Population Growth

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Topic Guide
Population in India:
“Curbing population growth is an urgent priority for India”
On 31 October 2011, World Population Day was marked with the announcement that the seventh billionth
baby had been born in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh. While this was treated as a cause for
celebration, it also generated considerable debate and unease. India’s census of 2011 also found that the
population (1.2 billion) has undergone a five-fold increase over the last 100 years and will surpass that of
China by 2050. With existing problems of poverty and famine, how could an overcrowded planet possibly
sustain a growing population? While China and India rapidly industrialise and their billions of citizens aspire
to a Western consumerist lifestyle, there has been much talk across the world of a ‘population timebomb’. In
August 2010, a discussion on population stabilisation took place in the Lok Sabha for the first time in nearly
34 years, with Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad calling for a “cohesive ‘movement’ by all parties, rising
above politics”, to find solutions to the rising population. Azad and others have continued to underline the
importance of the population issue ever since.
For some, however, ‘the population timebomb’ has already been proven to be a myth, doomsayers have
long predicted catastrophe and it has not yet come to pass. Indeed, they suggest that there is every reason
to believe scientific and economic development will continue to provide enough resources for a growing
world population. The likes of ‘rational optimist’ Matt Ridley argue that the Industrial Revolution and ‘Green
Revolution’ of the 1960/70s transformed food production in a way many did not predict: the likes of GM crops
hold similar potential to revolutionise food production today, for example.
The population debate provokes a number of anxieties. Some worry whether India’s domestic economy will
be able to provide for the sheer number of its citizens. There are global concerns about the impact of
population growth on the natural environment. But ‘population control’ measures taken to control the number
of children that families have suffer from a negative history, and raise a host of important questions about
individual privacy and rights versus State coercion. The debate involves untangling each of these concerns.
The debate in context:
Is a youthful population good for India?
India’s impressive economic growth has raised new social challenges. A recent UN report on urban growth
the '2011 Revision of the World Urbanisation Prospects', found that India and China will experience an
unprecedented increase in their urban populations in the next four decades, posing new challenges of
providing jobs, energy, housing and infrastructure to their people. Poverty and inequality remains
widespread, and there are fears about the demands that sheer numbers of people make on resources and
the impact of that on social stability. On the other hand, India is a notably young country: one article notes
that, by the end of this decade, ‘the average Indian will be just 29 years old compared with 37 in China and
45 in Western Europe’. The relative youth of the population holds the potential for a ‘demographic dividend’,
where an expanding workforce is able to sustain economic growth. This is in stark contrast to fears in the
Western world about the consequences of ‘ageing’, in which a shrinking pool of workers has to support a
bulk of dependent, elderly people. Population size itself, some argue, gives India an advantage over other,
smaller nation states: and a US defence report reportedly predicted that ‘both economic and military power
will lie with the countries that have the right population numbers, and also the right age structure, in 20 years
time’. However, some point to the unreliability of demographic predictions
Are current levels of population growth sustainable?
The debate about global population control tends to hinge on concerns about the scarcity of resources. The
UK organisation Optimum Population Trust, which encourages people to ‘stop at two’ children, forecast that
the predicted drastic increases in population by 2050 could have potentially devastating consequences for
water and food resources. The world food crisis of 2008, which saw rocketing prices of wheat, rice and
cooking oil and left millions across the world with the prospect of starvation, led many to ask whether a
Topic Guide
growing world population might be the culprit. In June 2012 a coalition of 105 of the world’s leading science
institutions submitted a report ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20
Summit) urging world leaders to take ‘urgent action’ on population and consumption for the sake of the
global environment. But a number of commentators suggest that the real problem lies with consumption
more than population. Citing Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every
man’s needs but not enough for everyone’s greed”, some suggest that the affluent and consumerist-driven
West must be prepared to reduce its use of these resources, with at least a willingness to reduce
consumption of luxuries.
Others, however, argue that both the environmental and anti-consumerist arguments around population
control represent a new form of Malthusianism. In 1798, Thomas Malthus’ famous ‘Essay on the Principle of
Population’ warned that population growth would lead to a crisis of food supply and falling wages. More
recently environmentalists such as Paul Ehrlich have made similar predictions. Malthus’ warning was proved
to be overly pessimistic at the time, and today the concern with ‘finite resources’ does not take into account
humanity’s proven record in solving problems and creating new resources, not least through advancing
economic development. The ‘Malthusian fallacy’, some argue, gets the issue the wrong way round: the
problem is not the number of people consuming resources; rather, the solution lies with large numbers of
people taking society forwards. People move to populous towns and cities, because this is where the
opportunities are created: this would not happen if larger numbers of people simply meant a drain on
resources.
Should governments be allowed to plan people’s families?
Attempts by states to control the size of their populations have an unpopular history. Across the world in the
20th century, fears about the ‘wrong kind of people’ being born formed the basis of eugenic ideologies and
policies which focused on discouraging people from a particular race or social class from breeding. China’s
One-Child Policy remains controversial. India has its own history of population policy, organised both
centrally and at a state level. Following the backlash against forced vasectomies in family planning
programmes imposed by Indira Ghandi during the Emergency in the 1970s, it has been a sensitive area, and
during the recent debate, Azad has already ruled out any attempt to use coercive methods to bring about
population stablisation.
But some commentators argue incentive based planning is making a comeback, and that contemporary
concerns, such as an ‘obsession with millennium development goals’ are leading to a ‘repackaged
population control programme’. A number of schemes exist to discourage couples from having many
children: from paying newly married couples to wait two years before having children, to a recently-unveiled
ambitious plan to ensure that condoms reach every home in the country's 600,000 villages. The
government’s National Population Policy 2000 includes the objective of achieving ‘a stable population by
2045, at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development and
environmental protection’. Over the past two decades, the ‘population paradigm’ has shifted towards a
greater emphasis on women’s rights and health. The UN-organised International Conference on Population
and Development in 1994 brought the issue of population and the developing world together; improving
women’s access to birth control was seen as a key strategy for improving health and managing economic
development.
Increased access to family planning – contraception and abortion – is generally recognised in the developed
world as an important and positive gain for women’s rights and health. However, there is concern that the
promotion of family planning, particularly in the developed world, uses the language of ‘reproductive rights’ to
justify a population control agenda in a way that is dishonest, exploitative of women, and open to abuse by
officials and medical professionals. Allowing governments, or any authorities, to intervene even indirectly in a
couple’s private decisions about how many children they should have, it is argued, compromises the hardwon modern principles of privacy and decisional autonomy. In any case, many argue that smaller family size
is a product of social and economic development, not its cause.
Topic Guide
ESSENTIAL READING
India’s population: The 700-crore club
Economist 31 October 2011
http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2011/10/indias-population
The world at seven billion
Mike Gallagher BBC News Magazine 28 October 2011
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15449959
Beyond prescriptive targets
R. Nanda The Hindu 14 July 2010 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article514094.ece
Q & A: 'Family planning is not just controlling numbers'
Rahul Singh Times of India 10 September 2010
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Family-planning-is-not-just-controllingnumbers/articleshow/6526138.cms
Three’s a crowd? The battle over population and reproduction
Ellie Lee Abortion Review 6 November 2009
http://www.abortionreview.org/index.php/site/article/628/
FOR
Is India an overpopulated country given its resources?
Naveen Jindal Times of India 30 October 2011
http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-10-30/news/30336739_1_sterilisation-population-growthrate-higher-economic-growth
No demographic dividend without population control
R Jagannathan DNA India 19 August 2010
http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_no-demographic-dividend-without-population-control_1425415
Controlling the numbers
Amarjit Singh The Tribune 11 July 2010
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20100711/edit.htm#1
Population policy and legal prescriptions
V.R. Krishna Iyer The Hindu 13 August 2008
http://www.hindu.com/2008/08/13/stories/2008081354931000.htm
Population: The last taboo
Julia Whitty Mother Jones May/June 2010 http://motherjones.com/environment/2010/05/population-growthindia-vatican?page=1
AGAINST
Too many people? No, too many Malthusians
Brendan O’Neill spiked 19 November 2009
http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7723/
Topic Guide
The Population Myth
Amit Varma Mint 25 October 2007
http://www.livemint.com/2007/10/25001502/The-Population-Myth.html
The myth of ideal population size
Nalini Bhanot and Laxmi Murthy InfoChange India March 2007
http://infochangeindia.org/200704066301/Population/Population-Puzzle/The-myth-of-ideal-populationsize.html
Emergency without an Emergency? The two-child norm for panchayat members
Mohan Rao InfoChange India August 2003
http://infochangeindia.org/20030805300/Population/Features/Emergency-without-an-Emergency-The-twochild-norm-for-panchayat-members.html
The population timebomb is a myth
Dominic Lawson Independent 18 January 2011
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/dominic-lawson/dominic-lawson-the-populationtimebomb-is-a-myth-2186968.html#
IN DEPTH
Experts Prediction Global Population Will Plateau
Spiegel online 3 November 2011
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-great-contraction-experts-predict-global-population-will-plateaua-795479.html
The Population Control Holocaust
Robert Zubrin The New Atlantis Number 35, Spring 2012
http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/article_detail.asp?id=660&css=print
Population: one planet, too many people?
Institution of Mechanical Engineers January 2011
http://www.imeche.org/Libraries/2011_Press_Releases/Population_report.sflb.ashx
Seven billion and counting
Karna Basu Indian Express 31 October 2011
http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/867878/
Seven billionth baby
Jug Suraiya Times of India 9 November 2011
http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/jugglebandhi/entry/seven-billionth-baby
Population, angels and demons
Renuka Bisht Financial Express 19 July 2010 http://www.financialexpress.com/news/column-populationangels-and-demons/648295/0
A tale of three islands
The Economist 22 October 2011
http://www.economist.com/node/21533364
Topic Guide
Is a large population key to economic growth?
The Hindu Business Line 18 August 2010
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2010/08/18/stories/2010081853310400.htm
It will be a smaller world after all
Ben Wattenberg New York Times 8 March 2003
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/08/opinion/08WATT.html
Treating human beings as little more than carbon
Frank Furedi spiked 7 December 2009
http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/7803/
India's demographic dividend
BBC News Online 25 July 2007,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6911544.stm
Are We Breeding Ourselves to Extinction?
Chris Hedges AlterNet 11 March 2009
http://www.alternet.org/environment/130843/are_we_breeding_ourselves_to_extinction/
Rebuttal to Chris Hedges: Stop the Tired Overpopulation Hysteria
Betsy Hartmann AlterNet 14 March 2009
http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/131400
KEY TERMS
Population control
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_population_control
Eugenics
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/eugenics
Demographic dividend
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6911544.stm
Climate change
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change
Malthusianism
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/malthusianism
ORGANISATIONS
Overpopulation.com
http://www.overpopulation.com/
JSK (National Population Stabilisation Fund)
http://www.jsk.gov.in/india_and_population.asp
National Commission on Population
http://populationcommission.nic.in/welcome.htm
Topic Guide
Population connection
http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer
The Optimum Population Trust
http://www.optimumpopulation.org/
IN THE NEWS
India for rights-based approach in family planning
The Hindu 9 June 2012
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article3506099.ece
Human population is getting too heavy for earth
Business Standard 19 June 2012
http://www.business-standard.com/generalnews/news/human-population-is-getting-too-heavy-for-earthstudy/21944/
Bill Gates says will not fund abortion programmes
Times of India 1 June 2012
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-06-01/india/31957911_1_control-population-bill-gates-familyplanning
Family planning counsellors at district hospitals
First Post India 8 June 2012
http://www.firstpost.com/india/family-planning-counsellors-at-district-hospitals-337257.html
Population of elderly to touch 100 mn mark
Indian Express 4 May 2012
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/population-of-elderly-to-touch-100-mn-mark/945470/
‘India’s population growth to fall 5%’
Indian Express 4 July 2011
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/indias-population-growth-to-fall-5/746201/
Poor in India exceed population in 1947’
Indian Express 28 July 2010
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/poor-in-india-exceed-population-in-1947/652842/
Slower Indian population growth boosts job prospects
Economic Times 2 April 2011
http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-04-02/news/29374487_1_female-literacy-growth-ratepopulation
Census 2011: India's population now estimated at 1,210.2 million
Sify News 31 March 2011
http://www.sify.com/news/census-2011-india-s-population-now-estimated-at-1-210-2-million-news-nationalld5nOeaigje.html
India's middle class population to touch 267 million in 5 yrs
Indian Express 6 February 2011
Topic Guide
http://www.indianexpress.com/election-news/india%5Cs-middle-class-population-to-touch-267-million-in-5yrs/746724
Condoms at every doorstep to curb population boom
IndiaVision.com 8 September 2010
http://www.indiavision.com/news/article/health/99951/
India Tries Using Cash Bonuses to Slow Birthrates
Jim Yardley New York Times 21 August 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/world/asia/22india.html
Radical policy changes needed to stabilise population: Azad
UNI (United News of India) 4 August 2010
http://www.newkerala.com/news2/fullnews-13850.html
Govt not to adopt forcible measures to check population
Indian Express 4 August 2010
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/govt-concerned-over-high-rate-of-population-growth/655988/
India to surpass China in terms of population by 2050: Govt report
Times of India 11 July 2010,
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-to-surpass-China-in-terms-of-population-by-2050-Govtreport/articleshow/6153912.cms
Docs from country join hands on to control population
Times of India 11 July 2010
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Docs-from-country-join-hands-on-to-controlpopulation/articleshow/6153101.cms
Azad rules out law to control population growth
Times of India 6 May 2010
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Azad-rules-out-law-to-control-populationgrowth/articleshow/5895087.cms
Population stabilisation scheme soon, says Azad
The Hindu 12 April 2010
http://www.thehindu.com/health/policy-and-issues/article395339.ece
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