Population Policy of India

By: Davendra Sharma

Population is defined as the total number of humans living in an area. Size of population of a country has always been a subject of debate. There is no set formula for determining ideal size of a population, although it has been felt since ancient times that while a very low population of a state would not be able to sustain itself due to lack of manpower, a very high population will have to struggle with the availability of resources.  Thus an ideal size of population will depend on the resources available in the country. However, as rate of increase in population is higher than rate of increase in resources, it is necessary to limit the population of a country so as to be able to provide a decent life to all the citizens with the available resources. This requires a population policy to be adopted.

Population of India

As per 2011 census, India has a population of about 1.2 billion with an annual growth rate of 1.64% which makes us the second most populous country next only to China. Our population density which was 117 persons per square km in 1951 has now increased to 382 persons per square km. Such a huge population creates pressure on the natural resources and the availability of arable land, drinking water, housing and other infrastructure. India still has a large number of people below poverty line and its position in other social indicators like literacy, health services etc. is also not very comfortable. Rapid increase in population is one of the major factors responsible for this situation. In the last decade itself (2001-2011) we have added 18.1 crore people to the population of India which is almost equal to the population of Brazil (19.07 crores) or Pakistan (18.4 crores) which are 5th and 6th most populous countries of the world. This increase in population absorbs the results of most of our economic achievements and is a major hindrance in increasing the per capita availability of resources.

The size of population and high growth rate had been a cause of concern even during the British period. The Government had set up a Committee in 1943 to conduct a survey on Indian Health System. The Committee was called The Health Survey and Development Committee. The Committee submitted its report in 1946 in which it devoted one chapter to the problem of increase in population recommending thereafter “the spreading of the knowledge of birth control as far as the limitations imposed by the peculiar circumstances of the country will permit”.

After independence, the matter was taken up in the five year plans wherein family planning was treated as a part of the health programme. A National Population Policy statement and a Policy Statement on Family Welfare Programme were prepared in the year 1976 and 1977 but the same could not be implemented.  National Health policy of 1983 emphasized the need for achieving small family norm through voluntary participation. The policy set an objective of achieving replacement levels of total fertility rates (TFR) i.e. a TFR of 2.1 by 2000. However, as a need was felt for a National Population Policy an expert group under Dr.M.S.Swaminathan, was set up in 1993 to prepare a draft of the policy. The Committee submitted its report in 1994. The Report basically related population growth to the basic needs, democratic decentralization, gender issues and eco-system. These features were incorporated in the 'Statement on National Population Policy prepared by the Ministry.

National Population Policy

 National Population Policy was announced in the year 2000. The policy took note of the fact that the growth in population was due to the large size of the population in the reproductive age, high fertility due to inadequate availability of contraception, high wanted fertility due to high infant mortality rates and most of the girls marrying below the age of 18. Some of the important objectives of the policy were as under:

  • Provide contraception facilities and health care infrastructure with emphasis on basic reproductive and child health care.
  • Access to information of birth limitation methods and availability of totally free choice to citizens for planning their families.
  • Bring TFR to the replacement levels by 2010.
  • Achieve a stable population by 2045.
  • Reduce infant mortality rate to below 30 per 1000 live births.
  • Reduce maternal mortality ratio to below 100 per 100,000 live births.
  • Promote delayed marriage for girls not earlier than age of 18 and preferably after the age of 20.
  • Universalisation of primary education and reduction in the drop out rates at primary and secondary levels to below 20% both for boys and girls. 
  • Support to be provided to state governments as per requirement and availability of infrastructure.
  • Involvement of Panchayati Raj institutions for coordination among activities of different agencies, supervision of health care related infrastructure like Primary Health Centre and Aanganwadis and ensuring community participation.
  • The policy projected population of the country on March, 2011 to be 117.89 crores.

Targets and achievements

As per census of 1951, crude birth rate (CBR) was 40.8, Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) was 146, crude death rate 25 and total fertility rate was 6. Data for the year 2009 and 2010 indicates birth rate to be about 22, death rate 7.4, infant mortality 50 and TFR 2.6. These figures would indicate that the country has made substantive progress in population management since 1951. However, when we see it from the perspective of the targets set by the National Health Policy and National Population Policy we find that our current population is much higher than projections made under the National Population Policy. Similarly, with respect to TFR, National Health Policy targeted replacement levels by 2000 and National Population Policy targeted these levels by 2010, but the figure for the year 2009 is 2.6, which is again much higher than the target. At this rate we may take another 10 years or so to achieve this level of TFR. 

National Population Policy sets the target of achieving a stable population by 2045, that is, after 35 years of achieving the replacement level. The projections appear unrealistic considering the example of China which attained replacement level of total fertility rate in 1990. However, its population is still growing and is expected to achieve peak level only in 2050 after which it will stabilize or gradually decline. Thus, in China, peak level is expected to be achieved after 60 years of achieving replacement level of fertility rates. As India, does not have such a vigorous population control policy as China, time taken by India is likely to be much higher and its population is likely to stabilize only in the later part of this century.

Reasons for underachievement 

The above said data indicates the many of the targets set by the National Population Policy have not been achieved. The reasons could be as under:

  • Unlike China, we have resorted to voluntary participation in population control measures; hence efficacy of these measures would depend on the ability to convince people to have a smaller family. This makes, literacy level a very important factor. As per Census, 2011, Kerala, which has the highest literacy rate of 93.91%, has a very low annual growth rate of .48% while Bihar which has lowest literacy rate of 63.82% has a high annual growth rate of 2.26%.
  • Poverty is another important factor. In such families, an additional child is treated as a potential earning hand and hence birth of a child is not discouraged.
  • In a number of areas particularly in remote areas, adequate health and birth control facilities are not available without which the people cannot adopt family planning measures.
  • Social factors also play an important role. Traditional Indian society prefers early marriage of girls which means that a married woman has more years of reproductive period. This is an important factor in increasing fertility rate and leads to growth in population.

Future prospects

There is no shortcoming in our population policy; the problem is with its implementation. Population growth is intrinsically linked to economic and social upliftment and target of a stable population can only be achieved if there is a drastic improvement in literacy levels, availability of health care and family planning facilities and implementation of poverty removal measures.

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