[Burning issue] India Becomes Most Populous Nation



  • With 142.86 crore people, India has surpassed China to become the world’s most populous nation, according to the latest United Nations data. China, with a population of 142.57 crore, is the now second most populous country.
  • In this context, this edition of the Burning Issue will talk about India’s growing population and associated issues which is the part of GS1 Mains syllabus.

Some Statistics about Indian Population

  • 142.86 crore Indians now: According to the latest United Nations Population Fund data, India’s population in 2023 stands at 142.86 crore.
  • The top five countries: in terms of population in decreasing order are-India, China, US, Indonesia and Pakistan.
  • The data from UN agency UNFP shows that 25 per cent of India’s population is in the 0-14 age bracket and 18 per cent in the 10-19 age group.
  • Mostly Young population: Twenty-six per cent of India’s population is in the 10-24 age bracket and 68 per cent in the 15-64 age bracket. Seven per cent of the country’s population is above 65 years of age. People under the age of 25 accounts for more than 40% of India’s population.
  • Spatial Divergences in Population: Kerala and Punjab have an ageing population, while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have a younger population, say experts.
  • Population to increase for next three decades: Several studies have shown that India’s population is expected to increase for nearly three decades before it peaks at 165 crore. It will then start to decline.

Reasons for India’s high population

  • Historically high population: India has always had a historically high population, especially in its fertile northern plains. There, due to climatic reasons, it is possible to grow both wheat, a winter grain, and rice, a summer grain, yielding twice as much food as many other parts of the world.
  • Higher birth rates and fertility rates: We have been successful in declining the death rates but the same cannot be said for birth rates. Also, the fertility rate (number of children a woman bear during her fertility rate) remained high for many decades.
  • 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:  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.
  • 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

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 a large informal economy. This ultimately leads to poor or stagnant living standards and slow progress in Human Capital Development and Social Mobility for a large section of society.
  • Faster and inefficient resource utilization: Land areas, water resources, and forests are over-exploited. There is also the 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 the 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.

Positive outcomes:

  • 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.
  • Population growth is correlated to technological advancement: 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 to 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.

Steps taken for population control in India

  • 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 the 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

  • Declining TFR: 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. 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.

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, the 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 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. 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 to lower the birth rate.
  • Adoption: is also an effective way to curb population. Some parents do not have any children, 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 to raise 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 a strategy to decrease the birth rate. But it is not possible to reduce technological advancements to decrease the death rate in India. 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.


  • India’s 1.4 billion people must be seen as 1.4 billion opportunities. The country with the largest youth cohort can be a source of innovation, new thinking and lasting solutions.
  • The trajectory can leapfrog forward if women and girls, in particular, are equipped with equal educational and skill-building opportunities, access to technology and digital innovations, and most importantly information and power to fully exercise their reproductive rights and choices.
  • Ensuring gender equality, empowerment and advancing greater bodily autonomy for women and girls are the key determinants for a sustainable future.

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