[Burning issue] India’s Population Paradox: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities   

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  • Recently, the United Nation’s World Population Prospects (WPP) Report 2022 was released which predicted that India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023, much earlier than previously thought.
  • The population and related topics have been in news for past one year which makes the population and associated topics important for the upcoming Mains Examination, 2022.

About the UN World Population Prospect Report

  • World Population Prospects 2022 is the official estimate and projections of the global population that have been published by the United Nations since 1951.
  • They form a comprehensive set of demographic data to assess population trends at the global, regional and national levels.
  • This report provides an overview of global population trends focusing on the period from 1950 to 2050 and presents a summary of key demographic prospects during the second half of the present century.

Key highlights

  • The world’s population is projected to reach 8 billion on 15 November 2022.
  • The global population is still growing, albeit at a reduced rate. Some countries and regions continue to experience further population growth, while others have witnessed a stabilization or begun to decrease in population size.
  • In 2021, the average fertility of the world’s population stood at 2.3 births per woman over a lifetime, having fallen from about 5 births per woman in 1950.
  • The world population might peak at around 10.4 billion in 2086.

Indian Population trends

  • The total population of India currently stands at 1.37 billion which is 17.5% of the world population.
  • Between 1992 and 2015, India’s Total fertility rate (TFR) had fallen by 35% from 3.4 to 2.2.
  • Young people (15-29 age years) form 27.2% of the population in 2021. This made India enter the Demographic dividend stage.
  • The percentage of the elderly population has been increasing from 6.8% in 1991 to 9.2% in 2016.

Causes of Population growth

  • Higher birth rate: We have been successful in declining the death rates but the same cannot be said for birth rates.
  • Fertility rate: is much higher compared to other countries.
  • Early Marriage and Universal Marriage System: Getting married at a young age prolongs the childbearing age. Also, in India, marriage is a sacred obligation and a universal practice, where almost every woman is married at reproductive age.
  • Poverty and Illiteracy: Another factor for the rapid growth of the population is poverty. Impoverished families have this notion that more the members in the family, the more will be the numbers to earn income. Some feel that more children are needed to look after them in their old age. Also, hunger can be the cause of death of their children and hence the need for more children. Strange but true, Indian still lags behind the use of contraceptives and birth control methods. Many of them are not willing to discuss or are totally unaware of them. Illiteracy is thus another cause of overpopulation.
  • Age old cultural norm: Sons are the bread earners of families in India. This age-old thought puts considerable pressure on the parents to produce children till a male child or the required number of male children are born (This is called Son Meta preference).
  • Illegal migration: Last but not the least, we cannot ignore the fact that illegal migration is continuously taking place from Bangladesh and Nepal is leading to increased population density.
  • Lack of awareness: about family planning and its benefits, government schemes related to family welfare like free birth control measures leading to unwanted pregnancies and ultimately population growth.

Implications of high population

A. Negative outcomes:

  • Poor achievement of SDGs: Sustained high fertility and rapid population growth present challenges to the achievement of sustainable development. The necessity of educating growing numbers of children and young people, for example, draws resources away from efforts to improve the quality of education.
  • Unemployment: Generating employment for a huge population in a country like India is very difficult. The number of illiterate persons increases every year. The unemployment rate is thus showing an increasing trend.
  • Pressure on infrastructure: The development of infrastructural facilities is unfortunately not keeping pace with the growth of the population. The result is a lack of transportation, communication, housing, education, healthcare etc. There has been an increase in the number of slums, overcrowded houses, traffic congestion etc.
  • Manpower utilization: The number of jobless people is on the rise in India due to economic depression and slow business development and expansion activities. It has also caused India to be the home of the largest force of Gig Workers in the world and large informal economy. This ultimately leads to poor or stagnant living standards, slow progress in Human Capital Development and Social Mobility for a large section of society.
  • Faster and inefficient resource utilization: Land areas, water resources, forests are over exploited. There is also scarcity of resources.
  • Decreased production and increased costs: Food production and distribution have not been able to catch up with the increasing population and hence the costs of production have increased. Inflation is the major consequence of overpopulation.
  • Inequitable income distribution: In the face of an increasing population, unequal distribution of income and inequalities within the country widen.
  • Increasing divergence in the representation of different states in Parliament of India: higher population growth in north Indian states as compared to southern states has led to the freezing of the number of seats in parliament till 2026. This has caused a political tussle between less developed northern and largely developed southern Indian states.

However, there are a few Positive outcomes also:

  • Largest pool of consumers: an increase in population means an increase in consumers and expansion of the demand for raw materials as well as finished products leading to high consumption and thus higher economic activities. Thus, India has become the largest market in the world for companies around the world.
  • According to the neo-classical growth model, the population is beneficial to an economy because population growth is correlated to technological advancement. The rising population promotes the need for some sort of technological change to meet the rising demands for certain goods and services.
  • Demographic dividend in India: India’s unique population structure with around 66% population in the working age group (15-59 years) has brought her at the cusp of a major transition for the next two decades. This has made it one of the youngest countries in the world which may put India on the path of high development as happened in China between 1991 and 2011.

Population control measures that can be taken

  • Social Measure: Population outburst is considered to be a social problem and it is intensely rooted in civilization. It is, therefore, necessary to make efforts to eliminate the social iniquities in the country. Minimum age of Marriage: As fertility depends on the age of marriage therefore the minimum age of marriage should be raised. In India minimum age for marriage is 21 years for men and 18 years for women fixed by law. This law should be strongly implemented and people should also be made aware of this through promotion.
  • Raising the Status of Women: There are prevalent biases against women. They are restricted to houses. They are still confined to rearing and bearing of children. So women should be given opportunities to develop socially and economically. Free education should be given to them.
  • Spread education: The spread of education changes the views of people. The educated men take mature decisions and prefer to delay marriage and adopt small family customs. Educated women are health mindful and avoid frequent pregnancies and thus help in lowering the birth rate.
  • Adoption: is also an effective way to curb population. Some parents do not have any child, despite expensive medical treatment. It is recommended that they should adopt orphan children. It will be helpful to orphan children and children to couples.
  • Economic Measures: It is necessary is to raise the employment opportunities in rural as well as urban areas. Another economic measure for population control is the development of Agriculture and Industry. If agriculture and industry are correctly developed, a huge number of people will get employment. When their income is increased they would enhance their standard of living and accept small family norms.
  • Urbanization: process can reduce population increase. It is reported that people in urban areas have low birth rate than those living in rural areas. Urbanization should be encouraged.
  • Strict birth control measures: are needed such as China has adopted the strategy to decrease the birth rate. But it is not possible to reduce technological advancements to decrease the death rate in India. In order to reduce the birth rate, several government-funded agencies like the Family Planning Association of India spend excessive funds to promote family planning as a basic human right and the norm of a two-child family voluntarily.
  • Creating awareness about family planning: The family planning methods provided by the family planning program are vasectomy, tubectomy, IUD, conventional contraceptives (that is condoms, diaphragms, jelly/cream tubes, foam tables) and oral pills.

Steps taken for population control in India

  • After independence, a Population Policy Committee was created in 1952 which suggested the appointment of a Family Planning Research and Programmes Committee in 1953.
  • Central Family Planning Board was created in 1956 which emphasized sterilization. Up till the 1960s a rigid policy was not adopted to arrest the fast growth of the population. The policy framed in 1951-52 was ad hoc in nature, flexible, and based on a trial and error approach.
  • The New Population Policy, 1977: The Government of India introduced first National Population Policy in 1976, which focussed on reducing birth rate, lowering infant mortality rate and improving the standard of life.
  • The National Population Policy 2000: provided a comprehensive framework to provide the reproductive and health needs of the people of India for the next ten years.
  • Mission Parivar Vikas (MPV), 2016: Under the scheme, innovative strategies like the distribution of Nayi Pehel kits, Saas Bahu Sammelan, and Saarthi vans are helping in reaching out to the community and initiating dialogues on family planning and healthy birth spacing, and the importance of small families.
  • Raising the marriage age for girls: Recently, the Government proposed the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to raise the age of legal marriage for women from 18 to 21, which would further help in reducing fertility rates.

Some green shoots

  • There have been some encouraging trends in India’s population in the Sample Registration System (SRS) Statistical Report (2018) and global population projections made by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), US.
  • SRS report estimated the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), the number of children a mother would have at the current pattern of fertility during her lifetime, as 2.2 in the year 2018.
  • Also, the recently released 5th National Family Health Survey report has shown that India’s TFR has currently reached below the replacement level of fertility of 2.1 children per woman.
  • As fertility declines, so does the population growth rate.

Controversies around Population Growth

  • Demand for coercive population control measure on the lines of china: several local political leaders have been demanding coercive implementation of the 2-child policy and steps like the exclusion of couples with more than 2 children from government programs and employment. For example,

Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021, seeks to provide a series of incentives as well as list several punishments to families that adhere and do not adhere to a two-child norm.

  • However, opponents of such a demand argue that it is against the fundamental rights of people and the democratic credentials of the nation and may promote illegal abortions threatening women’s health and safety.
  • Communal overtone: several politicians try to falsely portray the population data to blame a particular community for the rising population of India. Also, several religious leaders also keep demanding couples to produce multiple children in order to maintain population majority in nation.

Way forward

  • There is an urgent need to implement population-related government policies and programme in letter and spirit.
  • Taking benefits of a smaller family to the last locality possible so as to make smaller families a norm right up to the districts which are still witnessing high TFR rates.
  • Bringing women at the centre of family planning decisions and thus giving them control over their bodies.


  • Hence, from above it is clear that India has come a long way in population control and planning. The recent Demographic data suggest that a ‘Social Revolution’ is underway in India.
  • But still, a lot needs to be done. The Health, education and skills development of the Indian population needs acceleration to fully reap the benefits of the Demographic Dividend and achieve the goals of Aatmanirbhar Bharat and UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
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