Time to encash it

The recently released census data on age-wise distribution of the population shows that India now has a rare demographic and economic opportunity. The population  increased by 17.7 per cent from 102. 86 crore to 121.06 crore during 2001-2011. But the increase in the 0-9 age group was only 0.4 per cent. 

In many states the number of children actually declined and in most the growth rate is lower than in the past. While this is good, better news is that the number of people in the 15-59 age group has increased by about 25 per cent. This group, which is the working age category, also forms 60 per cent of the country’s population. It means that the country has much more people  who can work and support those in the children and old age category. 

This is a classic case of demographic dividend which countries usually get only once in their history and sometimes only for a short period. Developed countries once gained from it but now have a larger older population and small young and child populations. China took great advantage of the dividend in the last few decades but the situation is now turning  unfavourable with the birth rate and the number of working people declining and old age population increasing. To make the best use of  its opportunity India should expedite economic growth and provide more employment to the people who are  in the working age group. This also means providing more educational facilities and implementing skill development plans for those who need it. A good part of those in the working age category, even those are considered to be qualified, need such programmes.  Industry and services will have to provide the greatest share of these jobs because the employment potential  in agriculture is limited. But a good part of the growth in population is in rural areas and so urbanisation and investment in industry and infrastructure will need to be boosted.  It is necessary to give productive jobs to those who need them.

The change in age-wise and geographical  distribution of population will lead to social and other changes too. There will be increased migration of people from the northern states, looking for employment. Inability to provide employment to people who need it can lead to discontent and disaffection. The opportunity which has now come should not be wasted. 

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