Why the debate over India’s population explosion is on the wrong track

According to government data, India’s Total Fertility Rate has already reached replacement levels

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Monday 27 January 2020

Contrary to what scaremongers in various socio-political circles have said, India’s population growth may have already stabilised, according to government data.

Yes, India’s population is growing at break-neck speed. Both India and China are expected to have a population of 1.46 billion each in 2027, according to the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

India’s population will reach 1.5 billion by 2030 and hit 1.66 billion in 2050. At present, India hosts 16 per cent of the world’s population, with only 2.45 per cent of the global surface area and four per cent of the world’s water resources.

No wonder, there are calls galore for the population growth to be curbed.

Recently, Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh pitched for a policy to slow India’s population. The Supreme Court of India issued notice to the Union government on January 10, 2020, in response to a petition filed by Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, demanding stringent legislation to control population.

However, the panic may be misplaced.

Twelve thousand years after organised agriculture started, the population of Homo sapiens might well be on the downslide, recent trends have shown.

For human, a 2.1 TFR (Total Fertility Rate) — the average number of children a woman of childbearing age must have — would keep the country’s population stable. The 2.1 TFR accounts for one child per mother, one per father, and an extra 0.1 for children who die in infancy and women who die before childbearing age.

The UN Population Division terms this as ‘replacement-level’ fertility. “If replacement-level fertility is sustained over a sufficiently long period, each generation will exactly replace itself without any need for the country to balance the population by international migration,” the UN has stated.

India is very close to this point now. In fact, many states are below this, according to official data. That means our population is about to hit a replacement level.

Three years ago, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 found India’s TFR had already reached 2.2. Most Indian states had already achieved or were below 2.1 TFR.

Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had TFR well below the replacement level. The exceptions were Bihar (3.4), Uttar Pradesh (2.7), Jharkhand (2.6), Rajasthan (2.4), Madhya Pradesh (2.3), Chhattisgarh (2.2), Assam (2.2) and some north-eastern states.

“India’s TFR has already reached replacement rate,” Darrel Bricker, author of the book Empty Planet that predicted an unprecedented global decline in fertility, has said.

In fact, the Economic Survey suggested massive reorientation of public infrastructures like schools to prepare for less population last year. “Further, the national TFR will dip below the replacement level by 2021,” Srinivas Goli, assistant professor of population studies at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU, said.

Therefore, the stress on introduction of punitive measures to ensure population control is misplaced. In fact, a few states that imposed restrictions in various forms to enforce two-child norm are on the back foot now. Four of the 12 states that introduced the two-child norm, have already revoked it.

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