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India’s high population is killing her

When one thinks about the Indian cities, what comes to one’s mind? Too many people – everywhere – and a heavy traffic; smoke and dust in the air; and a constant din, with a generally bluish-grey sky and dull sunshine. Bill K Koul writes about how the country's high population is affecting her...

India’s high population is apparently at the root of most, if not all, serious issues that are surreptitiously sickening or, to be more candid, killing the country. Since the British left seven decades ago, her population has grown four-fold. India is destined to be the world’ most populous country within about a decade from now!

India occupies about 2.4 percent of the world’s land mass; however, disproportionately contains more than 18 percent of the world population. India has a high ‘birth to death’ ratio (close to 3.0), with a net daily increase of around 60,000 in her population. The country adds around 25 million new people every year at the present rate, nearly equivalent to Australia’s total population. Note that these numbers exclude a significant number of illegal immigrants that sneak into the country through her porous borders.

When one thinks about the Indian cities, what comes to one’s mind? Too many people – everywhere – and a heavy traffic; smoke and dust in the air; and a constant din, with a generally bluish-grey sky and dull sunshine.

Most lanes, streets and roads seem to be teemed with people and vehicles of all shapes and sizes – parked or moving in a slow motion. Roads and streets – the blood vessels of the country – reflect the values and the state of health of the nation. People seem to be rushing, inherently trying to forge ahead of others in a seeming perpetual race, pushing and elbowing away every other person around them.

The worsening effects of a high population growth

Over time, the population growth has led to a series of major existential issues facing the country, such as:

  1. Continuously falling liveability of the country, at least the cities, with rising environmental and noise pollution, reduced air and water quality;
  2. Ever-increasing commuter time – due to rising traffic density, slow moving traffic and frequent road congestions – resulting in the loss of precious human time and, therefore, the nation’s productivity, accompanied with frustration, fatigue and anxiety of the commuters, whilst exacerbating the air pollution levels; and
  3. A range of social diseases silently undermining the nation, like termites, and erosion of her traditional values, due to an ever-increasing ‘demand to supply’ ratio in all walks of life:

    a) Corruption in most, if not all, walks of life to get the job done, by hook or by crook. Money seems to buy everyone;

    b) Adulteration in food – fruits, vegetables and diary – and medicines to meet a high and growing consumer demand; and

    c) Sickening competition and a rat-racing community – aggressive, selfish, snobbish and arrogant, if successful; unhappy and depressed, if unsuccessful.

The manner in which the cities are getting populated and densified, they may potentially choke in a not too distant future, despite endless construction works to build the new road infrastructure. The Indian city dwellers are fast moving – possibly in the next 5 to 10 years – towards a lifestyle wherein they will be working 10 to 12 hours and commuting 8 to 10 hours a day, leaving just 2 to 4 hours for their sleep and the family time.

The Hindustan Times, dated 22 June 2017, tipped India to be the world’s most populous country by 2024; other studies indicate it to happen by 2030. The current population of India is indicated to be in the order of about 1.35 billion. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projections_of_population_growth) tips it to grow to be about 1.53 billion by 2030. Some studies indicate it to grow to about 1.7 billion by 2050, when India may possibly feature three of its cities in the top five most populated cities of the world, with Mumbai (42.4 million), Delhi (35.2 million) and Kolkata (33.0 million) tipped to rank 1 st , 3 rd and 5 th in the world, respectively.

Governmental initiatives

Over the past nearly seven decades, India has launched a number of initiatives for stabilising her population:

  • Family Planning programme in 1952;
  • The first National Population Policy in 1976;
  • The National Health Policy in 1983;
  • A revised National Population Policy in 2000;
  • The Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (National Population Stabilization Fund) in 2005;
  • National Rural Health Mission, Janani Suraksha Yojana, Integrated Child
  • Development Services (ICDS);
  • Free contraceptives and monetary incentives to couples to undertake permanent family-planning measures (vasectomy and tubectomy); and
  • The mid-day meal scheme in schools and the Right to Education (RTE).

The TFR (Total Fertility Rate) – the average number of children a woman bears over her lifetime – varies across the country, with some states such as UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where over 40% of the Indian population lives, showing a relatively higher TFR.

Despite a series of initiatives since 1952, the Indian population managed to grow by about 2.7 times by 2001 – from about 388 million to about 1,029 million – and steeply thereafter (nearly four times by 2018).

Some primary causes of the population boom

  1. A poor level of education, with a poor educational infrastructure and avenues of employment in the rural areas. As per the 2001 census, about 72 percent of the Indian population lived in about 638,000 villages, with the remaining 28 percent in more than 5,100 towns and over 380 urban dwellings;
  2. A low socio-economic development, accompanied with a low education level, leading to a constant stream of migration of people from rural areas to cities in search of employment and sustenance;
  3. Early marriages. Nationally, about 43 percent people marry before the age of 18; and locally (e.g. in Bihar) as high as 68 percent; and
  4. General societal preference for male children – driven mainly by traditions, culture, religion and issues related to dowry, property inheritance and carrying the family name forward.

After Indira Gandhi lost the general elections in 1977, the first National Population Policy of 1976 gathered dust till it was rediscovered 24 years later in 2000. In India, politicians are still scared to talk in favour of population control. Not surprisingly, despite the revised National Population Policy 2000, India has managed to add another 340 million in the last 18 years. The damage caused during those years is clearly visible on the streets and roads of India.

Power politics and the lack of political will

India’s National Population Commission (NPC), chaired by the Prime Minister, mandates promotion of synergy between health, educational environmental and developmental programmes to stabilise population, but has no direct reference to the population control. Is the country’s population expected to stabilise naturally – without any governmental intervention?

In India, not many people dare to speak about the population issue, as if it were a taboo. Is it because a growing population helps the politicians to manipulate the uneducated and poor masses in order to lord over them and stay in power? Or is that a large market like India benefits the businesses, especially the multi-nationals? Or is it because population control is not allowed by some religious interpretations?

The past Indian government policies and actions have seemingly fallen short in so far as the checking of the population growth rate of the country is concerned. It seems the past governments either did not have the imagination or the political will to prevent the country’s population from crossing a certain pre-defined limit (e.g. 1.0 billion – 100 crores).

Policies alone are not sufficient; follow-up actions are equally important. For that, honesty, dedication and pure intent of the people at the helm, as well as the administrators and the workers on the ground, are vital. Timely achievements of targets are crucial for the planners and the enforcers in any country.

The blueprint of the country should have been made decades ago by its leaders, so that the country could meet the demands of the future and not land in its current state. Unfortunately, the major political parties mainly indulged in cronyism, nepotism, the power/party and vote-bank politics. And the country was neglected. Application of band aids will not cure the disease.

Indian politicians seem to have lost touch with the reality of life faced by the ordinary citizens. The only way to make them see it is by making them experience it, i.e. if they are made to commute like common Indian citizens – without the assistance of traffic wardens.

And who are the politicians? They are just the sample representatives of the people living in the country; they have not come from outside the country. Sadly, going by the Indian television channels and newspapers, political parties and politicians are seen to mainly engage in proving their opponents wrong. The power politics and mudslinging generally take the centre-stage, and the country is neglected.

Effect of population on health

In a situation where demand keeps on increasing each day but the supply just cannot keep up, anxiety to survive drives an unhealthy competition between the people. Mental anxiety, and / or mental depression in many cases, starts creeping in children and their parents at all following stages:

  • Childbirth
  • Pre-school life
  • Nursery and primary school admissions
  • Competition at school
  • High school, college and university admissions
  • Securing a job, retaining that job and promotion at work

The above are only some of the common scenarios that provide a snapshot of a constant build-up of mental stress, which also potentially lead to various serious diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases (e.g. hypertension). It is not surprising that India is not listed even in the world’s top 100 hundred happiest countries, lagging far behind its immediate neighbours – China, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Reference is made to the author’s article, dated 12 November 2018, Are Indian quietly watching their country die (https://dbpost.com/are-indians-quietly-watching-their-country-die/).

Does the country’s healthy economic growth factor-in the country’s liveability and happiness? No, it does not! The published statistics about mental illness, suicide rate, cancer, tuberculous, lung diseases, malnutrition etc. are alarming!

What is the purpose of bringing more people into the country when the existing population is struggling to live? Is it not sinful, immoral or unethical to let those unborn people arrive into this world, only to let them struggle and suffer through their lives. Why can’t the country first fix its current mess? Is that not the duty of the country’s leaders? Is staying in power so important?

The way forward

One does not need to have a PhD degree to see the current state of liveability in the country or predict its future catastrophic state. One just needs common sense but, unfortunately, common sense is not so common. Indian school education is mainly rote-based, so common sense and independent thinking are not encouraged or encultured. Most people form their opinions based on what is fed to them – by the social media, the television and the politicians. Unfortunately, in many cases, the literate and educated people too fail to see the obvious.

The country needs a vision – a constant vision from the top – a constant guidance about the direction the country should take, irrespective of the political party or the Prime Minister that rules the country. The broader picture of the country must not be dependent on the party politics; it must be drafted and painted by visionary leaders for coming decades and even centuries.

Every day matters for action. India urgently needs drastic measures – through a range of multipronged, time-bound and direct actions – to control her sickening population growth rate:

  1. Introduction of one civil law for ALL Indian citizens;
  2. Immediate introduction of a One-Child law for ALL Indian couples, which may be relaxed to a Two-Children law after 10 years, subject to a review at that stage;
  3. Strict enforcement of Anti-Dowry Act, with stringent punitive measure, including a mandatory jail term of 5 to 10 years, for both the dowry giver and the receiver, so that the girl child is not rejected in favour of the male child;
  4. Strict enforcement of austerity in weddings for ALL citizens, to cap the wedding expenses to a maximum of Rupees 1 to 2 lakhs, with mandatory jail terms for defaulters;
  5. Aggressive educational campaign to restore the gender equality, so that the societal preference for male children is completely destroyed once and for all; and
  6. Compulsory, free and good quality education for ALL children up to at least Year 12 – to uphold the spirit and tenets of the RTE by:

    a) Increasing the funding for education to at least 8 percent of the GDP (i.e. double the amount that is being spent now);

    b) Constructing the necessary school infrastructure in rural and remote areas;

    c) Appointment of teachers based purely on merit (and not reservations);

    d) Investment in a continuous teacher education / professional development, with handsome remunerations, incentives and facilities; and

    e) Accountability of teachers, with strict punitive measures, including jail, for defaulters.

The nation has just enough time to do the needful before it is too late, but the time is fast running out! Is anyone listening?

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