Population Matters: World Population Day July 11

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By Amit Mohan Prasad

PopulationIndia’s population figures matter not just nationally, internationally but also for individual States.  As per the latest census, India’s population has crossed 1.21 billion in 2011 with a decadal growth rate of 17.64%.

The good news is that after nine decades the growth rate was actually slower but still we added 181 million people to our population in a decade, which is a whopping number. Population density of some of the larger states like Bihar and West Bengal has crossed 1000/sq. km. for the first time, which clearly implies that the pressure on land is now too much.

National Population Policy of 2000 had envisaged that India would achieve the replacement level Total fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.1 by the year 2010 and correspondingly the population of the country would stabilize in the next 30-35 years.

Technical group on Population projection constituted by National Commission on Population in May 2006 had projected a population of 1400 million by the year 2026 and a stable population by 2045. That has not happened and therefore it will take few more years for the population to stabilize in India and that too at a greater level from what was envisaged earlier.

Similarly, UN had projected that the population of the world would stabilize just above 9 billion in the middle of the century but as per a recent projection it will instead keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100. India would be the most populous country with 1551 million people though it would be a decrease from the 1692 million projected for the year 2050.

It is also suggested that China, which has for many years now enforced restrictive population policies, could soon join the club of countries with declining populations, peaking at 1.4 billion in the next couple of decades, and then falling to 941 million by 2100. Therefore, as per projections we will have 600 million more people than China in the year 2100.
On 4th of August, 2010, after more than three decades the Lok Sabha debated the topic for over six hours, where more than 30 MPs cutting across party lines spoke in favour of this. The Government also started the repositioning of family planning for better maternal and child health apart from population stabilization after a successful international conference was organized on the subject on 5th of May, 2010 at Vigyan Bhavan. It is a fact that we are losing many mothers and children because of too early, too many and too frequent births.

Although a large young population gives us demographic dividend but we also have to realize that given the limitation of natural resources and in case suitable employments cannot be generated for the teeming millions, the growth of population can bring about a demographic disaster.

The land holdings have shrunk to abysmally low levels and forced migrations to cities have increased sharply, NREGA notwithstanding. This has created added pressure on the urban systems which were already bursting at the seams. Growing food prices in India and elsewhere in the world are already causing tensions and problems on unprecedented scales.

Population stabilization is a function of many factors and in turn affects many sectors. With modernization, urbanization, female literacy and economic development, family sizes tend to get smaller on their own also. However, a push towards family planning by strengthening the supply side and demand generation through intensive IEC/BCC from the side of the government will certainly hasten the process. New methods of contraception like injectables will also have to be considered for introduction in the public health programme.

It is heartening to note that many States/UTs including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh have already achieved the replacement level fertility and have a TFR of 2.1 or less.

Today, there is no need for any coercive measures for family planning. The unmet need for contraception, both spacing and limiting methods, is so large that if only we are able to provide services to the people, fertility would be largely controlled. In recent years, States like Madhya Pradesh and Bihar are making impressive efforts towards fertility control by making services available to the people.

India cannot take drastic measures like China for population control and perhaps that may not be either required or desired path in a democratic country. However, urgent steps need to be taken. Let us examine how this can be done. Currently, funding to the States for centrally sponsored schemes by the Government is based on a criterion of population. For example, a sub health centre is established on a population norm of 5000, a primary health centre is established on a norm of 30000 and so on.

This paradigm ensures that the states with larger population get larger funding from the Central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare under its flagship programme, National Rural health Mission (NRHM). Similarly, states with larger population will get more allotment from Women and Child Development Department for Integrated Child Health Services (ICDS). Same is the case with setting up of primary schools or hand pumps for drinking water. The same analogy can be drawn for other ministries and departments too. This kind of arrangement reduces the share of the central fund’s for the States/UTs which have successfully controlled their population growth.

The Planning Commission can ask all central ministries to set up a Population Stabilization Incentive fund, which will be used to provide additional allocation to the States/UTs which have achieved a TFR of 2.1 or less.

This fund can also be utilized to incentivize the states with high TFR which are taking positive steps towards controlling population growth based on the outcomes obtained annually from Registrar General of India’s sample registration system and not just on processes.

This additional allocation will be a kind of ‘untied fund’ available with the state governments, with the rider that with this money works can be taken up in the same sector. This will incentivize the states which have checked their population growth or are taking effective steps to continue to maintain this.

This will also encourage other states with high rate of growth of population to take necessary steps urgently. It may be difficult to introduce disincentives but it should be possible to introduce incentives for positive steps taken by the states. The details of such an arrangement can be easily worked out. (PIB Features)

(Author is the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India Govt)

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