Saturday, January 11, 2014

Is India’s Population the Real Problem!

The Indian Parliament, in a unanimous resolution, passed on the 50th year of our independence, asserted that population was India's biggest problem. That is, the representatives of the people were united in saying that their constituents and their children were a problem.

This, in an age, when a nation's strongest competitive advantage lies in a well-educated, healthy and energetic populace i.e., its human capital. Warnings about human overpopulation have been issued regularly for decades - even centuries - with consistently incorrect predictions. On the first Earth Day, Paul Ehrlich's 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, was widely quoted. He predicted that by 1985, the "population explosion" would lead to world famine, the death of the oceans, a reduction in life expectancy to 42 years, and the wasting of the Midwest into a vast desert and that ” We will breed ourselves into oblivion.". He was about as accurate as Malthus himself, the Englishman who, in 1798- when the world was nearing a billion people, predicted catastrophic food shortages that never came.
Is there indeed a population problem? In 1999, the six billionth child was born on the earth and the one billionth in India, and the Malthusian nightmare has not happened. The truth is that food supply has consistently outstripped population, and today, people everywhere are eating better than they did in the past. In India, we have consistently produced a food surplus for 20 years. Our problem is how to make the poor prosperous so they can get to it. India's problem is that a large number of its peoples lack basic liberties and freedom of opportunity.

Confused is perhaps the more charitable portrayal of India's population policy – proudly proclaimed as 'the oldest population policy in the world'. Coercive and undemocratic are probably more realistic descriptions of the National Family Welfare Program, launched in 1951 with the objective of "reducing the birth rate to the extent necessary to stabilize the population at a level consistent with the requirement of the national economy".
India’s population has always been connoted with some self explanatory evils like poverty, employment, economic backwardness, over crowding, low per capita income, environmental pollution, indebtedness etc. If population is taking its toll in India then why do we find so many countries like Japan, China, and Belgium surging radically and that too with a population density much higher than that of India?
In recent times, the population growth rate in the West has fallen below the replacement level. Countries like Canada are actually experiencing a drop in native population. India’s population will almost certainly level-out some time during the second half of the present century -- perhaps when it is around 1.6 billion. The reason for the stabilization will be that by then the birth rate will have fallen to the level of the death rate. After the population has stopped growing, it may well be that India's population will start to decline in size, since levels of fertility per woman may be below the replacement level (of roughly two births per woman) then.
Thus population growth as such is not a major crisis. What is, is the way in which we are going about trying to bridge the ever increasing gap between the birth and death rates. In son-crazy India, the imposition of the 'two child norm' has led to sex-determination and sex-selective abortions. The only humane way to reduce high growth rates is by social change that improves conditions of life, levels of education, economic security, and freedom of choice for women. While coercive measures can also have an impact, such measures will only add to current injustices, increase passivity in the populace and authoritarianism in elites. Having children should be a matter of choice rather than a matter of chance.
One important factor which is responsible for viewing the future with more optimism than may previously have been the case has been the increase in the size of the middle class, a tendency which has been promoted by the current tendency to ease restrictions on entrepreneurship and private investment. It is a well-known fact that as persons become more prosperous and better educated they begin to undertake measures designed to eliminate the size of their families. Kerala, where for decades individual well-being has been the driving force behind social programs, family sizes have fallen, so population growth has slowed, life expectancy is as high as in the United States, and the quality of life has raced ahead, is often quoted as having successfully achieved demographic transition, but the
Kerala development experience is not emulated country wide. Kerala’s success has indicated that even the poorer classes can be induced to think in terms of population control and family planning through education.

A large population does put pressure on natural resources — land, food, water, breathable air, minerals. Resources are not natural; they are manmade. Nature provides a variety of stuff, but it comes with no instructions on what it is good for, if it is good for anything at all. It takes a human being to invent a use for it and thus make it valuable — a resource. If we were to think of ways to double the efficiency with which we use oil, it would be equivalent to doubling the supply of oil. There is one caveat to this analysis: human ingenuity can overcome the apparent obstacles to prosperity only if people are free to create, produce, and trade unimpeded by government or criminals.
India’s problem is that we look at foreign solutions to solve local problems .Our politicians tend to have government funded research cum family tours abroad to find answers for questions which they leave behind in India. Even with high population density, enterprise-based economies (e.g. Singapore, Taiwan) have flourished while centrally-planned nations (e.g. Brazil, Russia) have stagnated and become addicted to foreign aid.
Ironically, where there is famine for example, the problem usually is not overpopulation but over governance, which leads to gross misallocation and misuse of resources as corrupt bureaucrats or dictators seek power more than the welfare of their subjects. If you want proof, just look around you – you will discover Bureaucrats and Ministers who, as per Income Tax statements filed with the IT department, claim to be running their families on the really meager salary and perquisites made available to them by the Government. Ask them about their gold and silver assets, posh bungalows, farm houses, holiday resorts and they stare back at you with wide open eyes as if to say - ‘You mean to say, I own all that?’ Or, they grin and reply – ‘I have no idea what you are talking about.’ Or, they signal to the pehalwan standing behind them and walk away leaving it to him to handle the sensitive issue in a suitable way. Unknown to you, you become a marked man – or woman!

When we say that unemployment is caused by over population, we always forget that as the population increases demand for goods and services also increases. Consequently, to meet this ever-increasing demand, more and more people have to be employed. However, in India, despite having this ever-increasing demand, we find thousands and lakhs of Indians unemployed- thanks to the government’s irrational policies and myopic vision of trade. In our nation, even opening a paan corner or a rickshaw driving business can be as Kafkaesque a labyrinth as opening up a million dollar industry establishment.

One more reason why a substantial proportion of the Indian population remain unemployed is lack of infrastructure like roads, railways, highways or lifelines like water, power provision etc. If our government starts building the country’s infrastructure, demand for workers will definitely increase and thus the employment. However, our state prefers to squander away taxpayer’s money in providing subsidies that never reach to the needy, holding
unconstrained and lavish parliamentary sessions and financing politicians’ foreign visits.

Even if it ventures into any infrastructure-building project, we end up witnessing frauds, leakages and other inefficient utilization of our hard-earned money causing a jet hole in the tax payer’s pocket. Ultimately, population is made the scapegoat.

Now let us look at the various uncultivated advantages of the Indian population. First, it’s the mammoth population base of India that has made her an investment hub in the world. Indian computer specialists are now regarded among the best in the world. As a result of this and other industrial developments, a growing middle class of some 250 million people is emerging.

Similarly, there is a huge consumer base in India that can soak up the products of hundreds and thousands of companies without achieving saturation. It is this demand for goods and services that has led to the drastic increase in foreign direct investment even with the presence of a draconian FDI policy. Economic and social development, in general, has been associated with major reductions in birth rates and the emergence of small families the world over. In country after country the birth rate has come down with increased female education, the reduction of mortality rates, the expansion of economic means and security, and greater public discussion of ways of living
Population doomsday gives the impression that human beings are not a resource but a source of trouble. Statisticians who record an increase in the GDP when a calf is born, but reduce per capita income whenever a human infant is born seems to be assuming that human beings are not worth anything. Growing population creates short-term difficulties. But where people and markets are free, entrepreneurs and inventors, seeking profit opportunities, will solve the problems and leave us better off than before the problems arose.
With all the attention that the populous countries are getting, overpopulation is not a bane anymore! Only that we must put our people to the best use. I believe education not population is a problem. Even power can be a blessing or a bane, it depends on how one manages it. Therefore if we don’t change our perception towards population and always look at it as a problem or a hindrance to our growth then we are asking for even bigger problems.

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