(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Human population growth is probably the most serious long-term threat for survival. We’re in for a major disaster if it isn’t curbed...we have no option. If it isn’t controlled voluntarily, it will be controlled involuntarily.”
— Prince Philip.
The United Nation Development Program, UNDP in short, released the latest edition of its Human Development Index (HDI), and in this list, India occupies the 130th rank among 189 countries. HDI indicates comparative position of countries in composite terms of education, life expectancy and per capita income. The rankings do not paint a good picture of our country among the member nations of the United Nations. Sri Lanka, our little neighbour, is ranked at 76. Among the BRICS nations, India is ranked the last.
The top three ranks in HDI are occupied by Norway, Switzerland, and Australia. Among BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations, Russia is at the top followed by Brazil. Within Asia, the top ranks are occupied by Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.
India got Independence from the clutches of British rule in 1947, and it’s been 71 years since then. There are countries which either got independence or were formed later than India, but rank better comparatively.
Of late, India claims to have the highest economic growth among the major economies in the world, but the per capita income of the country has not really grown, meaning that the average income of a resident Indian has grown very little.
Perhaps the most major bottleneck, among other important and major issues, is the population explosion in India. At present, India is the second most populous country in the world, and is shortly expected to overtake China to be the most populous country in the world. This issue has not been addressed socially and politically since India’s Independence, except perhaps in the mid-1970s during Emergency, when many cases of forced sterilization were reported. The issue thereafter became so sensitive that no political party or any government has dared to address this issue.
However, it’s on record that the issue of population explosion was raised quite early after Independence by none other than the doyen of Indian industry, JRD Tata, with the first Prime Minister of this country, Jawaharlal Nehru, who seems to have laughed off the idea saying that people are resources for the country. But this very issue has been the impediment in better progress of the country, economically and socially. Today, the issue has raised its head to demonic proportion, with no inkling of slightest attempt to address it from the government and non-governmental agencies.
Population growth is an extremely serious challenge to our natural resources, including water and food chain. More the population, more are the mouths to be fed, and that means more food needs to be produced to feed the people. This also means more stress on our natural resources, most notably water, and water is scarce in many parts of the country. This has an adverse impact on the environment and ecological balance. Already, the forest cover has depleted substantially in many parts of the country. Population growth has an adverse impact on land resources. Land is fixed. Population growth would be a dent on the per capita usage of land. More land would be required for more homes, for more food — the list is endless. This has also led to the eviction of indigenous tribes, resulting in social unrest and violence, and very serious law-and-order problems. It is needless to add that the flora, fauna and wildlife are in danger.
Higher growth of population means more demand and requirements on the basic necessities of modern-day life like sanitation, health care, education, etc. India is facing acute challenges in each of these aspects — quantitatively and qualitatively. The pace of spread of such facilities has not kept pace with the growth in population, leading to high infant mortality rates and maternal deaths related to pregnancy and child-birth. Whether the government and governmental agencies are doing enough is another matter altogether.
Population growth and the resultant growth in vehicles, transportation needs among others have put pressure on the energy requirements of the country, most notably fuel and oil. The cost of import bill for crude oil is ever increasing as India is largely dependent on imports, with no adequate reserve of its own for crude oil. Further, the pace of generating alternate fuel and energy requirements is abysmally slow. The Government seems to have woken up, of late, but lot of work needs to be done. India is way behind in the usage of eco-friendly energy to meet its requirements, when compared to many other countries.
Man-made pollution is direct fallout of population growth. Both air pollution and water pollution are very high in India, and some of the Indian cities are among the most polluted cities in the world. Our rivers, including major rivers like the Ganges, are much polluted because of man-made waste discharges, besides industrial pollutants.
Infrastructure across the country, especially in the cities, is crumbling because of population pressure. Lot of migration is taking place from the rural areas to the urban locales. Today, each city in India is inundated with migrants looking for livelihood opportunities. Slums are growing at a menacing pace, which in itself is inviting many social disorders.
Population growth, in summary, has put a lot of pressure on India’s resources — natural or otherwise. It is the need of the hour that we recognize this as a national issue and challenge. Population growth is now the biggest impediment in the economic progress of the country, by far more than any other challenge the country has. Citizens have to be sensitized as their co-operation is a must to make appropriate headway to address the issue of population explosion. There is no doubt that the population growth has decreased over the decades, but India presents such a huge number that even a slight increase adds substantial numbers. China had recognized this issue long back, and has addressed the issue quite successfully. The same modus operandi may not be applicable in India, as it is a democracy. But the need and necessity of addressing this challenge is even more warranted now than ever before. Non-governmental agencies may have to take a more active role along with the governmental initiatives. Women, in particular, have to be educated and empowered so that they participate willingly and actively. Political consensus has to be built across all political parties so that the issue can be taken up in unison and all sections of the society across the country participates to address and resolve this issue of utmost national interest.