The term 'over-population' is relative. In a primitive rural economy, the people wanted children in order to have more hands to work on the field. The larger the number of workers, the greater the production, and the more the earning for having enough food for all; a large population was not a problem. It is also not a problem if there are sufficient living space and supply of food.
But where there is dearth of space and not enough production of food, increase in population is certainty a burden on those who have to deal with these matters. Hence, in assessing the problem we have to see whether there are increase in production of food and sufficient land to accommodate an increasing number of men.
In India today, the problem has assumed serious proportions. There has been phenomenal increase of population within the last few decades, reaching upto one hundred crore at the turn of the century. The density per square mile is about 350. In USA, it is about 41 per square mile, while in Britain it largely approximates to the figure in Kerala and West Bengal. In Britain, there is less than one acre of cultivable land for each individual. Besides, where urban population is increasing everywhere, the rated migration of villagers to towns is the highest in India, further aggregating the housing problem in towns.
Necessarily if the density of population be large, the pressure on the means of subsistence will also be unduly heavy. There will not be enough food to go round, and high prices of foodgrains will keep the lowest income groups on the verge of starvation. Hence, here also, unless the production of food is sufficiently stepped up, it will have serious effects on the national economy considered as a whole. If no preventative measures were taken to check the growth of the population, positive checks, in the form of famine or warfare would take place
The Malthusion law held that population increases far more rapidly than the means of subsistence does. At last a time comes when the growth of population has to be checked if the people are to be adequately fed. The Malthusian law might have been valid at the time of the Industrial Revolution, when there was large-scale migration of agricultural workers to mines and factories in search of more paying jobs, and to the colonies in search of fortune.
Aided by superior knowledge of science, man has mastered the threat of famines and epidemics, and wars may soon be a thing of the past with the nuclear threat as a deterrent. The application of science to agriculture has increased production of food to an extent that could not have been dreamt of by Malthus. Today, in advanced countries, the increase in the means of subsistence ha6 outstripped the rate of population growth.
Two factors, however, yet remain that necessitate some sort of threat to the growth of population. First, a large family has an adverse effect on its standard of living, since income being limited; the expenditure per capita is bound to be less. But this can be offset by the welfare activities of the State which confers benefits according to incomes.
Of Course, the responsibility of the individual for not allowing family to grow disproportionately is not diminished thereby. So nuclear families are the cherished ideal of the modern society. Experts believe that by adopting new techniques food production can be enormously stepped up. Besides, food there are fertilisers that can be produced by synthetic method and the chemical foods can supplement and meet all our food needs. Prof. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Leureate-economist, however, believes that the real problem is not so much the supply of food as the common mans purchasing power, financial means to buy food materials.
The other risk is that of limited living space. In the past, the plundering nations solved this by grabbing lands from weaker people, living in under-developed or undeveloped countries. That is how the Dutch and the English grabbed South African lands, forced out her peoples or reduced them to slavery. But colonial expansion is now no longer possible. Hence, the alternative today is to fix attention to the reclamation and resettlement of waste lands.
The Dandakarayna scheme, if properly worked out, could very well relieve the increased pressure of population in West Bengal due to the influx of refugees from Bangladesh. There is also immense scope for the reclamation of waste and undeveloped lands all over the country, which may be used to relieve increases in population. But good management, use of fertilisers, pest control and the use of high-yielding varieties are more important.
In India, therefore, the problem of over-population will be best met by increase in the food resources of the country. Secondly, an intensive effort must be made to bring waste lands under human settlement. The propaganda for artificial birth control will be of doubtful value as long as the lower income group man, for whom family planning is most needed, does not respond adequately.
The world is slowly and surely coming together, to form a single global unit. Economic needs are dictating national policies to a large extent. There is also a useful shift towards an international outlook. The re-distribution of surplus food under the aegis of the, UNO and Food and Agricultural Organisation point out the way to larger adjustment on the basis of international co-operation.
A time may soon come when under-populated countries like Australia, America or Russia may willingly welcome and receive the excess population from other countries, irrespective of colour and custom. And who knows that the moon will not be colonised? In any case, an intensive efforts at developing the national resources remain a primary condition as well as responsibility.