India’s population: Opportunities and Challenges
Fri, 21 Apr 2023

India’s population: Opportunities and Challenges

Exam View: India’s population statistics are not a cause for alarm; Government initiatives to control population; Demographic dividend: Opportunities and Challenges

Context: The UN Population Fund has projected that India could overtake China as the world’s most populous country in the next two months. India’s population is estimated to touch 142.86 crore by the middle of the year, a little more than China’s 142.57 crore.

Background: India’s population statistics are not a cause for alarm

  • Demographers today use a variety of metrics like fertility and replacement rates, age and region-wise data to arrive at a more layered understanding of population dynamics.
  • The rate of population growth has slowed down appreciably in the past 10 years as per UN report and successive National Family Health Surveys.
  • India’s total fertility rate came down to 2 in 2020-2021 from about 3.4 in the early Nineties.
  • The UN Population Fund reckons that a TFR of 2.1 is necessary for a country to attain population stability. The country is on course to achieve this if it maintains this rate in the next few years.

Decoding the editorial: Government initiatives to control population

  • Past: Except for a lapse into forced sterilisation during the Emergency, governments in India have relied on persuasion and education.
  • Present: Coercive methods like making people with more than two children ineligible for government jobs, have become a part of the family planning playbook of some states.
    • Such tendencies must be curbed.
    • The UN report rightly points out that, “Global experience shows family planning targets can lead to coercion of women”.
  • Future: In parts of the country where the TFR is above the national average (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya), governments must follow the time-tested methods of empowering women and investing in their education and strengthening healthcare facilities.

Demographic dividend: Opportunities and Challenges

  • Two-thirds of India’s total population is between the ages of 15 and 64.
  • Opportunities:
    • Increased Labour Force that enhances the productivity of the economy.
    • Increased fiscal space created by the demographic dividend to divert resources from spending on children to investing in physical and human infrastructure.
    • Rise in women’s workforce that naturally accompanies a decline in fertility, and which can be a new source of growth.
    • Increase in savings rate, as the working age also happens to be the prime period for saving.
    • Rapid industrialisation and urbanisation because of a higher number of employment seeking population that would force higher economic activities.
  • Challenges:
    • World Bank data shows that female labour participation in India plunged from 32 per cent in 2005 to 19 per cent in 2021.
    • Most of the new jobs that will be created in the future will be highly skilled and lack of skill in the Indian workforce is a major challenge.
    • Low human development parameters as India ranks 130 out of 189 countries in UNDP’s Human Development Index.
    • Informal nature of the economy in India is another hurdle in reaping the benefits of demographic transition in India.

Education, skill development and creating opportunities, especially for the youth of disadvantaged sections and women, will hold the key to the country using the demographic dividend to its advantage in the next 20 years.

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