Is the burgeoning population boon or bane for the country?

While India’ with  population of 142.86 crore has overtaken that of China for the first time, India has a certain advantage over its neighbour as it enjoys a larger number of younger population which means a larger young workforce compared to China, writes Rajendra Khatry

India has now overtaken China as the most populous country of the world.  It is the first time that India’s population has overtaken China. The UN began to collect and release population data since 1950. 

According to the UN estimates, India’s population stands today at 142.86 crore against China’s 142.57 crore. Incidentally, India does not have the latest official census report to verify the United Nations’s population claim. India’s last census was done in 2011 and crores of  people have been added since then.

With India first and China second most populous country now, the United States stands a distant third, with an estimated population of 340 million, according to the UN data. The data reflected information available till February 2023.

According to the UN report, India’s population is set to rise to 1.515 billion in 2030, from 1.417 billion in 022. China’s population, by contrast, is expected to fall slightly from 1.426 billion to 1.416 billion over the same period.

At this rate, India is projected to have a population of 1.668 billion in 2050, ahead of China’s 1.317 billion people by the middle of the century. According to the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which means the average number of children a woman of child-bearing age must have 2 children and the extra, 01, indicates children who die in infancy or women who die before childbirth. A TFR of 2.1 will help in stabilising the population of India, according to experts.

According to a UN report, India’s demographic changes are fuelling the second largest rural-to-urban migration in human history, as masses move to cities desperately seeking work. Population density is another problem that puts immense load on natural resources, utilities, land prices, and educational and health facilities.

And yet, even as India’s population has overtaken that of China, India has a certain advantage over its neighbour as it enjoys a larger number of younger population which means a larger young workforce compared to that of China.

According to the UNFPA report 25 per cent of India’s population is in the age group of 0-14, 18 per cent in 10-19, 26 per cent in the 10-24, 68 per cent in 15-64, and 7 per cent above 65. In the population data India has a certain advantage over its neighbouring country China. 

The corresponding figures for China, has nearly 200 million people above the age of 65 which means its actively working population is much less than that of India. Compared to India’s 7 per cent retired persons, China has 14 per cent of aged people.

According to experts, India now has a demographic advantage. It has a larger number of young people. Its young population in a consumer-driven economy will be a major factor in driving the country’s development.  It presents a big opportunity for India’s economic growth.

For most of the countries the higher growth rate maybe difficult to achieve, but India stands at an advantageous position in this case. Population growth results in greater productivity due to increase in the workforce.

India may be struggling to deal with the demographic dividend which actually can be a blessing in disguise if the new entrants in the work field are positively used and employed.

However China’s advantage is that it  is doing better than India in the context of life expectancy. For men life expectancy is 76 and for women it is 82 per cent. On the other hand in India average life expectancy is 74 for men and 71 for women.

Not just this, but India’s demographic diversity among states also provides unique opportunities to reap the benefits of demographic dividend. In India different states are at various stages of demographic transition much to the country’s advantage.

No doubt India and China account for more than one-third of the estimated global population of 8.045 billion, but the positive point is that the population growth in both Asian giants has been slowing down over the years. The rate of slowing down population is much faster in China than that of India.

Since 2011, India’s annual population growth has averaged around 1.2 per cent, compared tp 1.7 per cent in the 10 years cycle earlier  according to the official data of the Indian government. According to reports, China’s population  decreased by 850,000 people last year. This was the first such decline recorded in the country since 1961.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) had made certain remarks about the burgeoning population of the world especially in regard to that of China and India. In a special graphic to mark the global population reaching eight billion, the UNFPA had said that Asia and Africa have driven much of this growth and are expected to drive the next billion by 2037. According to that report, Europe’s contribution will be negative due to its declining population.

China faces a looming demographic decline as birth rates plunge and its workforce ages. Not so with India though. But to deal with the reverse population growth, several regions in China have now also announced plans to boost birth rates. Well, China tried to increase population at a faster rate, but according to reports, official efforts have so far failed to reverse the decline.

It is to be noted that the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 found India’s TFR had  reached 2.2. Most Indian states had already achieved or were below 2.1 TFR, according to reports. But the United Nations Fund for Population activities (UNFPA) stated that India’s TFR has declined from 2.2 to 2.0 at the national level. The country reached the national replacement level of fertility in 2020. Unfortunately this replacement level is not even across all of India as population density differs from state to state. 

31 States and Union Territories have 69.7 per cent of India’s population and they have reached below the replacement rate of 2.1. The TFR is above the national average in several states like Bihar, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

India’s family planning programme has not achieved the desired result, feel exp[erts. The National Programme for Family Planning was launched way back in 1952 with the slogan `Hum do, hamare do’, while the National Population Policy was launched in 2000.

But according to the UNFPA, there has been improvements in access to family planning-related information and services in the country. According to many, India’s national population policies and health systems are working although slowly. 

Also the impact of the national family planning schemes have been more in the urban areas than that of the rural. Another fact is that the middle class families now have less population compared to the poor which is tragic indeed as with less income the poor have to feed more family members.

It is good that with the increasing marriage age, fertility has declined. According to experts, the way forward is to pursue Sustainable Development Growth (SDG). This should be done with a human rights approach and having special emphasis on women and girls.

It must be ensured that the availability of information regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights and facilities like contraceptives and maternal healthcare must be made available to women.