India's demographic time bomb

News Excerpt:

Recently, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her Interim Budget speech, announced the setting up of a high-powered committee to study the challenges of fast population growth and demographic changes.

More on the news:

  • The committee would be mandated to make comprehensive recommendations concerning the goal of ‘Viksit Bharat’ or a Developed India.
  • In the 2019 Independence-Day speech, India’s Prime Minister emphasized the need for the Centre and state governments to collaborate through different schemes to address the population explosion.
  • According to a Parliament Library reference note from 2022, private members’ Bills proposing a two-child policy have been introduced in Parliament 35 times since Independence by Members of Parliament of various ideological hues.

Impact of forced population control:

  • Using force to control the population could lead to increased sex selection, female foeticide, and unsafe abortions, given the collective desire for a male child.
  • India is a signatory to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) declaration of 1994 held in Cairo, which unequivocally advocates voluntary informed choice and honours the reproductive rights of couples to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.

Progress achieved by the Government of India in controlling the growth of the population:

  • The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) declined from 2.2 in 2015-16 (National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 4) to 2.0 in 2019-21 (NFHS 5), which is below replacement level.
  • 31 out of 36 States/ UTs have achieved replacement-level fertility (NFHS 5).
    • Several states, including Assam, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh, have some form of the two-child norm for those running for elected local government posts or government jobs.
  • The Modern Contraceptive usage has increased from 47.8% in 2015-16 (NFHS 4) to 56.5% in 2019-21 (NFHS 5)
  • The Unmet Need for Family Planning has decreased from 12.9% in 2015-16 (NFHS 4) to 9.4% in 2019-21 (NFHS 5)
  • The Crude Birth Rate (CBR) has declined from 20.8 in 2015 (SRS) to 19.5 in 2020 (SRS).
  • The Teenage birth rate has halved from 16% (NFHS III) to 8% (NFHS IV).

Population policies in India after Independence:

  • Camp Approach:    
    • The Fourth Five Year Plan (1966-74) saw a huge shift, with the government receiving a forceful objective-based methodology to battle the quickly rising population, denoting the start of the state-sponsored family planning strategy's advancement into a powerful, practically mechanical program we see today.
  • National Population Policy 2000:
    • This policy had three objectives - 
      • The immediate objective was to address the unmet needs for contraception, health care infrastructure, personnel health care and provide integrated service delivery for basic reproductive and child health care.   
      • Medium Term Objective: To bring the Total Fertility Rate to replacement levels by 2010.   
      • Long-Term Objective: To achieve a stable population by 2045.
  • Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021:  
    • The bill targets advancing the two-child policy and states that individuals disregarding it in the state will be barred from contesting local bodies’ polls, going after government positions or getting any sort of sponsorship.
  • In 2022, the Rajya Sabha discussed the private members’ Population Regulation Bill that suggested:  
    • Revision of the National Population Policy and proposed rewarding those with small families while penalising those who don’t.
    • Government employee who undergoes sterilisation after their second child should receive an additional increment, easier loans, land plots, and rebates on utilities, like electricity. 
    • Extending these benefits to the general public who subscribe to the two-child norm.

Measures Taken for Population Control:

  • Expanded Contraceptive Choices: 
    • The current contraceptive basket comprising condoms, combined oral contraceptive pills, emergency contraceptive pills, intra-uterine contraceptive devices (IUCD) and sterilization is expanded with the inclusion of new contraceptives, namely Injectable contraceptive MPA (Antara Programme) and Centchroman (Chhaya).
  • Mission Parivar Vikas is being implemented in thirteen states to increase access to contraceptives and family planning services substantially.
    • Promotional activities like Saas bahu sammelans, Nayi Pehel Kits, Mobile publicity vans, and advocacy meetings are undertaken to increase awareness in high fertility Mission Parivar Vikas districts.
  • Compensation scheme for sterilisation acceptors, which provides compensation for loss of wages to the beneficiaries for sterilisation.
  • Post-pregnancy contraception in the form of Post-partum Intra-uterine contraceptive device (PPIUCD), Post-Abortion Intra-uterine contraceptive device (PAIUCD), and Post-partum Sterilization (PPS) are provided to beneficiaries.
  • ‘World Population Day & Fortnight’ and ‘Vasectomy Fortnight’ are observed yearly to boost awareness of Family Planning and service delivery across all States/ UTs.
  • Under the Home Delivery of Contraceptives Scheme, ASHAs deliver contraceptives to the doorstep of beneficiaries.
  • Family Planning Logistics Management Information System (FP-LMIS) is in place to ensure last-mile availability of family planning commodities across all the levels of health facilities.
  • 360-degree media campaign:  
    • It comprises TV commercials, posters and hoardings, a yearlong radio show, and a dedicated website on family planning launched in 2017.

Way Forward:

  • Focus on Demographic Dividend: 
    • India needs to focus on exploiting its demographic dividend rather than worry about it. 
    • India is poised at a unique historical moment where it can exploit its demographic advantage to realize its economic goals. 
    • According to the government’s population projections, 53.6% of India’s population in 2021 is under the age of 29. More than a quarter of India’s population is 14 years or younger.  
  • Upgrading the Skill Set: 
    • Presently, India is nowhere close to guaranteeing the best possible opportunities to young Indians. 
    • For instance, according to the All India Survey on Higher Education data, India’s higher education sector is mired in deep structural inequalities. 
    • This young population can become extremely productive or unproductive depending on the skill sets it acquires.  
  • Focusing on Women: 
    • The education of women also plays a role, both in the case of fertility rates and the mother's age at the time of birth of the first child. 
    • Education helps bring down fertility and early birth rates among women.

Conclusion:

The total fertility rate has dropped to 2.0 in the NFHS-5 leading to a scope to cut population growth because India still has a positive growth rate, but our population policy should keep in mind the larger consequences of zero population growth.

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