In his monumental work, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Robert Malthus postulated that while population grows exponentially, food production grows linearly. So, a catastrophe will occur, either by famine, disease or war, to bring down the population. Although the population in the world and India has been growing spectacularly, no catastrophe of a great dimension has occurred to bring down population or its growth because food production has increased more phenomenally than population growth. This is due to increase in farmland, better irrigation, use of fertilisers and pesticides, crop rotation and improved storage of food grains; in other words, application of science and technology for agriculture.
In the 1960s, food scarcity in India was overcome only through massive food aid from the US, with the then US President, Lyndon Johnson authorising food shipments to India under PL-480. The aid was however leveraged to secure support for US foreign policy goals, with India giving assurance that it would implement agricultural reforms and temper criticism of US policy regarding Vietnam. Importing food grains was humiliating, and in 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri exhorted people to chant ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’. The ‘Green Revolution’ was brought about by planting newly developed grains (wheat and rice) and using fertilisers. This raised the yield, though it did not improve food grain availability per person. However, the spectre of famine vanished, largely due to better distribution. Improvement in irrigation facilities and rapid economic growth also helped to drought proof the country. Today, India feeds over 800 million “poor” people by giving them free/subsidised food items. The amount spent detracts from investments needed for overall development—economic and social.
An increase in food grain availability may stop starvation but not ill health, illiteracy, lack of proper housing and work and employment and improvement in standards of living and achievement and respect for the country in the comity of nations. Poverty reduction by controlling growth in population, as was done by China, is hence an imperative for national development. As humans are the only species in the planet who consistently degrade the environment, a reduction in population will concomitantly also lead to the preservation of the environment. India must, therefore, have a population policy which can ensure the achievement of development goals—economic, social and security. Family size must hence be regulated through positive and negative incentives and disincentives respectively and be made applicable uniformly across the board, to all sections of people, regardless of religion, region, caste and economic status. Uneven growth of population as between sections of people leads to social strife and demographic disequilibrium, which is best avoided.
Impact of India’s Population Growth
India’s population, which stood at 35.69 crore in 1951 increased to 121.08 crore in 2011 and is estimated to be 139.9 crore in 2021. An increase of four times since 1951, clearly puts unsustainable pressure on the land and water resources, which remain constant. To sustain the growing population, forest lands are being depleted, disturbing the ecosystem leading to multiple negative consequences.
Soon after independence, the redoubtable industrialist and statesman, JRD Tata, raised the issue with Nehru, of the importance of population control. “But Jeh”, replied Nehru, “population is our strength!” Undeterred, JRD raised the subject again in 1951, but got little traction, and so Mr Tata, through the agency he founded, the Family Planning Association of India, pursued a campaign to promote family planning.[viii] JRD’s advocacy of population control not only in and for India, but on a world-wide scale got him the United Nations Population Award in October 1992.
Dr. Ambedkar, too, understood the linkage between poverty and population. His views on birth control are reflected in the speech which Mr. P. J. Roham delivered, but which was written, as stated by Roham, by Dr Ambedkar. Here, Ambedkar called for limiting the family units, and urged the government to carry on an intensive propaganda in favour of birth-control among the masses. In the Manifesto of the Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) for General Elections to Lok Sabha in 1952, he wrote about his party’s policy in regard to poverty and population. “The problem of poverty”, he wrote, “is a problem of controlling the excessive growth of population… for the purpose of reducing population it (SCF) would advocate intensive propaganda in favour of birth control among the people. It will advocate the opening of birth control clinics in different parts of the country. It regards the growing rate in the increase of population in the country so grave and evil that it would not hesitate to advocate more drastic methods of controlling it”.
India has, unfortunately, paid little heed to the sage advice of both JRD Tata and Dr Ambedkar. But it is time to think seriously on this subject, both as a poverty alleviation measure and also as an instrument of protecting the environment. While the Chief Minister of Assam, Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma as well as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Shri Yogi Adityanath are now advocating population control measures, the initiative needs to be taken on a national level. Unfortunately, population control measures are denounced by some Muslim leaders and their allies, ostensibly on the grounds that it violates Muslim personal law.
China’s rise has been aided by its success in controlling its population. They had a one child policy from the mid 1970s and two children per family from 2015 which has now been increased to three children per family. India faces multiple challenges in attempting the Chinese model, due to religious differences, caste fragmentation and differences in economic and educational levels. This gets exacerbated due to India being a multi-party, periodically election-conducting nation-state, wherein politicians exploit differences to garner the popular mandate. That notwithstanding, the need for a population policy is dire and can no longer be overlooked.
A National Population Policy for India
India is a welfare state where large doses are given for food, education and other social welfare schemes. As part of the policy, such assistance could be restricted to those having two children or less. Curbs could also be placed on those having more than two children in applying for Government jobs or for selling public office.
Extensive educational campaigns must be undertaken to explain the consequences of run-away growth in population and that too unevenly among different sections before promulgation and periodic revisions in national population policies. The following needs to be highlighted:
- All people must always have despite droughts, famine and floods and epidemics, earthquakes, storms and cyclones and such natural disasters adequate fuel and food so that there are none or fewest deaths at all times.
- People must be well nourished, healthy, educated and able and willing to work to earn their livelihood and live in reasonable comfort.
- People must have adequate housing, either of their own or within affordable rent.
- Death at birth and infant mortality must be nil or nearly so and life expectancy should be rising.
- The use of natural resources below and above the ground—minerals, rivers, forests, air, fauna should not lead to unlivable conditions for humans, through reckless exploitation, which leads to environmental degradation. Most importantly, the civilisational and cultural heritage of Bharat, must be preserved.
- Different rates of growth of populations as between states, regions, castes and religions should not lead to dissonance within society. The population and its growth rate in the country should be related to the means of sustenance and economic well-being of the people.
- The environment must be preserved.
The current conflict in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims is a result of demographic changes that have taken place over the last few decades. In India, demographic changes could lead to communal strife on a very large scale, if not corrected even at this late stage. While India’s population since independence has increased four times, this increase is not spread evenly across religious groups. The Muslim population has grown six times during this period as against the population of other religious groups increasing only three times.
Muslim population growth relative to Hindus should be a matter of serious concern as it is driven both by political and theological considerations. This has already led to population inversion in some parts of India, especially in the states of Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, leading to fissures within society.
Unequal Rates of Growth Among States and Communities
Population increase in Southern states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh is much slower that states in the North, such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This could lead to a North-South divide, as seat allocation in Parliament is done on the basis of population.
Article 81 of the Constitution requires that each state receive seats in proportion to its population. The Seventh Amendment (1956) capped the maximum number of elected seats at 520. After adjustments under the Fourteenth Amendment (1962), the Thirty-First Amendment (1973), and the Goa, Daman and Diu Reorganisation Act (1987), the Lok Sabha now has a maximum sanctioned strength of 552 (530 from the states, 20 from the UTs, and two presidentially appointed members from the Anglo-Indian community) making a total of 545 representatives. The seats were to be revised every 10 years, but this revision was suspended by the Forty-Second Amendment enacted in 1976, until after the 2001 Census. In 2002, parliament, through the Eighty-Fourth Amendment, extended the suspension till the census to be held post 2026, which in effect means to 2031.
India’s population, which stood at 35.69 crore in 1951 increased to 121.08 crore in 2011 and is estimated to be 139.9 crore in 2021.this, clearly puts unsustainable pressure on the land and water resources, which remain constant
The aspect of seat allocation based on population has grave implications. The states that have performed well in controlling the population stand to lose as against the states that have performed poorly. If such a policy is implemented, the loss of political power to states that have performed well, will likely create a cleavage between those that have fared better, leading to political turmoil and upheaval. It is thus important that all states take urgent steps, not just to stabilise population growth, but to reduce the same.
Preserving Territorial, National and Cultural Integrity
India’s population policy should not only aim at controlling the growth of population but also preserve the integrity, sovereignty and civilisational and cultural heritage of the country. History gives examples of destruction of a country’s cultural milieu by differential growth of the populations aimed at claiming political separation and superiority as seen in Lebanon. In the Netherlands, the Catholics were in a minority. They wanted to become the majority, so they nurtured large families and over time, the protestants were reduced to a minority. The same phenomena appear to be happening in parts of India: Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and certain other parts of India. In these states as well as in others, Muslims have been able to prevail upon the ruling parties through group voting strength, to carve out Muslim majority districts: Malappuram in Kerala, Mewat in Gurugram and Malerkotla in Punjab are examples. The motive is political power. Writing in the Jamaat-e-Islami weekly, “Radiance,” Dr Omar Khalidi, stated: “we need Muslim districts for three reasons. First, concentrated areas provide security; second, to provide an environment that is conducive to our cultural independence; third, to provide a political base through which our people can be elected…at preset, our numbers don’t add up to elect adequate legislators. Hyderabad and Rangareddy in Andhra Pradesh and Gulbarga (Karnataka) and certain Thalukas could be merged to create Deccan province (with Muslim majority).
Different Treatment to different Religions
India’s populations are dealt with differently in some respects, based on among others, religion, language and caste considerations. Article 30 of the Indian Constitution grants to religious and linguistic minorities certain rights and privileges with respect to establishing and managing any type and number of educational institutions, a right and privilege not available to the Hindu majority. What percent of the total population qualifies to be reckoned as minority is also not specified in the Constitution nor by the Supreme Court. While Hindus on an all-India basis are the majority, they are a minority in several states (J&K, Punjab, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and very soon in Kerala and Arunachal Pradesh). Minority Commissions are established only in Hindu majority states; not in Hindu minority states. Muslim personal law permits a man to have four wives and inheritance is also dictated by their personal law. There is a need to look into such issues, and for the nation to be governed by a uniform civil code, so that all people can be treated alike. The minority status is discriminatory as it affects the economic and welfare prospects of people. Governments in States and in the Centre have Minority Welfare Departments and Minority Finance Corporations, funding not only education, welfare and commercial ventures of minorities but also their places of worship. This militates against the very concept of secularism, as enshrined in the Constitution.
Population growth is impacting negatively on India’s cities, all of which have grown far beyond the capacity of the civic agencies to provide adequate amenities. Growth of population has also impacted negatively in the rural areas, where land holdings are diminishing and are becoming smaller. Population growth is also impacting job availability, which is getting more severe due to mechanisation, automation and robotisation. Population reduction is therefore a necessity.
Inter alia, such a policy must focus on
- Extensive and intensive education and information about the perils of large families and large populations which negate poverty alleviation efforts, increase unemployment, lead to under-nourishment among women and children, and create conflict in the scramble for limited resource availability.
- Humans are the only polluters on the planet. Reducing the population will ipso facto, lead to reduction in pollution level, reduction of the carbon footprint, and help in preservation of the environment.
- Limiting family size must now be a national imperative. Appropriate legislation to that effect must be made, to include legislating incentives and disincentives to promote small family norms.
- Legislate UCC as mandated by the Directive Principles of the Constitution and criminalise polygamy.
- Preserve values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Loka Sangraha and Dharma.