India, most populous in world by 2030

We celebrate the World Population Day on July 11 each year. There are now nearly 7. 3 billion people in the world and 18 per cent of that or about 1.3 billion in India. Just 50 years ago, the world had only three billion people and India had 15 per cent of that or about 440 million. So, both world and India have grown; India somewhat faster than the world as a whole.

The United Nations has estimated that the world population is likely to be 10.8 billion by the end of the century and India will have about 1.5 billion or about 14 per cent of it. So, India will grow somewhat slower than world as a whole. However, India will be the most populous country in about 15 years overtaking China.

Many are concerned that this growing population will place significant burden on environment resulting in climate change, pollution, water scarcity and loss of biodiversity. They feel that on these counts, the world is perhaps seriously risking improvements in the living conditions of the past.

What can we do to mitigate the risk? After all, the future is what we make it to be. We need to minimise environmental impact by making our development less energy intensive, using more environment- friendly energy and becoming more efficient in our energy usage.

We can also further accelerate the downward trend in population growth. India grew 17.7 per cent between 2001 and 2011 compared to 21.5 per cent in its previous decade between 1991-and 2001. There is considerable demographic diversity in India. Each state needs to implement its own solutions as the situation is very different for different states.

Three forces drive population growth: people wanting larger families than needed; people having more children than they desire or having unwanted fertility; and, more people entering reproductive age (15 to 44 years) than those leaving or population momentum. These forces will have differential impact on population growth in different states.

Nearly 60 per cent of the population resides in states where either replacement fertility is already reached or will soon reach.

These include the southern states, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab. In these states, most of the growth will be due to population momentum as we have a large youth population. They need to reach younger people and provide high quality family planning services to empower them should they wish to delay their marriage or have their first child.

Around 40 per cent of the population is in large north Indian states – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. These states need to address all the three forces that drive population growth.

People desire larger families because of a complex web of social and economic factors. The single major factor is women’s education and empowerment. Educated women generally not only have smaller families and contribute to wellbeing of the society but also affect future generation as their children live longer and are healthier.

Demographic dividend?

Much has been made of our country being youthful and benefits of so called demographic dividend because of a larger proportion of people in working age. That is why there is so much emphasis on job creation.

There is a serious problem in our population future as sex ratio at birth is skewed in favour of boys. The phenomenon of missing girls can cause havoc for fabric of the society if not remedied urgently.

As we are living longer, we also have many more senior citizens and their numbers will grow. It is estimated that there will be nearly 300 million people above 65 years of age by 2050. Since family structures are changing, we need to evolve models of taking care of them in their old age.

Should we be able to respond well to these challenges? Offer high quality family planning services to all, create many more job for young people, mitigate environmental risks, and above all educate and empower women, we can look forward to celebrating many more world population days with even more optimism than this year.

(The writer is Advisor, Public Health Foundation of India)

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