition, infant mortality, child morbidity, maternal mortality, proliferation of slums and rise u communicable diseases. India’s population as on March 1, 2001 stood at 1,028 million (532.1 million males and 496.4 million females). India accounts for a meager 2.4. Percent of the world surface area of 135, 79 million sq. km. Yet, it supports and sustains a staggering 16.7 Percent of the world population. The population of India, which at the turn of the 20th century was around 238.4 million, increased to reach 1,028 million at the dawn of the twenty-first century. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates, out of an annual increase of 7$ million in world population, India alone accounts for as much as 16 million, The current high population growth rate is due to the large size of population in the reproductive age group (estimated contribution 60 percent), higher fertility due to unmet need for contraception (estimated contribution 20 percent) and a high wanted fertility due to prevailing high Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) (estimated contribution 20 percent). The population under 15 years is expected to increase only marginally over the next twenty years. The largest growth of population will be in the 15-64 year age group, which will expand by about 46 percent by 2020. The elderly population is also expected to rise sharply by 2.6 percent per annum, from 45 million to 76 million/ and their share in total population will rise from 4.5 percent to 5.7 percent.
India’s population density of 324 persons per sq. km is very high compared to the global density of 45 persons per sq. km. Asia’s 116 persons per sq. km and China’s 133 persons per sq. km. Can we sit idle as the population bomb ticks every second? India’s need for population control is more urgent than that of China and other countries. In the 1960s, both India and China had the same rate of population growth of 22 percent annum, However, by the end of the 1990, China brought down the rate to 1 percent by adopting the two-child norm in the 1990s and enacting the one-child population control law in 2002, while India’s population continues to grow at 1.9 percent per annum. With China hell-bent on controlling population, India will overtake China’s population by 2045.
Maharashtra recently introduced a controversial Water Regulation Act, under which farmers with more than two children would have to pay high tariff. Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh have a two-child policy for the Panchayat office-bearer, The People’s Tribunal on Coercive Population Policies and the Two-child Norm that met in New Delhi on October 10, 2004, urged the Centre to direct to States that have adopted the two-child norm in their population policy to revoke such laws. According to the Council, the laws were at variance with the National Population Policy that calls for voluntary, informed choice and consent of the citizens for contraception.
At the meeting of the National Commission on Population, a resolution was moved against the two-child policy and the Prime Minister intervened to direct the Commission to evolve a political consensus “against” the norm. The Union Health and Family Welfare Minister, Mr. Anbumani Ramdoss went to extent of declaring that “the Centre’s policy is against the two-child norm.”
China’s law requires people to take permission if they want to have a second child, and pay to the local body compensation for the additional use of common resources such as road, power, subsidized health, schooling, etc.
How do the different States in India fare in regard to population stabilization? Kerala and Tamil Nadu have already achieved the replacement level of fertility i.e., TFR (Total Fertility Rate) of 2.1, while the States of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab and West Bengal have a TFR ranging from 2.2 to 3.0 in the process achieving the replacement level of fertility. States like Assam, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have a TFR in the range of 3.1 to 4.0 while the States of Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have record TFRs in the range of 4.1 to 4.7.
Against this vast regional diversity, how do we go about stabilizing population? Can we replicate in these States with high birth rates the socio-economic and cultural situations that brought about a steep decline in States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu? No doubt, women’s education has played a significant role in creating awareness about small families. Equally important is the health infrastructure and the availability and accessibility of nutritious food that seek to eliminate the causes of maternal mortality, child morbidity and infant mortality. Human resources development (HRD) in those States with high birth rates is a prerequisite to awareness generation on the small family. That neither the Central Government nor the State Governments have done precious little in this direction all these years shows the lack of political will on the part of the authorities at the Centre and in these States.
It is often said that education is the best contraceptive in creating awareness on the benefits of the small family, thereby stabilizing population. When one talks about education, the education of girls is important. But when the female literacy rate in Bihar is a mere 33.12 percent, 42.22 percent in India’s most populous State of Uttar Pradesh, 43.85 percent in Rajasthan and 50.9 in Madhya Pradesh, don’t we realize that progress in the adoption of the small family norm is bound to be unpardonable slow? Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh account for more than 50 percent of the eligible couples having three or more children.
Population stabilization is not mere the supply of condoms or sterilization It means more than what meets die eye. Voluntary acceptance of the small family norm would come only when the mother is educated children go to school, there is safe motherhood, child survival rate is high and there is easy access to affordable healthcare and sources of water supply But all these basic needs remain just dreams for millions of poor families in the countryside and the slums in Indian cities So long as our policy makers and political leaders are not interested in just providing the basic necessities of the people, population stabilization will just remain a slogan.
An unusual suggestion was made at the last meeting of the National Commission on Population religious leaders be involved in population stabilization. People of different faiths hold the religious leaders in high esteem and their advice for the good of the family is seldom rejected. What is good for the family is good for the community and the nation too. A couple of years ago the Sants of Gurudwaras in Punjab advised the Sikh community not to go in selective abortion that resulted in female feticide. While opinion leaders and mass media can help change the mindsets of the people, we cannot lose sight of the fundamental prerequisites required for the acceptance of the small family norm.
Economic Survey 2003-04puts these prerequisites in a nutshell: ‘The goal of population stabilization can be achieved only when child survival maternal health and contraception issues are addressed simultaneously and effectively. Actual success is containing the growth of population will, however depend, inter alia, upon factors such as publicly stated support by the community leaders, resources available for the family welfare programmes, efficiency and the accountability in the state health systems for ensuring effective delivery of services to citizens, as also women’s education and status in the family. All these inputs have so far not been uniformly available to the required extent for the family welfare programme.
Population Firsts, an NGO, has prepared a 90-second documentary film “Queue” funded by a grant from the Tatas, focusing on the inevitability of huge numbers reaching out to limited resources. The film begins with a person trying to dial a number and is greeted with an automated announcement: “Please wait. You are in the queue.” The automated announcements are in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Assamese, Gujarati and Tamil and the camera focuses on different groups waiting for some service. Then there is a scene where a young woman discovers an elderly man lying inert, runs to him, and then screams to a younger man. The young man then tries to make a phone call and is forced to listen to the announcement: that he must wait because he is in the queue… The only voice to be heard during the short film movie is: “Growing population is India’s biggest challenge. Let’s shorten the queues”, in Hindi.