Fifty years of independence in India have brought with them a mixed bag ofj achievements and failures. While India has become nearly self sufficient foodgrains in the wake of Green Revolution ushered in the country by the use of I hybrid varieties of wheat in the late sixties and early seventies, an effective check on population growth has eluded the nation and we are nearing the mark of one billion souls at the turn of the century.
Our agriculture scientists have successfully met the challenge of meeting the growing needs of food of a burgeoning population, but our socio-political leadership has failed to make a decisive impact in the sphere of family planning. The untiring efforts of the scientists, ably supported by the ingenuity of our farmers, have tamed the nature to bring forth abundance of crops, but we have miserably failed to cultivate the minds of our people with education to persuade them to limit the size of their families.
Increase in production of goods and supply of services have been outstripped by growth in population and our country still remains at the bottom of the list of nations in terms of indices of development like per capita income, per capita consumption of electricity and infant mortality rate etc.
The reasons for India's failure on the population front are many. Firstly, the family planning programme largely remained a government programme; it rarely assumed the character of a popular community programme. Like most government schemes, it got entangled in red tape and failed to gain sufficient momentum. Awareness building campaigns were not followed by effective delivery of contraceptives and timely incentives. Incentive money either reached the targetted individuals very late or never reached at all. No foolproof mechanism was evolved to ensure that different components of the programme-awareness building, supply of contraceptives, conducting vasectomy and tubectomy operations on the targetted individuals and finally grant of incentives conformed to the prefixed time schedule. It discouraged the family planning workers and disappointed the public at large.
The in-built conservatism of people acts as a mental block to talk of sex and contraception freely in homes, offices and even in print and electronic media. It slows down the spread of awareness of family planning methods and inhibits adoption of contraceptive devices. Family planning workers are not always successful in building up a rapport with the targetted couples and convince them of the safety of the contraceptive measures. Poor education level of people is the main cause of slow pace of family planning movement, it is noticed that states with low literacy rate have a high birth rate, while highly literate states are able to bring down birth rate substantially. Evaluation studies of population control programmes have established the strong relationship between education of women and the low birth rates. It has been established beyond doubt that birth rate is inversely proportionate to female literacy. States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, with comparatively high female literacy, have lower birth rate compared to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which have both lower level of literacy and higher birth rate. Literacy also lowers infant mortality rate and motivates women to go in for fewer children.
In many states of India, people prefer sons to daughters, so much so that women are forced to go in for abortion when it is apprehended that the issue is likely to be a female. This age old social prejudice against female children has undergone little change since independence. The popular perception considers female children liability and inferior to boys. That the perception is totally misplaced is evident from the examination result of Central Board of Secondary Education, where success percentage of girls has been higher than that of boys for many successive years. Moreover, percentage of female teachers in schools has been progressively increasing. In civil services, a medicine and research establishment, the number of women is increasing by the year.
It has been established beyond doubt that women are not inferior to men in intelligence and ability. Long term and sustained awareness programmes on electronic and print media on women's equality will demolish gender prejudice against women. Once the masses accept the equality of sexes, preference for sons over daughters will diminish and couples having one or two daughters will go in for family planning in a big way.
It is seen that economic development affects man's attitude towards the size of the family. As people are more concerned with the quality of their life and a higher standard of living, they perceive fewer children more compatible with their life style. Highly developed countries like Sweden have not only a low population growth rate; they have almost reached a negative growth rate. Effective social security systems in developed countries reduce the dependence of people on their children. Hardly anyone in Sweden would think of having a child, so that the latter can look after him in old age. In an undeveloped and traditional society like India, economic and social dependence on children particularly sons is still strong. As such, it will be a long time before Indians would stop producing children. Negative growth rate of population is an unlikely prospect in India for a long time.
Population control and economic development go hand in hand. There is an urgent need to step up our efforts for checking population growth by removing female illiteracy in a short time span and by involving panchayats and other grass root organisations. International institutions and external aid agencies are willing to extend financial help if we can formulate weH thoughtout and convincing projects and can implement them effectively as per the agreed time schedule. Such a direct approach to check population growth should be supplemented by indirect method of economic development which naturally leads to lower population growth rate. Once the people start enjoying a higher standard of living, they would like to maintain that by planning and limiting the size of their families. This alone is the surest guaranteeof a check on population growth.