According to statistics, India is currently the second most populated country. It is expected to topple China, the top-ranked, by 2027. The total estimated population of India is 1.38 billion people, which is about 17% of the total world’s population. As per the last census conducted in 2011, the growing population can be advantageous to India with a proper structure as India possesses one of the youngest global populations with an average national age of approximately 29 years, while 41 per cent of our population is below 18 years of age. This implies that most Indians have a preponderance of their working years ahead of them. This population can add to nation-building and economy if provided with the right skills, education and employment. However, population increase or explosion has many downsides too. It can hinder the overall growth of a country. So let us further analyse whether population control is needed in India or not.
What to do for Population Control
People are means as well as ends of economic development. They are an asset to any country, but as we all know, anything in excess is harmful. So is the case with population. Population outburst in India has proved to be a significant hindrance to economic planning and development progress. Population control in India is a dire need of the time because of the following points:
One of the most severe effects of the rapidly increasing population is its impact on saving, investment and capital formation. The composition of the population in India hampers the increase in capital formation. A high birth rate and low expectancy of life mean an increase in the number of dependents in the total population. In India, 35 per cent of the population is constituted of people less than 14 years of age. They are unproductive consumers. Such individuals are a drag on the economic growth of the country. They are mainly responsible for the low rate of saving, low investment rate, and low rate of capital formation since they are not employed and do not receive remuneration to invest, save or partake in capital formation.
The large size of the population in India and its rapid rate of growth result in low per capita availability of capital. From 1950-51 to 1980-81, India’s national income increased at an average annual rate of 3.6 per cent per annum. However, per capita income had risen around one per cent. It is because population growth has increased by 2.5 per cent. This sluggish growth rate of per capita income has resulted from a high population growth rate despite high national income in specific years.
With the brisk increase in population, the most daunting responsibility for India is to provide employment not only to the increasing labour force every year but also to decrease the accumulation of the unemployed from the past years. The massive size of the population results in a large multitude of the labour force. However, due to a deficiency of capital resources, it becomes challenging to present lucrative employment to the entire working population. Disguised unemployment in rural areas and open unemployment in urban areas are the standard hallmarks of a developing country like India. With the growth in the labour force at an average annual rate of 2.4 per cent, there is only a slight possibility of reducing unemployment for years to come.
In the face of an ever-growing population, inequitable distribution of income and inequalities within the country broaden. The growing population is deepening poverty in India as there is a scarcity of resources which is also concentrated in the hands of a few. Also, people have to spend a large share of their resources for bringing up their dependents.
In India, population explosion is the effect of a high birth rate. A high birth rate impacts the health and welfare of women. Recurrent pregnancy without an appropriate gap is perilous to the health of the mother and the child. This leads to a high death rate among women of procreative age due to early marriage. Hence to improve the welfare and stature of women in our society, we have to lessen the birth rate.
Population explosion results in environmental degradation. The growing population can lead to more pollution, the generation of more toxic waste and the destruction of the biosphere. Excessive deforestation and overgrazing by animals have led to land degeneration. A significant cause of biodiversity loss has been the depletion of vegetation to grow agriculture by the rapidly surging population. Industrialisation, urbanisation, increasing vehicular traffic have led to air pollution, and domestic sewage and industrial effluents have led to water pollution.
The rapid rise in population puts a massive burden on infrastructures like health care, education, housing, water supply, sanitation, power, roads, and railways. Infant mortality is already relatively high. Malnourishment in children is widespread. Ample villages are devoid of any source of drinking water in India due to the scarcity of financial resources. India has not provided many essential services adequately due to a significant increase in population. India has the largest illiterate population in the world. There is mass illiteracy among women, especially in rural areas. The goal of the universalisation of education is far away.
Food production and distribution have not been able to catch up with the increasing population. Hence, the costs of production have increased. Inflation is a significant consequence of overpopulation.
Rapid population growth is to be blamed for India’s low standard of living. Even the bare necessities of life are not available adequately since resource distribution has been a major issue.
Population explosion leads to a rise of several social problems. It causes the migration of people from rural areas to urban areas, causing the creation of slum areas. People live in the most unhygienic circumstances. Unemployment and poverty lead to frustration and resentment among the literate youth. This leads to robbery, prostitution and crimes. The terrorist movements that we find today in numerous sections of the country exhibit frustration amidst unemployed professional youth. Overcrowding, traffic congestion, frequent accidents and pollution in large cities are the immediate result of overpopulation.
Population Regulation Bill, 2019
The Population Regulation Bill, 2019 introduced by Member of Parliament Shri Rakesh Sinha in the Rajya Sabha on July 12, 2019, calls for penal action against people with more than two living children, including debarment from being an elected representative, dismissal of financial benefits and decrease in benefits under the public distribution system.
The bill also proposes that government employees should give an undertaking that they will not conceive more than two children.
There are limited ecological and economic resources at hand. Therefore, the justification of the bill held that it is imperative and critical that the provision of necessities of human life, including affordable food, safe drinking water, adequate housing, access to quality education, economic/livelihood opportunities, power/electricity for domestic consumption, and an unharmed living is accessible to all citizens.
The draft bill then insists that it is essential to control and uphold the state’s population to encourage sustainable development with more equitable distribution.
The criticism of the bill states that it will widen the gap between the poor and the rich. The poor will suffer if benefits under public distribution schemes or other government-funded schemes are taken away from them. Health care facilities and finance for contraceptives are also not available to the lower strata group. Also, without proper education and knowledge, the poor do not understand the importance of small families and further procreation as it implicates more financial burden on them.
Will a population control bill be under the ambit of fundamental rights or ultra vires
A few years back, the Prime Minister expressed concern over the prospect of a ‘population explosion’ in India in his address to the nation on Independence Day and said that keeping small families was patriotic. It has since sparked a keen interest and debate on population control policies. The two-child policy has been presented in the Parliament over 35 times since 1947. Key points of the debate on the population control bill are as follows:
- Procreation, reproduction and family planning are sensitive and private facets of every citizen’s life. The rights and liberties in these aspects must be assiduously protected from groundless invasion.
- Nevertheless, the government needs to implement population control policies to solve many issues such as poverty and the lack of satisfactory social and health services that torment India presently. However, a law for this purpose would always be questioned of its constitutionality.
- A policy to control and monitor the number of children a family is allowed to have is a crass infringement of human rights and the right to a citizen’s reproductive autonomy. A right to reproduction is not explicitly written in the Constitution, but It falls under the purview of Article 21 (right to life and right to personal liberty). This kind of policy would strip individuals of their fundamental right to life, personal liberty and personal autonomy which includes reproductive rights, which involves making sexual, intimate, private and reproductive choices.
- Indeed, the government has already found valid reasons to intervene in various spheres pertaining to procreation, family, personal, private and sexual life. Polygamy is against the law, adultery was just recently decriminalized, there is a minimum age requirement for marriage, and the state decides upon what grounds couples may legally divorce. Consequently, it is inexact to say that the government has not previously intervened in private matters and the sexual conduct of its citizens. It is just that the aim is different when it comes to population control.
- There is a requirement for alternative laws that may confront constitutional scrutiny. For population control legislation to work, it would require the fabrication of innovative and compelling grounds that affect the ability of people to think a certain way without encroaching upon the rights and the Constitution. This will have to be conducted by united efforts to propagate contraceptives and family planning awareness.
- Decisions regarding procreation and the size of a family are very personal choices and the privacy of citizens must be maintained. Therefore, stringent population laws are against the notion of fundamental rights and another approach is required to curb population. Health awareness and financial burdens of a large family must be propagated to all and especially to the poor and the less fortunate.
Alternative measures to control the population in India
A population control policy is not only a coarse violation of fundamental human rights; most of its bearing will be on the people at the bottom-most level of socio-economic strata. It could have devastating, long-term, irreversible outcomes. In China, the population control policy failed. There needs to be a shift in standards that equip and empower the country’s youth and expand quality procreative health assistance. India must invest in sustainable methods that shield the rights and matters of its citizens with non-coercive family planning policies as the core. Access to family planning knowledge, adequate health care systems and counselling sessions require attention. Overpopulation is a deeply rooted social issue. Efforts should be made to eradicate it from its root. Steps taken can be:
Legal marriage age
As fertility depends on the age of marriage, the legal age to marry should be increased. In India, the legal age of marriage for men is 21, and for women, 18. Marriage at a young age devoids people of knowledge regarding family planning and sensitization towards the issue of population. A task force constituted last year by the Narendra Modi government to examine its proposal of increasing the age of marriage for women has submitted its report, recommending an increase in the age from 18 to 21. The task force consisted of secretaries of the Health and Family Welfare, Women & Child Development, Ministry of Education, and the Legislative Department of the Ministry of Law and Justice. Other members included Najma Akhtar, Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia; Vasudha Kamath, former Vice-Chancellor of SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai; and Gujarat-based gynaecologist Dr Dipti Shah.
Literacy and Contraceptives
Illiteracy also plays a role in a population explosion. Literate people prefer to have small families, are aware of contraceptive methods and realize the consequences of a large family.
Contraceptive methods should be made economical. Stigma related to it must be uprooted. People should also be made aware of contraceptive measures and their importance.
The benefits of family planning should be propagated through mass media. The population is also a cause for illiteracy, illnesses, and malnutrition and its adverse effects need to be preached to the general populace to develop their reasoning and understanding.
The ever-growing population is a severe issue at hand which needs to be resolved. Coercion and manipulation of people to keep the family size bare minimum are repugnant and a breach of fundamental human rights. High birth rates create large numbers of children relative to the number of working adults, savings that might otherwise be invested in the country’s infrastructure and development instead must be diverted to meeting the immediate food, health care, housing and education needs of growing numbers of children and adolescents. This prevents countries and families from making the longer-term investments needed to help lift them out of poverty. India needs sensitized ways of population control like awareness on family planning, contraceptives, awareness on health adversities due to less gap between children and economic and social pressures of a large family. Essential means like education and health facilities also need to be provided adequately for the population to decrease. Population control which promotes the advantages of small families and spreads awareness of the ill-effects of large families so that people choose to have only one or two children is required to control the population without infringing people’s rights. Although the high court declared population control laws as unconstitutional and against people’s rights, a plea has been filed and trial is ongoing in the Supreme court on the basis that the high court failed to appreciate that the right to clean air, the right to drinking water, the right to health, the right to peaceful sleep, the right to shelter, the right to livelihood and the right to education guaranteed under Articles 21 and 21A of the Constitution could not be secured to all citizens without controlling the population explosion.