Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of population explosion being a worry in his Independence Day speech, after which varied opinions are being aired on the issue: some decidedly political, others more sober in their reliance on science. The talk of global population growth, including India’s and China’s, that account for 40 per cent of humanity, isn’t new. A Malthusian pessimism was a leading talking point from the 19th century onwards, but the planet has proved itself capable of giving us enough resources for seven billion-plus to survive now. In reviving talk of an explosion in numbers, the PM signalled a departure from the thinking by which India had for long been convinced that it has a great demographic dividend in its large number of young people.
As the population numbers have ballooned beyond the 130-crore mark, the cry of caution on “uncontrolled population growth” must be heeded in a general sense, but we must tread cautiously in any comparison on religious lines as we still bear the burden of history from the forced sterilisation programme. Whether a smaller family can be equated to patriotism is a different issue. China’s one-child policy is thought to have wrecked the demographic dividend the world’s most populous country once had. The fact is better economic development will help achieve goals far better than any enforced population control. The gender imbalance we see in births in India may also be corrected with greater societal sensitisation.