One of the most serious problems that India faces today is the problem of over-population. Our population today is more than China. But more alarming and disconcerting than this figure is the fact that it is growing at the rate of 50 million per annum. The number of new mouths that are annually added to our population almost equals the total population of Australia. This means that one Australia is added to India every year. In our country, a baby is born every one seconds i.e. more than 86,400 children are born every day. If the present trend continues, our population might touch the fantastic figure of a thousand million at the turn of the century. At the present rate of growth, population is expected to cross 150 crore mark .
How can the Government provide food, educational facilities and employment to these growing numbers? The national income of India since independence has been growing at an average rate of 7 % per annum. But the per capital income during the same period has crept up by only 3 percent per annum. Whatever is achieved1 in terms of economic growth is neutralized by the rising numbers. The World Development Report, rightly observes that a war on poverty would simply have to be a war on population. If the growth in population is not checked we shall soon be faced with underfed and underclothes children dwelling in them.
There are many reasons for the population explosion in India. Eighty percent of the Indians live in the rural areas; they are very backward and superstitious. They follow the policy I that God who has given the birth will also make provision for their feeding. The villagers also believe in the policy that more the children the better it will be for them, because they will help in the agricultural operations.
The major cause for this increase in population is the fall in the death rate brought about by better health conditions, effective control of epidemics and general improvement of economic conditions.
In India by and large masses have no other source of entertainment except indulging in sex. Certain communities also have some religious fears against the methods of family planning. Then, there is also the inherent desire in every Indian family to have a male child. It so happens that sometimes in the hope of getting a male child a number of daughters arc born.
The prevalent system of child marriages among the Indians is also responsible for the large-sized families. Of course, the Government has raised the marriage age of girls to 18 years and of boys to 21 years. In spite of the great need of family planning in India, this programme was not given much importance before the emergency during the last 28 years.
Of course, now family planning has been taken up quite seriously both by the government and the people. The government has announced incentives for those persons who undergo sterilization. The family planning programme aimed at reducing the annual birth rate from about 39 per thousand in 1969 to 30 by 1982-83 and 25 by 1984-85 and today it has come down to a little below 20.
The concept of a small family which is now being propagated by the Government is not only good for the nation but it is also good for the children and the parents. If every family has a small size, they can bring up their children in a better way. They can feed them better and give them better education. A small family is also essential for the health of the mother, the children, as well as for the society as a whole.
India was the first country to adopt family planning as an official programme in 1952. Our five year plans were structured to meet the challenge of growing numbers. The emphasis in the first two plans was on research in the field of motivation, communication demography and the extension of Central and State organizations in providing clinical services. The task of enlightening people in ways of family planning was taken up in the right earnest. A variety of contraceptives were popularized and made available to the public free of charge or at cheaper rates. Despite these efforts, however, the 1961 census revealed no appreciable decrease in the birth rate. The family planning drive was then reinforced with fresh vigor and time-bound programmes were chalked out to ensure its success. During the emergency, even coercion was used to sterilize people. Later, the minimum marriage able age was also raised to 21 years for boys and 18 years for girls, However, nothing substantial was achieved apart from a marginal lowering of fertility rate from 65 per cent in the 1950 to 4.8 percent in 1982, and 3.4% in 1987.
Here, it should not be irrelevant to investigate why this programme did not achieve the expected success. That it had some effect, particularly on the urban population, cannot be denied, but the rural population, by and large, remained untouched. People in our country are still superstitious, fatalistic, prejudiced and ignorant. They think that it is a sin to prevent the birth of a child and that their religion does not permit them to practice family planning. Many of them are also under the impression that the use of contraceptives is injurious to health. Apart from these factors, the socio-economic structure of our country also presents a serious hurdle to the success of the programme. Among the poor illiterate people, large families imply more working hands and larger family income. High infant mortality rate also induces the parents to produce more children. All these factors are directly related to the fact that very few among our women are really educated.
Here in India, it is necessary that the .problem of population growth is attacked on a war-footing. The strategy is now clear. The masses have to be motivated and not coerced to adopt family planning. And the best method to motivate is to educate. So far our record on the education front has been rather disappointing. But any war against growing population is meaningless without an attack on ignorance and illiteracy. The education of women, in particular, should receive greater attention of our planners. Living standards of the people should be raised and health care centres and educational institutions should be actively involved in the family planning drive to supplement the efforts of the Government. Perhaps time has also come to propagated ‘One-child family’ norms.
But the Government should not use the coercive methods for the implementation of family planning programme. Instead of this it should use the persuasive methods to popularize this programme. But if the people do not want the government to enforce compulsory measures in this regard, they should voluntarily keep the maximum number of children to the ideal of two.
In spite of the fact that the people have rejected the forcible methods of sterilization, the importance of family planning in our country cannot be minimized. If our country has to become strong and prosperous, the increasing population of the country will have to be controlled. Until and unless the people voluntarily adopt the methods of family planning neither the poverty can be removed from our country, nor can the standard of living of the people be raised.