Make population an asset, not a burden

India’s rising population is today a drag on the nation as it is unproductive

The official count of India’s 1.27 billion people (127,42,39,769 to be precise) released on World Population Day is little surprise, given that it was 1.21 billion in the 2011 census, when the population grew at 1.37 per cent annually, down from 1.99 per cent in 1960. India’s population is larger than that of the United States (despite its larger land mass), Brazil, Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh combined. It is a wake-up call, to ensure slower growth than 1.6 per cent a year, but also a warning to the government and civil society to create conditions where a rising population is a force multiplier that helps India reach higher prosperity. China today faces a crisis with an ageing population because of its severe one-child-per-family diktat, which is now in the process of being rectified.

India’s rising population is today a drag on the nation as it is unproductive and drains our resources. But this is not entirely true. India produces enough food to feed all its people, but millions still go hungry due to a poor and corrupt distribution policy, as well as foodgrain wastage that is estimated at 40-60 per cent. Successive Indian governments have talked of the need to cut wastage, but little or nothing is done to incentivise building of storage and cold chains.

Such vacuous talk goes on in all spheres, in education, skilling, inclusive healthcare, transparent welfare schemes, etc., as a result of which there is lopsided development of infrastructure in our cities at the cost of villages and money continues to flow into the pockets of the powerful instead of going to those in need. If there is an audit of the funds spent since Independence under all these heads, one would know exactly who is responsible for the population being a drag on India’s development.

While family planning has turned into a dirty word in India’s politics due to the ham-handed manner in which an otherwise desirable programme was forced down people’s throats thanks to Sanjay Gandhi during the 1975-77 Emergency, it is a fact that population growth is highest among the poorest. One sees this on city pavements and the poorer slums, where the population explodes year after year, and girls become mothers when they are barely teenagers. In rural areas, more children are seen as extra hands to work in fields or as labourers, given that child mortality rates are possibly higher in rural areas. It is a vicious cycle that must be broken, but governments do little to educate people or incentivise them to have fewer children, leaving the task to NGOs. Population growth is a challenge that can be tackled if there is a will, and inclusive growth becomes a reality.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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