Thursday, 30 April 2015

India: Why population matters?

Dr. Devendra Kothari
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

“Population growth is a choice, not an inexorable force of nature”
Institute for Population Studies, Berkeley, USA 

With India confronting a host of major crises relating to energy, water, poverty, malnutrition, governance, corruption (especially at the day-to-day level), social and religious conflicts, why should anyone be concerned about population?  The simple answer is that virtually all the major problems that confront India today relate in some critical way to galloping population. With density already great and living standards low, a continued increase in number means continued tragedy. The country already has over 1280 million people and is adding more than 165 million each decade with 10 million young people entering the workforce each year.

The present analysis assesses the implications of massive and rapid population growth for  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development goal, reflected in his poll slogan, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (together with all, development for all). It is because population growth shares complex ties with poverty and inequality, exacerbating the gap between the rich and the poor, and creating obstacles in achieving an inclusive development.

Population's role is often neither direct nor simple, and its impacts can vary at the local, national and global levels. There has not, however, been a comprehensive examination of how population factors (size, growth, distribution, and composition) may affect both the supply and demand factors responsible for overall development. “Supply and Demand is perhaps one of the most fundamental concepts of economics and it is the backbone of a market economy.” [1]  When supply and demand are equal (i.e. when the supply function and demand function intersect) the economy is said to be at equilibrium and moving forward. At this point, the allocation of goods is at its most efficient because the amount of goods being supplied is exactly the same as the amount of goods being demanded. Thus, everyone (individuals or countries) is satisfied with the current economic condition. On the other hand, economic disequilibrium, an unstable situation in which some forces outweigh others, occurs whenever there is a mismatch between supply and demand factors. It is because galloping population leads to a significant diversion of national investable resources to consumption which could otherwise be used for increasing investment and productivity and for improving the quality of public services, such as education, health, sanitation, provision of safe drinking water and electricity.

Consider some facts:
India’s  population has grown from 956 million in 1995 to 1282 million in 2015,  that is, by 326 million  in the last  twenty years;  it is still growing by around 16 to 17 million every year, or about 45,000 people per day. If current trends persist, there will 200 million more people in the country in the next 15 years or by 2030, bringing the total to about 1476 million, as per the UN Population Division.   That projected population growth raises a host of questions about the Modi government’s plan for a prosperous, vibrant and inclusive India.
India now contains about 17.6 per cent (i.e. every sixth person in the world is an Indian) of humanity. China is the only country with a larger population ‑ in the order of 120 million more. The Indian population grew at an annual rate of 1.24 percent during 2010-15. On the other hand, China registered a much lower annual growth rate of population (0.61 percent) during the corresponding period. In fact, the growth rate of China is now very much comparable to that of the developed countries.  Demographers expect the year 2030 India's population wii surpass the population of China, currently the most populous country in the world. At that time, India is expected to have a population of more than 1476 million while China's population is forecast to be at its peak of 1453 million and will begin to drop in subsequent years (Table 1). Based on the analysis of recent data, the author came to the conclusion that India will take over China in the next 8-9 years, that is before 2025.

Table 1: Trends in total population, net annual addition, annual populati0mn growth,  India and China, 1951 to 2050

Year
China
India
Total population in million
Net annual addition
in million
% Annual
population growth rate
Total population in million
Net annual addition
in million
%  Annual population growth rate
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1950
543.8
10.7
2.00
376.3
6.0
1.66
1960
650.7
16.4
1.79
449.6
7.3
2.04
1970
814.3
17.0
2.30
555.2
10.6
2.28
1980
984.0
18.1
1.56
699.0
14.4
2.24
1990
1165.4
11.5
1.20
868.9
17.0
1.91
2000
1280.4
7.9
0.59
1042.3
17.3
1.57
2010
1359.8
7.3
0.61
1205.6
16.3
1.24
2020
1432.9
2.0
0.22
1353.3
14.8
0.94
2030
1453.3
2.0
-0.07
1476.4
12.3
0.65
2040
1435.5
1.8
-0.30
1565.5
10.1
0.40
2050
1385.0
-5.0
-0.55
1620.1
5.5
0.19
Source: World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision,  UN Population Division

Nearly 27 million children are born every year in India and only 15 million in China. This has impact on people’s quality of life. For example, life expectancy at birth in China is now 74 years vs. 64 years in India. The corresponding figures for infant deaths/1000 births are 21 and 53, respectively. Because of China's successful management of population issue, it has been able to improve the quality of human resources - an important factor of economic development. India ranks among the countries having one of the lowest productivity.  Productivity, a measure of the efficiency of the human capital, can be measured by per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). India has become the tenth largest economy in the world in terms of GDP but still has a very low per capita GDP. The country was  placed at the 148th position among the 187 countries in 2013, as per the World Bank. This is perhaps the most visible challenge. It is interesting to note that China’s GDP per capita value in 2013 was more than four and half times that of India and its rank was 87th in the world.

The emerging population scenario, as noted above, is a challenge for India’s development in the years immediately ahead. There are three important factors which should be discussed while understanding the role of population issue in the sustainable but inclusive development of India.

First, current population growth is mainly fuelled by unwanted fertility.   More than four in ten pregnancies are unintended/unplanned or simply unwanted by the women who experience them and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth.  Around 27 million children are born in India every year, and out of this about 6 million births could be classified as unwanted.  It is estimated that around 480 million people out of 1280 million in 2015 in India were the result of unwanted pregnancies. With such a large number of people resulting from unwanted pregnancies, how can one think about using them for the nation building? [2]  It is because the consequences of unwanted pregnancy are being reflected in widespread hunger, poor health, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, regressing governance as well as increasing scarcity of basic resources like food, water and space despite concerted developmental efforts since 1991. 

Second, the regional disparity in population growth in India is now a matter of serious concern. Has the regional disparity widened in the post-reform period? Existing data indicate that while the growth rate of gross domestic product has improved only marginally in the post-reform period, the regional disparity in population growth has widened much more drastically. Industrial states (mainly located in southern and western India) are now growing much faster than the less industrial states mainly located in the Hindi belt; and there is no evidence of convergence of growth rates among these states. Even more disturbing factor is that there is now an inverse relationship between population growth and GDP growth. And this relationship is stronger for the per capita GDP growth among states.[3]

The findings of the Census of India 2011 clearly reinforce that two contrasting demographic "nations" are emerging in the country. In 1951, the Four Southern Indian (FSI) States (Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana), Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) had 26 per cent of India’s population, and by 2011 that figure has declined to 21 per cent. In 2051, as per the Population Foundation of India and Population Reference Bureau[4], the combined population of these States is projected to be only 16 per cent of the country’s total. On the other hand, the population of Four Large North Indian (FLNI) States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh , Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh  will increase from 37 per cent in 2011 to 44 per cent in 2051 (Table 2). The Sample Registration data indicate that the overall decline in fertility rate in India during the last 30 years has been substantial. There are, however, wide disparities that can be observed in the rate of decline in various parts of the country. While all the states in south India have already achieved the replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per woman required to initiate the process of population stabilization, the FLNI States have a long way to go before they achieve this level, as shown in the sixth column of Table 2.

What are the implications of such a scenario? Armed with reams of demographic and other relevant   data, Nicholas Eberstadt, a senior political economist at the American Enterprise Institute - a Washington, DC think-tank – argued that India is bisected by a great north-south fertility divide. In much of the north, fertility levels remain quite high, at four, five, or more children per woman; in much of south India, however, fertility levels are at, or already below, the replacement level. He concluded: “In effect, this means that two very different Indias are being born today -- a youthful, rapidly growing northern India whose future population structure will be akin to that of a traditional Third World society and a southern India whose population growth will be slowing, where manpower growth will be coming to an end, and where pronounced population aging will be taking place”. He firmly believes that this emerging demographic peculiarity could have major ramifications as India attempts to continue its high growth rate over the coming decades.

Table 2 India: Emerging North-South demographic divide, 1951-2051
State
Percent of India’s population
Total Fertility Rate (Number of children/woman)
1951
2011
2051*
1981
2011
2051*
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Four Large North India States (FLNIS)
Bihar
8.1
8.6
10.5
5.7
3.6
2.2
Madhya Pradesh
5.2
6.0
6.4
5.2
3.1
2.0
Rajasthan
4.4
5.7
6.8
5.2
3.0
2.1
Uttar Pradesh
16.1
16.5
19.9
5.8
3.4
2.3
India
-
-
-
4.5
2.4
2.0
Four South Indian States (FSIS)
Andhra Pradesh
8.6
7.0
6.0
4.0
1.8
1.8
Karnataka
5.4
5.0
4.3
3.6
1.9
1.9
Kerala
3.8
2.8
2.1
2.8
1.8
1.8
Tamil Nadu
8.3
6.0
4.0
3.4
1.7
1.8
Source: Sample Registration System, RG, India and * The Future Population of India, PFI & PRB, 2007.

Demography, therefore, in the next 10 years or so will pose serious challenges to economic growth, democracy and national unity by its sheer size.[5] Unless the Centre and FLNI states engineer a common population stabilization program to lift these economies, the shadow of poverty and illiteracy as well as poor governance issue will continue to haunt India and thwart its tryst with destiny. This is a challenge for India’s development in the years immediately ahead.


Third, the demographic-economic paradox is the inverse correlation found between wealth and fertility  within and between nations - the higher the economic status, the fewer children are born. One of the background characteristics used throughout the National Family Health Survey-3, conducted by the Government of India, is an index of the economic status of households called the Wealth Index.  The second column of Table 3 shows that the children per woman or Total Fertility Rate decreases steeply by the household wealth index, from 3.9 children for women living in households in the lowest wealth quintile to 1.8 children for women living in the highest wealth quintile. Similarly, the level of unwanted fertility ranges from 0.3 children per woman in the highest wealth quintile to 1.6 children in the lowest quintile (Col. 3). The fourth column shows that there are marked differences in the use of modern contraception by wealth index. The modern contraceptive use increases sharply from the lowest quartile to the highest one, from 35 per cent to 58 per cent.  It does not mean that people belonging to the lower economic classes are against family planning. Unmet need for family planning is an important indicator for assessing the potential demand for family planning services. The unmet need for the contraception is highest among the couples from the lowest economic strata. The fifth column of Table 3 shows that unmet need decreases sharply with an increase in wealth quintile. In short, most of the population growth in India is contributed by the lower economic strata which they really do not want.

Table 3 India: Fertility and family planning by economic status
Wealth Index
Children per woman
(TFR)
Unwanted children per woman
% of eligible couples using modern contraceptive (CPR)
% of couples with unmet need for family planning
1
2
3
4
5
Lowest
3.89
1.6
31.6
18.2
Second
3.17
1.1
39.7
14.8
Middle
2.58
0.8
42.7
12.8
Fourth
2.24
0.5
48.8
10.6
Highest
1.78
0.3
0.8
8.1
Total
2.68
0.8
44.2
12.8
Source: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) , 2005-06, IIPS, Mumbai, 2007


How to forge ahead?
While India’s population continues to grow by 16-17 million people annually, and while 13 million women, especially in the lower economic strata, seek to postpone childbearing, space births, or stop having children; they are not using a modern method of contraception. This is also known as the ‘unmet need’ for contraception. Often, these women travel far from their communities to reach a health facility, only to return home “empty handed” due to shortages, stock outs, lack of desired contraception and/or non availability of doctors and paramedical staff. When women are thus turned away, they are unable to protect themselves from unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDSs. And this type of incomplete control over the reproductive process leads to relatively high levels of unwanted childbearing and reduces the prospects for an early decline in the rate of population growth.  

Incidence of unwanted pregnancies can be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated, within a decade by revamping family planning program,   as has been done in Andhra Pradesh during the nineties.  If Andhra, with little outside help, can manage its population growth under relatively low literacy and high poverty, there is no reason why FLNI States, with lesser problems and with increasingly generous support from the Centre, should fail so spectacularly in managing unwanted fertility. 

In sum, at a time when the Narendra Modi government is focusing on a manufacturing push to the economy with its ‘Make in India’ slogan, the galloping population fueled by unwanted fertility is a major constraint. Thus, the Modi government must work towards population stabilization [6] under the broader context of reproductive rights. There is no need to implement coercive measures or to provide incentives and disincentives. The real need is to provide services in un-served and underserved areas.  For this, some innovative measures are needed.  A user friendly service delivery system can help address the causes that lie at the root of unwanted fertility.[7]  At the same time, investment in education has to be increased to improve the quality of education especially at the government schools and colleges where most of the students are from poor and rural families.

 

The writing is on the wall. The question is not whether we act or not, but whether we act now or later and deal with much more dire and expensive consequences. India cannot afford business as usual.




[1] Read more at: http://www.investopedia.com/university/economics/economics3.asp.

[2] Kothari, Devendra. 2014. “Managing Unwanted Fertility in India: Way Forward”, Institute of Economic Growth (ed.):   National Rural Health Mission: An Unfinished Agenda, New Delhi: Book Well, pp.25-36

[3] Bhattacharya B.B. and Sakthivel. Regional growth and disparity in INDIA: A Comparison of pre and post-reform decades. Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. For details see at: http://iegindia.org/workpap/wp244.pdf

[4]  For details, see: The Future Population of India, Population Foundation of India and Population Reference Bureau, PFI, New Delhi, 2007.

[5] During the discussion on Consideration of Issues of Population Stabilization in the Country held in the Lok Sabha on August 4, 2010, Sivasami, Member of Parliament from Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu said: “In India, we find in the Southern States ……we have succeeded there in bringing down the population increase. But in certain Northern States we are quite unable to control population explosion and we are really struggling hard. This has resulted in a situation where the Northern States get more funds according to their population and the so-called States in the South are getting reduced funds from the Centre. I urge upon the Union Government to evolve a method to provide incentives to the Southern States which have succeeded in effectively controlling the population growth, but on the contrary they are being deprived of their share”.  For details, see Lok Sabha Proceedings, 2010, p. 4134.

[6] A population has stabilized when the number of births has come into balance with the number of deaths, with the result that the effects of immigration aside, the size of the population remains relatively constant. 

[7] Kothari, Devendra and Sudha Tewari. 2009. “Slowing Population Growth in India: Challenges, Opportunities and the Way Forward”. MIPD Policy Brief No.2, Management Institute of Population and Development, a unit of Parivar Seva Sanstha, New Delhi.

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