Population: Quality matters not figures

A new United Nations report says that India will surpass China to become the world’s most populated country in 2022. It was previously estimated to do so in 2050. This was revised two years ago to 2018.

The advancing of the year when India’s population size would beat that of China has been attributed to the fact that China’s population growth rate is decelerating at a faster pace than that of India and also than that previously estimated. In 2022, India and China will have approximately 1.4 billion people each. Thereafter, India’s population will grow to 1.5 billion in 2030 and 1.7 billion in 2050. Although its population will begin shrinking slowly thereafter, India will continue to hold the top spot in population size till the end of the 21st century. Generally, India’s population has been perceived as a problem. It is viewed as an overpopulated country. This is an outdated perception. Its population need not be a liability if its quality was better. Hence, India’s approach to its population needs to move beyond the focus on controlling its size to improving its quality.

Increasingly, demographic experts have said that instead of moaning about ‘over-population’, India needs to focus on finding ways to reap the demographic dividend. How best can it reap the benefit of having a large youth population i.e. a high ratio of working to dependent populations? Unlike India, which has a large and growing youth population – in 2020, 64 per cent of India’s population will be below 25 years of age – the population of western countries and Japan are graying. By 2050, it is estimated that 34 per cent of Europe’s population will be over 60 years old. This situation will worsen in subsequent decades, which means that Europe will lack young labour soon and will need to turn to countries like India to meet its needs for labour. It will give India a competitive edge. Thus an enormous opportunity is opening up for India to meet the labour requirements of other countries.

However, mere numbers will not deliver the demographic dividend. India will be able to reap its benefits only if it is effective in improving the quality of its population. Malnourished, unhealthy, illiterate and unskilled youth are not employable. India must bear in mind that a giant is a liability if it is gangrenous. If India fails to improve literacy, nutrition, health and other social indicators, this large and growing population will be an unbearable burden on limited resources. It will trigger conflict, even violent conflict.

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