PM Modi’s concerns over rising population: Policy prescriptions for tackling the issue

Updated: August 19, 2019 8:11:24 PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation on August 15, 2019 expressed concerns over the growing population of the country which brought the focus on the demographic trends in India.

The government needs to look into all issues relating to population growth in a comprehensive manner and come out with a well thought out population policy after due deliberationsThe government needs to look into all issues relating to population growth in a comprehensive manner and come out with a well thought out population policy after due deliberations

By Rattan Chand

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation on August 15, 2019 expressed concerns over the growing population of the country which brought the focus on the demographic trends in India. According to the United Nations Population Division, the population of India stood at 1,366 million as on July 1, 2019 and it will reach 1,469 million in 2027 and overtake China’s numbers. This means India will become the most populous country in 2027 and will continue to grow to have a population of 1,652 million in 2059. Thereafter, the population will start declining and is projected to come down to 1,450 million in 2100. Such a large population has implications for food, housing, education, energy, employment, environment, healthcare and transport.

The question is — what should be done to arrest the population growth and where the focus of policy makers should lie? One can have a better understanding of population trends by examining the fertility data by education, religion, castes and wealth status. The National Family Health Survey conducted in 2015-16 shows that women with no schooling had 80 per cent higher fertility rate compared with women with 12 or more years of schooling. Muslims had 23 per cent higher fertility than Hindus, 32 per cent higher than Christians and twice that of Jains. Fertility among the OBCs and Scheduled Castes was 15-17 per cent higher compared with forward castes. Economic status of the population is another important factor affecting fertility. Fertility rate among the women in the lowest wealth index quintile was more than twice that of the women in the highest wealth index quintile. The wanted fertility of the couples was higher than the actual fertility, indicating unmet need for contraception services. About 29 per cent of all births were of order 3 or higher. The interval between two births was also found to be too narrow.

The worldwide experience shows that fertility reduction in countries like India will be driven by multiple factors of human development, including reductions in child mortality, increased levels of education – particularly among women, increased urbanisation, expanded access to reproductive healthcare services, and women’s empowerment and growing labour force participation. Many demographers believe that development is the best contraceptive, which helps in reducing fertility rates. The socioeconomic development and family planning programme efforts have, therefore, to go hand in hand.

The above analysis shows that for family planning services, India needs to focus on couples with low education and income levels from all communities, especially, the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and Muslims. This would also mean that focus should be on couples who already have two or more children and to convince them to adopt family planning methods for preventing further births. The couples may also be encouraged to have only one child.

There has been a considerable fall in fertility rate in India over the years. The average number of children a woman would have by the end of her childbearing years (total fertility rate) has declined from 5.2 in 1971 to 2.3 in 2016, a 56 per cent decline. India is close to achieving the replacement level of fertility (TFR 2.1) and 24 States/UTs (comprising 55% of country’s population) have already achieved the TFR of 2.1 or below. The need, therefore, is to focus on states/districts with high fertility. Even within the districts with low fertility, there is an urgent need to focus on couples who already have two or more children.

The decline in fertility will also lead to more people in the higher age group of 60 years or above. It is projected that the percentage of 60+ population will increase from 9.2 per cent in 2011 to 14.2 per cent in 2026. The dependency ratio (population 65 years or more divided by population 25-64 years) will increase from 13 per cent in 2020 to 25 per cent in 2050 and to 55 per cent in 2100. This means there will be a huge increase in aged population in the coming years, implying implications for healthcare and other services. The government needs to look into all issues relating to population growth in a comprehensive manner and come out with a well thought out population policy after due deliberations.

(The author is director, EGROW Foundation, a Noida-based think tank)

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