GS 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
The term had not been used by any of his predecessors since the country’s disastrous experience of forced family planning during the Emergency period in the 1970s. Since then, population control remains a political pariah. But Modi set the debate on a new trajectory. He equated population control to patriotism. “A small section of society, which keeps its families small, deserves respect. What it is doing is an act of patriotism,” he said.
Of late, politicians have been vocal in pushing the population control debate. It has erupted in a paroxysm of deep fear of demographic disaster and complete exhaustion of natural resources due to over consumption. At this age of the sixth mass extinction and the Anthropocene, India is talking about its population, policy and the environmental fallout in the same breath.
On Total Fertility Rate
Population scientists have postulated a threshold to the number of births to keep population under control. This is expressed as the total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children a woman of childbearing age must have. Population above TFR means growth, while that below TFR means decline. At TFR, population is maintained. India’s total fertility rate (TFR) is declining. It is now 2.2 per woman, nearing the replacement rate of 2.1, according to the latest government data.
1) What does the data say about India’s TFR?
The government’s Sample Registration System in 22 states shows that TFR for India declined to 2.2 in 2017 after being stable at 2.3 between 2013 and 2016. TFR indicates the average number of children expected to be born to a woman during her reproductive span of 15-49 years. The 2017 figure is just 10 basis points more than the replacement level of 2.1%. The replacement level is the number of children needed to replace the parents, after accounting for fatalities, skewed sex ratio, infant mortality, etc. Population starts falling below this level.
2) How does TFR vary between urban and rural areas?
The total fertility rate has more than halved in both urban and rural areas, falling even below the replacement level in the former where it is 1.7, down from 4.1 in 1971. In rural areas, TFR has fallen from 5.4 to 2.4 during the same period. For rural areas, it varies from 1.6 in Delhi and Tamil Nadu to 3.3 in Bihar. For urban areas, the variation is from 1.1 in Himachal Pradesh to 2.4 in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Of the 22 states, only six have a TFR of 2 or more in urban areas. There are 10 states where TFR is below 2 in rural regions.
3) How does fertility vary between age groups?
The 25-29 age is the most fertile, except in Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, where it peaked between 20 and 24. Only J&K hits the peak after 30.
4) Why is TFR falling?
Higher education, increased mobility, late marriage, financially independent women and overall prosperity are all contributing to a falling TFR. It goes below 2 in both urban and rural areas, where girls complete schooling and reduces further as they pass college. Bihar, with the highest TFR of 3.2, had the maximum percentage of illiterate women at 26.8%, while Kerala, where the literacy rate among women is 99.3%, had among the lowest fertility rates. As more cities come up, people move for jobs and employment tenure gets shorter, TFR may fall further.
5) What does this mean for policymakers?
India has entered a 37-year period of demographic dividend, which could spell faster economic growth and higher productivity. As such, the government needs to engineer its policies to harness the opportunity. It must also formulate policies to take care of higher medical costs as the population ages and productivity shrinks. As more people live away from their parents, India will also need to have an affordable social security system that provides pension to the elderly and takes care of their daily needs and medical expenses.
Politics over population
Population has exploded. There is no argument over this fact. It took millions of years for world population to reach one billion in 1800 AD. It doubled within just 100 years and soon hit the six-billion mark. This exponential growth was driven by progress in agriculture, science and medicine, which increased people’s lifespan. As a result, in the 20th century, there was an overwhelming focus on population control and management of the planet’s limited resources.
Political parties have raised this issue because they need to deliver services and resolve problems hindering better lives for the people, be it easing traffic jams, better transport facilities or better income. When policy-makers fail, rising population works as a shield for them. Right-of-the-centre parties, such as India’s ruling dispensation, have been observed to be more vocal — rather militant — about population growth.
Globally, the debate over population has now veered towards consequences of population dipping below the replacement level (TFR 2.1). A forecast by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in its paper The World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision, shows the world population will reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by the end of this century. This is being contested now.
Norwegian scholar Jørgen Randers, co-author of The Limits to Growth (1972), which warned of a catastrophe caused by overpopulation, now says the world population will peak around 9 billion before 2050 and fall to half of this by 2100. “What happened is that the world managed to reduce fertility dramatically from 4.5 in 1970 to 2.5 children per woman now by giving more education, health and contraception to women. This has made them free to be able to choose smaller family size,” says Randers.
Populations of many countries are shrinking — Greece (1.3 TFR), Bulgaria (1.58), Hungary (1.39), Poland (1.29), Italy (1.40), South Korea (1.26) and Japan (1.48). Even the developing world is witnessing this trend. China now has a fertility rate of 1.5 and Brazil just 1.8. Since 1976, the number of countries that officially say they are trying to increase their birth rates has risen from under 9 per cent to almost 30 per cent now.
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