Welcome trend

India’s galloping population growth has started slowing down, if the figures available from the annual Sample Registration System survey are an indicator. The census operations are under way and only the results of that exercise will give a final and more reliable picture. That is months away but there are clear signs that the pace of growth is not as fast as it used to be. The survey shows that the birth rate has fallen by about 14 per cent in the 10 years from 1998 to 2008. This, and the decline in death rate which is also substantial at 18 per cent, sets a welcome trend. And it is of special importance that the new trend is accounted for by not just the performance of states which had produced results in curbing population growth, but by the strides made by the laggards in the BIMARU category.

In terms of birth rate Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have seen decline of 23 per cent and Bihar and UP a fall of 22 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. The dip in birth rate was caused by the improvement in social indicators like female literacy, maternal health and child mortality rate. The rise in the age of marriage was another factor. The increase in income levels of people has also helped. This does not mean that these indicators are satisfactory. On the contrary, they are much less than the world standards and in some cases as bad as those in the poorest and most backward countries. But all states have improved their positions from the past and that had an impact on the birth rate. The decline in death rate is a result of greater access to health care, though again this too is far from satisfactory.

The point is that the fight against population growth may have started showing results. It also shows that  the accent on education, health and income growth and giving women the central role in the strategy will ensure that the numbers will come down without recourse to coercion and too many disincentives. India will stand to gain from its demographic strength in the coming years, but too high a population will sap the resources and nullify the gains of economic growth. Even at the falling pace of population growth the country will have an advantage over others. It is for the governments to ensure that the welcome trend is sustained.

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