If it is true that China’s population numbers have been incorrectly inflated for some time now, then India may, even now, be the most populous nation on Earth. Even if China still has the largest number of people of any country at the moment, India is posed to overtake it in the next few years. We explored this issue a little while ago and the potential psyche and geopolitical ramifications. While the ageing of China’s population and the decline of its working age population is causing concern for the Middle Kingdom, it is the reverse that has some in the subcontinent worried: a supposed surfeit of people.
According to the Hindustan Times, a group called the “Taxpayers Association of Bharat” has started a campaign to get a national law to control India’s population growth (again – it was tried in the 1970s). The group is asking supporters to do that most inane of things: sign an online petition (I signed one of those once to save a local hedge). The group is concerned that the population growth of the country is holding back its economic development and that it will continue to grow until it reaches nearly 2 billion people by 2050.
However, the UN’s population division thinks that instead, at most India will reach 1.7 billion people and then start to decline. While it is true (as the group claims) that India has quadrupled since Independence, its growth rate has been declining since the 1960s. Furthermore, much of the current population growth is unevenly distributed across the nation.
“A 2013 study by [Demographer S Irudaya Rajan from Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvanthapuram] estimated that nearly a fifth of India’s over 600 districts had fertility rates below the replacement (usually calculated as 2.1 children per woman). This means that the number of children per family is lower than what is needed to keep the population at the same level. Most of these districts are in the south, west, north and east of the country.”
It is in the large central states like Rajasthan where population growth is still high. Overall, India’s fertility rate is 2.3 and is expected to reach replacement level as early as 2020. This all suggests that population control laws may be an unnecessary evil (as they were in China). However, some Indian states are drinking from the same cup as the Taxpayers’ Association of Bharat, and are thinking of introducing population control laws. The government of the province of Assam, which has had high population growth in part due to a lot of immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh, has announced a draft population policy. In this policy are proposals to deny government jobs and elected offices to people with more than two children. According to RB Bhagat, professor and head of the department of migrant studies, International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, this is all unnecessary.
“We already have a population policy and though family planning is an integral part of this, the target for state governments have been removed … Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra have below replacement rate fertility. States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have high fertility rates but they will also reach replacement levels in a decade or so.”
Thus it seems as if those pushing for population control measures through government coercion are barking at shadows, or at fears from thirty years ago. Even if there was no moral problem with the Indian government trying to force its citizens to have fewer children, there seems no pressing reason to justify such an intrustion into people's lives.