We are among the first 15 countries in terms of industrial production. Schools have proliferated. However, population growth has not slowed down much.
The increase in population, in fact, dilutes every improvement in India’s national development. If the population rise had been contained, the same economic achievements would have resulted in a significant development of our people.
The gap between GDP and per capita income indicates the adverse effect of a large population on standard of living. Another aspect of development in India is the skewed distribution of growth, which has denied any effective rise in the living standards of most Indians.
Nearly 30 per cent of the people still live below poverty line and many just hover over the border line. The benefits of developments have been mostly cornered by a small percentage of people, with only some small portions “trickling” down to the majority.
The existing standard of living is just about maintained so that there is a low death rate but no appreciably high reduction in the birth rate.
An economist would say there has been a failure on the population front rather than in development. Then, surely, development cannot be “the best contraception”.
A population expert would say that if the development efforts have not led to any significant reduction in the population growth, it is because of the low rate of economic or production growth vis-a-vis the rapid population growth and the unequal distribution of the small benefits.
The 25 per cent or so of our people who have benefited from the development process have generally shown a significant fall in birth rate to maintain a substantial rise in their living standards.
For the remaining 75 per cent, the rise in the living standards is so marginal that it has simply resulted in lowering of the death rate without a corresponding decline in the birth rate. Thus, it is not development and the distributive factor of its benefits that are critical for the development process to be effective in controlling the population growth.
Two ways are possible to overcome this problem. Either increase the economic growth rate to at least three or four times the present population growth rate even while ensuring equitable distribution, or reduce the population growth drastically to one third or so of what exists now, again keeping in mind the distribution aspect.
Raising the economic growth rate-substantially poses some difficulties. Harnessing our natural resources further will take much effort and discipline.
A high growth rate is also bound to cause serious damage to the ecological balance, for we are not technologically so advanced or so well endowed financially to buy environmental-friendly development processes.
The other alternative of bringing down population through a vigorous and effective promulgation of family planning programme at once conjures up the nightmare of the Emergency days.
However, when we talk of development, we may enlarge the term’s meaning to include human development. It is only through developing human beings—through literacy, education, and better health facilities—that we can hope to have an impact on population growth.
Mere economic development will not do so. If the State concentrates on what is called the “social sectors” and provide for development with a human face, only then can we have healthy and aware human beings who will have a stake in keeping the size of their families small.