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Zero Population Growth - Views on News from Equitymaster
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  • Jun 1, 1997

    Zero Population Growth

    Between 1950 and today India's population has grown from 359 million to 940 million. Meanwhile per capita income has grown from Rs 239 to Rs 10,940 in the same 48 year period. If our population growth had been 1.0% instead of the 2.0 % that it was, our population would have been 579 million and the per capita income would have been Rs 17,761 today - 62% more than what it actually is. People in this country would have been wealthier by 62% and would have been able to enjoy life a lot more with more food, more clothes, and more consumer goods available per capita.

    Over the past 48 years, we have added over 581 million to our population - and although I have no statistics to prove this - probably 290 million or 50% of that net addition to population are people who will live their lives in poverty and die in poverty and many of these 290 million will have spent their entire life struggling to survive, struggling to eat three meals a day, shivering in cold weather, drenched in the monsoons, and sick all year round with no one to help them. Harsh images, for sure, but probably true. And the reason all this is being allowed to happen is simply because our government and our politicians have abdicated their responsibility to educate the people and invest in family planning.

    For long, the feeling among India's political leaders was that a large population, ignorant and illiterate, could be bought at election time. It was a hedge against the rising middle class section of the population which was literate, more demanding, and hence not a safe political bet for the vote-wanters. So our Films Division and one-channel television gave us all these images of grains of wheat and rice and tea dancing in the wind and hid the stark images of poverty and bonded labour. Actually, the political world was creating a social time bomb and a platform for economic disaster for the sake of building up their vote bank.

    A cynical view? Think about it: between 1989 and today elections have been fought and governments have been chosen on the issues of Mandal, Ayodhya, and caste. We remain numbers in the hands of the politicians who seek the best combination of division and sub-division for maximising their votes. Between 1950 and 1975, growth in population of the poorer class was the safe bet for re-election.

    Since the days of the Emergency, when the Sanjay Gandhi brigade was doing the rounds of the countryside castrating the freedom to choose, no political party has made a policy statement on population growth. After 12 years of debating and fighting, we the people have finally managed to get all major political parties to agree on one thing: they will not mess around with the long term economic policy of the country and will carry on with liberalisation.

    Recent political events, culminating in the Kesri kathak and the Gujral garba, suggest that the only economic tune to dance to was the passing of the budget in its original form and that every major political party ultimately fell in line with the pro-growth Chidambaram budget. If pushed into a corner, the politicians will respond if only for their own survival. The fear of losing votes is the biggest fear of any political party. Hence, the support for the budget.

    But it is this same fear of losing votes and the shadows of the dark days of the Emergency, that has made every political party keep its scary silence on population growth. A call for reducing family sizes is seen as political hara-kiri. This perception can be changed. We, the people, did it in the case of economic policy. In the 1980's, a call for more private participation in the economy and lower taxation rates was seen as political suicide. Today, to ask for MORE government involvement in the economy and higher taxation rates is seen as political suicide.

    A lot of myths of the past need to be buried - we did that in the field of economics where we have killed this unsuccessful attempt to reach for the "commanding heights" of the economy. Hopefully, we are about to do it in the pricing of petroleum products where we have been lured into believing that the government has a right to raise oil prices every year (Petroleum Minister T. R. Baalu has taken the tough decision of telling the Finance Minister to give him money to cover this Rs 16,000 crore oil pool deficit by passing him some of the excessive import, excise, and sales tariffs that the Finance Ministry charges on oil products rather than raising prices again! If this suggestion is overruled and the government raises oil prices again, ask your local legislator and MP to give you a written explanation of the need to raise oil prices again, and throw him/her out in the next election!)

    Let's start working on population as the next thing to be discussed and decided on. The silence on such an important aspect of our society is killing. No one wants a return to the Sanjay Gandhi methods. Let there atleast be a start by advertising the need for families to think about having more children. Every parent would like their children to have the best in life. Clean clothes, good food, a basic education, and lots of opportunities. How many Indians can really give all that to their children? What security can you get in your old age from a child who is uneducated, unemployed, and probably frustrated with life.

    Even if people are able to have children, but are encouraged through education to delay having children and to having fewer children so that they can give them more, the national level of living will increase dramatically. All such decisions on family planning have to be voluntary and they have to be based on help and counselling. Come up with a policy on this, Mr Politician, and spend money wisely to educate and counsel. Or else, along with the votes you are so busy counting, think of the images of poor, hungry, wet children created out of your fear and selfishness. Sleep well tonight in your cosy bed, Mr Politician.

    THE PAST AND THE FUTURE... FY1950 FY1997 FY2045 Population (million) 359.0 940.0 1,921.0 Population growth(%) 2.0% 1.5% Per Capita Income (Rs) 239.0 10,940.0 641,609.0 Growth in per capita(%) 8.3% 8.9% If population growth was 1.0% 0.5% Per Capita Income (Rs) 17,761.0 1,032,046.0 Which is higher by 62.0% 61.0%



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