Thursday, December 23, 2010

Population control is an imperative

At the time of independence in 1947, India’s population was 33 crore or 330 million but in these 63 years it has crossed the figure of 120 crore or 1.2 billion. This almost quadrupling of the population has taken place despite the country having declared family planning as a national policy way back in 1951, the first country in the world to have done so. India’s effort to reduce the average size of the family received a deadly blow in 1977 when due to a backlash of the excesses during the 19 months of the Emergency, such as forced sterilization, Indira Gandhi’s government was badly defeated in the general election. Even now, more than three decades after the Emergency was lifted, population control or planning remains a taboo subject for the government. In fact, after the world’s leading investment bank Goldman Sach spoke about India’s demographic dividend ushering in an era of economic prosperity for the country around 2025, the country’s officialdom suddenly discovered the silver lining to its resounding failure to curb the rate of population growth. The rate has come down somewhat but it has been a secular trend and no government agency, even at its wildest, can claim any credit for it.

But at 1.1 per cent per annum, the rate of growth of India’s population is still too high. Every effort, short of forcing family planning methods on people, should be made to reduce this rate to 0.1 or 0.2 per cent per annum latest by 2020. In the hinterland and even in the city slums, the majority of productive couples do not know that simple means are available to space out their children and also to limit their number. Through intensive publicity on electronic media this message must be put across to them. There is also a need to educate the parents on marrying off daughters when they are at least eighteen and have attained physical maturity. Self-appointed leaders of some communities consider family planning an interference in the affairs of God and forbid it accordingly. The government could engage a few educated members or role models from the fields of sports and films from among these communities to counter this propaganda by convincing the people that by limiting the size of their families they will be able to improve their living standards and educate their children.

There is another angle to this issue. Now we have in India the right to employment, the right to education, and the right to food security and very soon the right to clean water and good health would follow and quite rightly so. In other words a child born in the country becomes in some ways the responsibility of the government. If this is universally agreed upon, should the government then, keeping in view the country’s limited resources, not have a right to advise the people to adopt suitable methods of family planning so that they may not have more than two children? The country has not reached the Malthusian state, and thank heavens for that, but we are very near the maximum carrying capacity of this land.

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