PM Modi is Worried About Population Explosion, a Problem Set to Go Away in 2021 -Saurabh Rai and M Sivakami
Instead, we should focus on why population control efforts have mostly translated to controlling women's, and not men's, fertility.
In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that the government considers population explosion to be in the way of India’s development. This isn’t the first time in the history of independent India when a government has tried to control the population. A similar fear led to the government to launch a family planning scheme in 1951, making India the first country in the world to launch a state-sponsored program for population control.
India’s journey with population control is an arduous one that includes events, such as compulsory sterilisation during the Emergency (1975-1977) and post-surgery complications and deaths in many sterilisation camps.
Prime Minister Modi’s words were: “We need to worry about population explosion.” However, data does not support this statement. Researchers around the world use total fertility rate (TFR) and annual population growth rate to quantify population growth. The desired value for TFR is 2.1, at which a population reaches a replacement level of fertility.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS), which provides demographic estimates and which the government uses for policymaking, shows India’s TFR was 2.2 in 2016: 2.4 in rural areas and 1.8 in urban; the latter is below the replacement rate. Eighteen states and five union territories had a TFR of 2.1 or less in 2016 itself. Even the Statistical Report 2017 of the Sample Registration System (SRS), released by the Office of the Registrar General of India, shows that India’s TFR is 2.2 and that only seven states – Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – had a TFR above the national average.
According to the Census 2011, India’s annual population growth rate in 2001-2011 was 1.64%. World Bank data shows that India’s growth rate decreased from 1.73% in 2001 to 1.04% in 2018. The Economic Survey 2018-19, conducted by the Department of Economic Affairs, also observed that the annual growth rate was 1.3% in 2011-2016. The population growth rate in 12 states was less than even 1%, and even states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana – regarded as high fertility states – have shown significant decline in their growth rates over time.
Estimates based on Census data predict that India will reach a TFR of 2.1 by 2021. When multiple data sources can agree that India’s population growth has shown a declining trend for quite some time now, why do we need to worry about population explosion?
Population control and women’s reproductive rights
Gender norms in our patriarchal society dictate economic responsibilities to men and reproductive responsibilities to women. While these norms have been questioned and there have been examples of change, it hasn’t yet percolated through to the vast majority of Indians and at the grassroots. This is reflected in how family planning measures are used in India: heavily skewed towards female sterilisation.
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