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Population expansion in India: Transforming challenges into catalysts for development

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In recent times, India has emerged as the most populous country in the world, surpassing China. With a staggering population of about 1.41 billion people and a rapid growth rate, this demographic trend has become a pressing concern. It is worth noting that India occupies only a mere 3 percent of the world’s land area, yet astonishingly accounts for 18 percent of the global population. This stark contrast although has raised significant apprehensions, should not be viewed only in the negative light.

Undoubtedly, a burgeoning population can give rise to valid concerns due to the associated negative consequences such as overcrowding, strain on limited resources, infrastructure challenges, and social issues encompassing poverty, inequality, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that a growing population also presents numerous opportunities for India to emerge as a formidable economy, which cannot be dismissed.

As the concept of demographic dividend assumes significance, the increasing proportion of the elderly population in the country necessitates the replacement of the workforce with a vibrant and youthful labor pool. Population growth plays a crucial role in achieving this transition successfully. China’s experience with the one-child policy serves as a cautionary tale, as it now grapples with the implications of an aging population.

By 2035, it is projected that approximately 400 million individuals in China will be aged 60 and above, constituting around 30% of the total population. Furthermore, the ratio of elderly to young individuals is anticipated to become increasingly imbalanced, exacerbated by last year’s milestone where deaths exceeded births for the first time since 1961.

In contrast, India has refrained from implementing stringent population control policies and instead relies on family planning programs and education. This approach aims to encourage families to opt for smaller family sizes, thereby facilitating India’s progression through the stages of demographic transition towards attaining low birth and death rates, a hallmark of the fourth stage.

Thus, while the challenges associated with a growing population cannot be undermined, it is crucial to recognize the opportunities that this demographic trend brings forth. By adopting a strategic approach that prioritizes education, family planning programs, and the empowerment of its citizens, India can navigate the complexities posed by a burgeoning population and progress towards achieving sustainable development and improved quality of life for its people.

The quality of a population and its human resources hold more significance than sheer numbers. The potential of a growing population can be effectively harnessed when individuals are provided with access to excellent education and healthcare services. By nurturing a skilled workforce in the quinary and quaternary sectors, India can propel its economic growth and strive towards achieving its target of becoming a $5 trillion economy by the financial year 2029. This should be the primary focus for a developing and expanding country like India.

Presently, India ranks 132nd out of 191 countries in terms of Human Development Index, indicating ample room for improvement. By prioritizing education and healthcare, especially in rural areas, a larger percentage of the population can become job-ready and gain awareness about the consequences of high population growth. They will recognize that having more children not only means more hands to work, but essentially bring into light the fact that it means more mouths to feed.

Thomas Robert Malthus’s theory, which predicted population doubling every 25 years in a geometric progression, has been proven false due to the phenomenon of demographic transition. This is evident in India’s experience, as the fertility rate has declined from 5.9 in 1950 to 2 in 2021. Factors such as increased access to education for women, awareness about family planning, and the rise in the number of working women have contributed to this decline.

It demonstrates that population growth can be managed and regulated through development, thereby alleviating concerns associated with unsustainable growth.

Thus, the focus should shift from mere population numbers to enhancing the quality of the population and its human resources. By providing education and healthcare opportunities and supplementing them with the necessary social overhead capital, in remote and omitted areas, India can equip its citizens with the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute to a thriving economy.

This, in turn, will lead to a decline in fertility rates and mitigate concerns related to population growth. India has the potential to reap significant advantages from its growing population, and by emphasizing development and education, it can pave the way for sustainable progress and prosperity.

As a democratic nation, India upholds the principles of liberty, social equity, and balanced growth across all sections of society. However, it is important to acknowledge that there is still work to be done in terms of achieving these goals.

According to the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021, India is ranked 66th out of 109 countries. This ranking highlight that the state must play a more effective role in uplifting vulnerable sections and ensure the quality of the population leading to equitable distribution of resources.

India’s growing population is a complex issue with both advantages and disadvantages. While the demographic dividend and market potential offer opportunities for economic growth, cultural diversity, and innovation, the challenges of overpopulation pressure, poverty, inequality, and strained infrastructure cannot be ignored.

Effectively managing the population growth requires a comprehensive approach that includes targeted policies on healthcare, education, employment, urban planning, and resource management. By addressing the challenges associated with a growing population and leveraging its advantages, India can strive towards sustainable development, equitable growth, and improved quality of life for all its citizens and make population growth more of a boon than a bane. To conclude, in today’s globalized economy, a more manpower will do more good than bad for a powerful labor intensive economy such as ours.

References

Paul, M. (2022). Live Mint. Retrieved from On top of the world: India most populous : https://www.livemint.com/news/india/india-overtakes-china-as-world-s-most-populous-nation-for-the-first-time-demographic-advantage-could-drive-economic-growth-but-job-creation-remains-a-challenge-11681928316885.html

The Hindu. (2022). Retrieved from Numbers game: On the State of World Population Report 2023 and the India projection: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/numbers-game-the-hindu-editorial-on-the-state-of-world-population-report-2023-and-the-india-projection/article66760015.ece

Bhavana Ramakrishnan

Graduate in Economics, Madras University

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