India with its 1.21 billion population occupies second place in the world next to China. India has about 17.5% of the world population with only 2.4% of the world area. The changes in the size and growth of India’s population are considered here in terms of two broad periods, namely Pre-Independence period and the Post-Independence period. The year 1881 is important in the sense that it was the year when the first census on a country wide basis was taken in India.
Population of India: Pre Independence Period
According to Herodotus (490 B.C.), India was one of the most populous countries in the world. Alexender’s army which invaded India in 327-326 B.C., found a large population. India’s first real empire under Chandragupta Maurya (321-297 B.C.) left records indicating the existence of a standing army of approximately 7,00,000 men. Only a very substantial population could have supported such a large army. The first national decadal census was conducted in 1881 recording a population of 225 million which declined to 251 million in 1921.
The Population of India: Post Independence Period
Till 1951, when the first census after independence was conducted, the decadal growth was around 13 to 14 percent, registering a gradual rise. 1961 recorded a growth of 21.5percent, which increased to 24.8 and 24.7 percent in 1971 and 1981 respectively. In 1991 the growth rate slightly declined to 23.6 percent. It is a matter of concern that the decadal population growth rate has declined to 21.2 percent in 2001 which further declined to 17.6 percent in 2011. It is estimated that by 2028 India will double its population and it will become the most populous country in the world by 2035.
Population Planning in Five Year Plans :
India is the first country of the world to adopt the population planning to control its population as an official policy. After an expansion of clinical services in the first two five year plans, the third plan which started in an environment of shock, changed its strategy to extension approach which continued in the fourth plan too. The fifth Five Year Plan (1974-1979) has been unique in the history of the country as a new Family Planning Programme was opted during this. The National Population Policy Statement of April 1976 was the most articulate renunciation of the official policy. The following were its main features:
1. Increase the legal minimum age at marriage from 15 to 18 years for females and 18 to 21 years for males. 2. Freezing the population at the 1971 level for determining representation in Parliament and the State Legislatures up to 2000 A.D. 3. 1971 population was considered as the base for allocation of Central assistance to the State Plans. 4. Eight percent of Central Assistance to the States was to be linked with family planning programme performance. 5. The allotment of houses and loans were to be linked to family size.
The eighth Five Year Plan (1992-1997) set the population goal for achieving a net reproductive rate of one by turn of the century and zero population growth by the year 2050 A.D. The immediate objective of the National Population Policy 2000 was to address the unmet needs for contraception, health care infrastructure. In the eleventh Plan which started in 2007, it was emphasised that only through a multi- pronged strategy of combining fertility control measure and welfare measures with population education for people at large and youths in particular along with making school education up to age 14 free and compulsory and reducing drop outs at primary and secondary school levels below 20 percent for both boys and girls, the population goal of India can be achieved. For the twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017), it has been emphasised to improve healthcare infrastructure and implementation of making education compulsory for all the children till the age of 14.
Adverse Consequences of Population Explosion:
The population explosion, which is undermining all our efforts towards development of the country, is perhaps the single most pressing problems faced by it. The recent census has revealed that while there has been a decline in the rate of growth of population, still the growth rate of 1.7 percent per annum is quite high. If the population growth continues as at present, the country will have such a large population which would be virtually unmanageable. Despite best efforts, it would not be possible to provide even the basic necessities of life to the people at large. Such relentless population growth would also create havoc to our environment and will lead to ecological crises. It has considerable impact on natural resource uses and socio – economic development. Rapid population growth will also mean increased urbanization, which may lead to more diseases and further deterioration of water and sewer systems and various pollutions.
There cannot be only one miracle formula which will cover the entire country. The main barriers of population control such as poverty, illiteracy, son – preference etc. need to be removed. Since these barriers operate simultaneously at different levels, it is difficult and rather impractical to assign priorities to them. It is obvious that increase in literacy and educational status of women will have positive effects on population control, infant mortality, health care, nutrition, sanitation and hygiene. Further, it will result in raising the age of marriage, improved knowledge of contraception and adoption of small family norm.
Population control and Family Welfare Programme need to have a national consensus, cutting across political, religious and cultural differences. It should be based on active community participation and has to be transformed from a Government Programme into People’s Movement. Population education should be part of school and college education. It should also form an important ingredient of adult education and non-formal education. Communication strategies should be so devised as to be effective enough to bring about attitudinal changes and dispel apathy, ignorance and misgivings about family planning and small family norm.
In conclusion, it is important that people not only have proper health services which are both accessible and available, but they should also have access to employment which will provide them with financial security. People must be made educated and have awareness, as education itself is the best contraceptive. People should realize that having a girl child does not mean carrying a heavy burden.
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