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UPSC Essentials: Society & Social Justice | Population and associated issues (Part 2)

(In UPSC Essentials’ new series ‘Society & Social Justice’, which we have started for social issues topics of UPSC CSE, our subject experts will give an overview of the theme from both, static and dynamic points of view. ‘Express Inputs’ and ‘points to ponder’ will widen your horizon on the issue. Our first topic is ‘Population and associated issues’ which is divided into three parts. In part 1, Pranay Aggarwal talked about causes, challenges and opportunities. In part 2 today, Pranay Aggarwal talks to Manas Srivastava covering India’s population control policy, government schemes, and other relevant questions. He also addresses a past UPSC question and a student’s query on the topic.)

About the Expert: Pranay Aggarwal is an educator and mentor for aspirants preparing for UPSC Civil Services Examination. With more than 10 years of experience guiding civil service aspirants, he is acknowledged as an expert on civil service exam preparation especially on subjects like Social Issues and Sociology. He is a teacher, public speaker, and writer on various aspects of the exam.

Relevance of the topic: It is an important theme in GS I (Society), GS II, Prelims and Personality test. Aspirants will find it relevant for Essays as well. With India becoming the most populous country, this topic becomes essential for UPSC preparation.

Manas: Before going to theoretical questions, let me ask you, why aspirants or future bureaucrats should know about issues related to population growth.

Pranay Aggarwal: Administration plays a vital role in societal transformation and in managing social change. Right now, major shifts are taking place in demographic patterns. Future bureaucrats will be change managers in that sense.

New policy frameworks will be required in the near and medium term. For instance, population control bill and punitive measures for population control are some ideas the bureaucrats and political leadership are toying with.

Future bureaucrats will also need to gear the administrative machinery to tackle population issues such as migration trends. For example, during Covid-19, the administration tried to curb reverse migration from cities to the villages, to prevent the spread of virus. Bureaucrats must be able to understand why people migrate and what will it take to prevent them from migrating, when the situation demands.

Of course, the overpopulation challenge is not yet fully addressed. For instance, across India, condom usage is very low and needs to be encouraged. If an IAS is posted in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar; then they will be dealing with the issue of high fertility. Across regions, those in charge will need to address high fertility amongst the poor and the uneducated.

Population growth is likely to pose new administrative challenges in the future, from climate change to civil strife, which bureaucrats will need to address.

Manas: Let’s continue from where we left in Part 1. Briefly, can you throw some light on population policy of India followed since independence?

Pranay Aggarwal: In the 1950s, India became one of the first developing nations to focus on family planning with the establishment of the Central Family Planning Board. The government aimed to set up a large number of family planning clinics.

From 1966, a targets-based approach was adopted wherein the administration aimed to achieve fixed demographic and fertility targets. In 1970s, the most impactful decision to control population was to increase the minimum legal age for marriage for boys and girls to 21 and 18 respectively. To encourage contraception, “cafeteria approach” was adopted wherein people were provided choices with regard to contraceptive methods. However, coercive tactics employed during the Emergency discredited the family planning programme.

ALSO READ | Society & Social Justice | Population and associated issues (Part 1)

After liberalization, state governments began to formulate state level population policies. In 2000, the National Population Policy was formulated using a target-free approach; with focus on maternal health, child survival, contraception and reproductive health care.

With time, the government’s population policy has evolved from population control to family welfare and women’s empowerment.

Manas: How to critically assess India’s population control policy?

Pranay Aggarwal: People are typically very critical of India’s population policy for its apparent failure to stem population growth. Drawing room chatter attacks the burgeoning population and governments for ‘not doing anything’. But that’s a very jaundiced assessment of India’s population policy.

An important reason for population growth in India has been that gains in fertility reduction have been neutralized by reduction in mortality rates. Also, we have witnessed significant improvements in various parameters, be it life expectancy, IMR or MMR. Of late, India has also attained below replacement-level fertility rate of 2.0.

Even as we acknowledge the hard won successes of our population policy, much remains to be done. For instance, there are wide regional variations in fertility. Importantly, population heavy states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar continue to have very high fertility rates of 2.4 and 3 respectively. About half of all Indians still don’t use modern methods of contraception. The burden of contraceptive usage falls disproportionately on women, while condom usage remains unacceptably low at less than 10 per cent.

In all, it has been a mixed bag till now. Going forward, our population policy needs to keep evolving to address newer challenges.


Why experts say India does not need a population policy

Writing for The Indian Express Research article, Adrija Roychowdhury provides historical facts, figures and analysis that aspirants must read:

India’s experimentations with fertility control programs go all the way back to the period preceding its Independence. In fact, it was one of the first countries to introduce an official programme of birth control intended to reduce the rate of population growth, but to this day the relative population size and fertility rates remain a contentious issue in electoral politics.

In July 2019, a Population Regulation Bill, proposing to introduce a two-child policy per couple, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by BJP MP Rakesh Sinha. However, the Bill was withdrawn earlier this year following intervention by the Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya who argued that NHFS and census data to show the positive impact of government-led awareness campaigns rather than force on indicators such as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR).

Experts too agree that at this juncture there is no requirement of a population control bill or any policy that enforces a fixed number of children a couple can have. “Whatever goals that the latest population policy, NPP 2000, had set have been achieved and the fertility level everywhere is going down,” reasons K Srinivasan, Emeritus Professor of International Institute of Population Sciences. “If we take the case of Tamil Nadu, the fertility levels there are well below replacement levels for the last 10-12 years. Its population is going to decline from 2031. Kerala’s population will also decline soon after,” he explains.

The Western gaze and early experiments with population control

The idea that the population of the Indian subcontinent was a problem emerged only from the third decade of the 20th century. “Much of the time that the British were in control, right up till the 1860s and 70s, they often took the view that there were not enough people,” says Tim Dyson, Professor Emeritus of Population Studies at the London School of Economics.

Srinivasan in his book, ‘Population concerns in India: Shifting trends, policies, and programs’ (2017) notes that the population of India within its present geographical boundaries in fact declined between 1911 and 1921 from 252.1 to 251.3 million on account of the global influenza pandemic of 1918-19. It is only from 1921 that the population rose due to measures undertaken by provincial governments. “Concerns over this rapid rise in population arose from four quarters: intellectuals, social reformers (especially those interested in improving the status of women), the Congress party (the leading political party that spearheaded the movement for political independence) and the government,” he writes.

The role of the Indian intellectual elite was particularly strong in this regard during the first two decades of the century. A large majority among them visited England for higher education and for training in posts for the Indian Civil Service. There they were introduced to Malthusian theories of population and Neo-Malthusian Leagues across Europe.

Historian Matthew Connelly in his article, ‘Population control in India: Prologue to the Emergency period’ (2006) notes that the Indian elites, and particularly the Hindu upper caste elites, were active participants in international conferences on population, and were the most vocal proponents for population control as they remained concerned that differential fertility would increase the relative size and power of the lower-caste and Muslim communities.

The Western gaze towards India, citing it as a case where overpopulation led to checks like famines, war and epidemics went a long way in shaping the Indian elite’s response to the country’s population. “Westerners preferred to make an example of India when developing their own theories and deriving lessons for policy,” writes Connelly in his article. “In the 1920s, when American and British authors began to warn of a ‘Rising tide of colour’, India was once again the most oft-cited example- even though there was not yet any evidence that its population was growing rapidly.” American birth control activist Margaret Higgins Sanger and her Birth Control Information Centre in the 1930s focused on opening clinics in India.

“There were Western economists who came up with economic arguments about why India needed to control its population,” says Leela Visaria, Honorary Professor at the Gujarat Institute of Development Research. “The burden that a country like India would be for the world got articulated in many ways such as advocating methods of family planning to women mostly, and carrying out studies.”

population trends in India Population growth in India and the States (Source- Census of India/ graphics by Dinkar Sasi)

The first public expression of the need for family planning in the country was carried out by Pyare Kishen Wattal with the publication of a book, ‘The Population Problem in India’ in 1916 in which he advocated family limitation. A pioneering effort was led by Professor Raghunath Dhondo Karve when he opened the country’s first birth control clinic in Bombay in 1925. Karve was a professor of Mathematics and an activist on women’s rights. He advocated widow remarriage and the practice of artificial methods of family planning. However, his writings and speeches on the subject were met with severe opposition and he was asked to resign by the authorities of the Christian Missionary College where he worked. The next attempt in this direction was the forming of the Madras Neo-Malthusian League in July 1929, which published a propaganda journal called Madras Birth Control Bulletin.

The humble beginnings of population control that started in Bombay and Madras, however, did not spread rapidly because of Mahatma Gandhi’s strong opposition to artificial methods of birth control. For Gandhi, sexual abstinence was the only ethical means of birth control. In his magazine ‘Young India’ he wrote in 1936: “Sex urge is a fine and noble thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it, but it is meant only for the act of creation. Any other use of it is a sin against God and humanity. Contraceptives of a kind there were before and there will be hereafter, but the use of them was formerly regarded as sinful. It was reserved for our generation to glorify vice by calling it virtue.” (As cited in Srinivasan’s book).

population control bill, India population, India population growth, population bill 2021, population policy India, emergency, forced sterlisation, sterilisations in India, vasectomy India, Indira Gandhi, India population, China population, India population news, India news, Indian express Population growth in India and the States (Source- Census of India/ graphics by Dinkar Sasi)

Gandhi’s views on birth control were strongly challenged by western activists, particularly Edith How-Martyn and Sanger, who advocated family planning as a means of liberating women from child bearing and improving their status as individuals in society.

The women’s movement in India and voluntary organisations continued to advocate for artificial methods of birth control despite Gandhi’s opposition. The annual meeting of the All India Women’s Conference in 1935 focused on birth control and invited How-Martyn and Sanger. “How-Martyn and Sanger took this opportunity to meet with Gandhi to discuss the use of artificial methods of family planning. Despite their efforts to convert him to their side, Gandhi stood firm in his conviction and rejected the use of artificial methods of family planning,” writes Srinivasan.

Jawaharlal Nehru, however, had an opposing view to Gandhi on the matter. He was influenced by the prevailing views on population in the west and was of the opinion that as modern technology made their way to the east, a significant population increase would result in India. Therefore he perceived the rising population of India as a burden that needed to be properly organised. As early as the mid 1930s the National Planning Committee under Nehru set up a subcommittee on population that recommended the gradual increase in age of marriage, the teaching of contraception in medical colleges, the establishment of birth control clinics, provision of free contraceptives and local manufacture of contraceptives, the education of people on the issue of population and the introduction of a eugenic program for sterilisation of people suffering from communicable diseases.

The efforts at population control was halted briefly with the onset of the Second World War in 1939. With the end of the war in 1945 and the Independence of the country in 1947 a new and more invigorated phase of population control plans was ushered in.

Family planning in five year plans of independent India

One of the earliest efforts at birth control was the formation of the family planning association of India. Its members included pioneers such as Professor Karve, Dr A. P. Pillay, Lady Dhanvanthi Rama Rau, Mrs Vembu and Mrs A. B. Wadia, who were active in family planning programmes before the war and had shown keen interest during the All India Women’s Conference held earlier in 1935. Founding of the association was a milestone moment both in the history of family planning in India and the world.

In 1952, during the first five year plan, the government assumed that rapid population growth would be a hindrance in the socio-economic development of the country. Accordingly, it adopted a ‘family limitation and population control programme’, arguably the first such attempt anywhere.

Family planning programs in India Government expenditure on family planning programs (Source- Ministry of Health and Family Welfare/ graphics by Dinkar Sasi)

However, the programme made negligible progress, partly because there was very little experience to draw from. Moreover, its goal was defined in rather vague terms as that of reducing birth rate to the level necessary to stabilise the population at the level consistent with the requirements of the national economy. “But it also reflected continuing reservations about modern birth control methods,” writes Dyson in his book, ‘A population history of India: From the first modern people to the present day’ (2018). “Indeed in the late 1940s and early 1950s Rajkumari Amrit Kaur- a former secretary to M K Gandhi- was the country’s minister of health. Although she later changed her views, at that time she favoured family limitation through the practise of sexual abstinence.” Much of the budget kept aside for family planning programme at this phase was spent on doing research on the ‘rhythm method’(a form of natural contraception by which sexual intercourse is restricted to the times of a woman’s menstrual cycle when ovulation is least likely to occur) which was largely unsuccessful both in the west and in India.

The second five-year plan involved the opening of 1,430 family planning clinics and birth control services also began to be provided at private healthcare systems (PHCs). Family planning and health came under the jurisdiction of the states and in this regard we see a significant progress in birth control initiatives in the south. In particular, there were efforts at providing sterilisation services. In 1959, for instance, the Madras state government introduced a scheme by which people who were sterilised were given a small amount of money. There were restrictions on who could be sterilised though. By 1960, the states of Mysore, Maharashtra and Kerala also introduced similar schemes.

Influenced by the progress made by the southern states, the third five-year plan made sterilisation services available in PHCs as well. Several sterilisation centres were also established, mainly in the bigger cities. Dyson notes that the number of sterilisations carried out in India rose from 64,000 in 1960 to about 1.8 million by 1967-68.

A notable event in this regard took place in Ernakulam district of Kerala in December 1970 at the instigation of the district’s chief administrator, S.S. Krishnakumar. A sterilisation camp was established with much fanfare and quick and safe vasectomies were made available with sizable cash payments to those availing the service. About 15,000 vasectomies were carried out in the event. When a similar event was held once again in July 1971, once again in Ernakulam, it resulted in 63,000 vasectomies. Following this, similar camps were held in most states across the country. “It is estimated that about 91 per cent of the contraceptive ‘protection’ (i.e. against pregnancy) provided by the family planning programme in 1972–73 derived from sterilizations. Moreover, vasectomies accounted for 84 per cent of the sterilizations performed during 1972–73,” notes Dyson.

However, the 1971 census made clear that despite the many efforts, much to the frustration of policy makers, population growth had continued unabated during the decade. The population of the country rose from 439.2 million in 1961 to 548.2 million in 1971, which was a 24.8 per cent increase as compared to 21.5 per cent rise in the 1951-61 period. “This was because the government of the day had fixed very high targets to be achieved in a short period of time. The targets for each earlier five-year plan failed but the government kept keeping higher targets in the consecutive plan,” says Srinivasan. “Moreover, by diverting so much of time and money to sterilisations, we lost out on resources that should have been used to improve health infrastructure instead,” he adds.

The Emergency and forced sterilisations

In the period between 1960 to 1976 the international emphasis on family planning increased significantly with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundations. Among all Asian and Sub-Saharan African countries, India’s family planning programme received the largest chunk of international aid. “The international push was so extreme that in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson refused to provide food aid to India—at the time threatened by famine—until it agreed to incentivize sterilization,” writes Prajakta R. Gupte in her article, ‘India: ‘The Emergency’ and the politics of mass sterilisation’ (2017).

The mass sterilisation campaign that took off during the Emergency declared by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi needs to be seen in context of this international pressure on India. “These were based, with a hindsight, on the fear of the large populations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia increasing very rapidly and posing a global threat to peace and prosperity of the Western world,” writes Sreenivasan. In the history of population control in India, this was the only period which saw the use of force.

With the opposition behind bars and the press silenced, several atrocities were carried out during the period of Emergency that lasted from June 1975 to March 1977. The most talked about among them was a forced sterilisation campaign, spearheaded by Gandhi’s son, Sanjay Gandhi, who held no official post in the government at that time. He came up with a five-point programme which included family planning, tree planting, a ban on dowry, an adult education programme and ending of social caste. In the opinion of Sanjay Gandhi, family planning was to be a way of life in India and he wanted rapid results. “For instance, he wanted to control the population within a year, beautify the city in weeks, and virtually end poverty overnight,” writes Gupte.

A National Population Policy (NPP), the first of its kind in India, was passed in the Parliament in April 1976. Sterilisation and in particular vasectomy was to be the core of this programme. States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Haryana, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh also came up with their own sterilisation policies, and all of North India came to be known as the ‘vasectomy belt’. Each of these states began competing with each other to achieve the highest number of sterilisations.

Vasectomies were held in many government offices, railway stations, and schools. Sreenivasan notes how “the vasectomy booths set up in the Churchgate and VT stations in Mumbai became notorious because of its ruthless nature: they gathered the young male passengers getting down the electric trains and made them pass through the vasectomy booths and sterilized them, unless they have a card for already being sterilised.”

Further, the government issued circulars to employees stating that their promotions and payments would be held back unless they got sterilised or got an assigned quota of people to sterilise. “People had to produce a certificate of sterilization to get their salaries or even renew their driving/ rickshaw/scooter/sales tax license. Students whose parents had not undergone a sterilization were detained. Free medical treatment in hospitals was also suspended until a sterilization certificate was shown,” writes Gupte. Those who suffered the most were the poor and illiterate people, picked up from pavements, railway stations, or bus stops and forced to undergo the process.

As a result, the family planning programme’s performance in India during the 1976-77 period was the best that any country had ever achieved, with 8.26 million sterilisations. It is worth noting that it was during this period that China too officially adopted the one child policy, and one can assume that Gandhi and her son thought that a similar attitude of force might work in case of India too. However, as Sreenivasan notes, China used UIDs to achieve its goal, which was reversible unlike the case with sterilisations.

Soon enough violent revolts broke out in several parts of India in response to the forced sterilisations. Gupte writes that in Uttar Pradesh alone 240 cases of violent resistance were reported. “In Muzzaffarnagar, for instance, people resisted by pelting the police with stones. Again, the police opened fire, killing twenty-five people. After this incident, a curfew was imposed, and law enforcement officers killed violators,” she writes. A significant opposition to the programme came from the poorest areas and from the Muslims who thought it was the majority’s way of diminishing their community.

In an attempt to prove her popularity, Indira Gandhi called for fresh elections in February 1977. This was the beginning of the end of her power. The Congress party incurred huge losses both at the centre and in most of the states and one of the key election issues was the government’s imposition of a coercive family planning program. “A popular saying among the people at that time was that the compulsory sterilisation program brought down the government instead of the birth rate,” says Sreenivasan. “This is a lesson for any government in India.”

Looking back at the approach to population control during the Emergency, Dyson says that “what it did was weaken the commitment to family planning”. “The Australian demographer Jack Caldwell had argued that if Mrs Gandhi had continued with the Emergency then India would have achieved replacement fertility, that is two births per woman, by the 1980s. He may well have been right since India is only slightly above two births per woman now,” says Dyson. “There was a huge difference in India’s demographic trajectory as a result of Mrs. Gandhi losing the election. Had she won the election, it is interesting to speculate what she would have done with the family planning programme.”

Post-Emergency population control

The biggest change that took place after the 1977 general elections was that India’s population control policy shifted focus to voluntary efforts. “The Indian government now put more emphasis on incentives to attract people to accept family planning instead of coercive measures although the government still gave priority to the rapidly growing population problem,” writes sociologist Gabe T Wang in his paper, ‘Population control policies and implementations in India’ (2019). The name of the programme was changed from ‘family planning’ to ‘family welfare’ under the pretext that any population policy would put greater emphasis on maternal and child healthcare as well as nutrition.

A working group on population policy was set up under the planning commission in 1979. The group recommended a long term demographic goal of reaching a net reproduction rate of one by 1996 for the entire country and for the states by 2001. The government also emphasised on indirect measures such as spreading awareness through the use of media, education, giving larger share of central government’s assistance to states performing well and the like.

Further, states came out with policies of their own. Some states such as Assam, Odisha, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, for instance, have some form of two-child policy in place to be eligible for certain government jobs. The Uttar Pradesh Law Commission in July 2021 submitted a proposal for barring any person with more than two children from contesting in local polls, applying for promotions in government jobs and from receiving government subsidy.

Visaria says that one of the biggest impacts of the forced sterilisation campaign carried out during the Emergency was that vasectomy or male sterilisation was put on the back burner. “Female sterilisation became more popular as women came forward despite it having a negative effect on their health,” she says. “We came to a stage when Indian doctors, for several years, were not even trained in the performance of vasectomy.”

“All kinds of incentives for sterilisation needs to be stopped immediately,” suggests Sreenivasan. “Not only does it impact women’s health but also it makes such a dent in fertility that cannot be restored later.” “China could reverse its one child policy because it did not have so many sterilised people. But in India, a majority of family planning efforts continue to be through female sterilisations” he says.

population control bill, India population, India population growth, population bill 2021, population policy India, emergency, forced sterlisation, sterilisations in India, vasectomy India, Indira Gandhi, India population, China population, India population news, India news, Indian express The total fertility rate across most of India is close to two. (Source- NHFS/ graphic by Dinkar Sasi)

Despite the variegated efforts in India’s family planning initiatives, population continues to be seen as a problem in the country. A 2019 report released by the United Nations predicted that India’s population would surpass that of China by 2027 and that it would remain the most populous country of the world till the end of the century.

“That is bound to happen since it’s built in the momentum of the population. We had until very recently very high fertility levels and all those children born in the 1970s and 80s will want to have one or two children and till that phase of transition is completed the population will continue to grow in absolute numbers,” says Visaria.

However, she believes that despite the growth in population the country does not need a population control policy. “The latest NHFS data clearly indicates that the total fertility rate is now two, which is slightly below replacement levels. The NHFS surveys have demonstrated that no Indian couple want more than two children,” she says. “What we need is to ensure that good quality services are available to all regardless of rural, urban, caste or religion.”

Srinivasan believes that the condition of population India at present with its demographic diversity is in fact at an advantageous stage. “At present different states are at different levels of demographic transitions. For instance Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan are still slightly above replacement level of fertility. Whereas Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Pondicherry are well below replacement level of fertility,” he says. “This is an advantage for a country because the labour shortage in one state can be filled up by surplus labour in another state, provided we facilitate internal migration.”

He also suggests that any population policy at this stage is bound to recoil because it will appear to be directed towards a particular community. The only form of family planning that he says must be advocated is the kind that was advocated by Margaret Sanger: “wherein couples have babies by choice and not by chance.”

(Source: Why experts say India does not need a population policy by Adrija Roychowdhury)

Manas: What do you have to say about government schemes on this subject?

Pranay Aggarwal: Government has launched numerous schemes to holistically address the population growth challenge.

Home Delivery of Contraceptives Scheme aims to mobilize ASHA workers for doorstep delivery of contraceptives. Under the Ensuring Spacing at Birth Scheme, ASHA workers provide counselling to newly married couples. Mission Parivar Vikas aims to increase access to contraceptives and family planning services in certain high fertility districts. Clinical Outreach Teams Scheme provides family planning services through mobile teams from accredited organizations in far-flung areas. National Family Planning Indemnity Scheme insures its clients in case of death, complication and failure following sterilization.

To educate the public about population control; 360 degree media campaigns including TV commercials, radio shows, posters and hoardings are regularly used by the government. Events are also held on World Population Day (July 11) and Vasectomy Fortnight (November 21 till December 4). Other awareness raising efforts include Saas-Bahu Sammelans, mobile publicity vans, etc.

Manas: Is empowering women key to population control? (UPSC Previous Year Question). What should be the thought process to answer such a question?

Pranay Aggarwal: Empowering women is absolutely critical for effective population control and management. Experience from across the world tells us that more gender equal societies have lower fertility rates and improved demographic indicators. National data reinforces the same conviction.

Empowerment of women raises their age at marriage, ensures their sexual and reproductive autonomy and encourages contraceptive usage. NFHS 5 points out that girls who study longer have fewer children and also take up employment. It makes them more aware and assertive of their rights, and more mindful of the various ‘costs’ of having a large family. They make informed choices regarding their reproductive behaviour. Women’s education positively affects their health, child health and awareness of various birth control methods. It is also positively co-related to reduction of IMR and MMR.

As women become more empowered, they are also better valued as members of the society, thus reducing the felt need for a male child. The success of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign in Haryana is a case in point.

Manas: Often students want to have some impressive lines or quotes in their essays or answers. Can you suggest some good anecdotes or good lines on population that students can use in their answer’s introduction or conclusion, which may be eye catchy for the examiner?

Pranay Aggarwal: Students can quote leading demographers, policy makers, public figures and policy and research documents in GS, essay and ethics papers to catch the eye of the examiner. Some such are:

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of earth to produce subsistence for man.” – Thomas Malthus

“Our 8-billion-strong world could yield enormous opportunities for some of the poorest countries, where population growth is highest. Relatively small investments in healthcare, education, gender equality and sustainable economic development could create a virtuous circle of development and growth, transforming economies and lives. ” – UN Chief Guterres

“Demography is destiny.” – French philosopher Auguste Comte

It’s quite pithy, apt and was recently in the news as Elon Musk quoted it with reference to India’s growing population.

Or aphorisms such as:

Development is the best contraceptive.

Overpopulation means overexploitation.

Small family, Happy family

Gandhi’s views on the issue of population control are interesting and controversial. While his statement that “The world has enough for everyone’s need; but not everyone’s greed.” is often quoted; his moral condemnation of modern contraceptive methods is less well known.

Gandhi said (use any one or two):

“It is cowardly to refuse to face the consequences of one’s acts. Persons who use contraceptives will never learn the virtue of self–restraint.”

“Contraceptives are an insult to womanhood.”

“If contraceptives are resorted to, frightful results will follow. Men and woman will be living for sex alone. They will become soft-brained, unhinged, in fact, mental and moral wrecks.”

“There can be no two opinions about the necessity of birth –control. But the only method handed down from ages past is self-control or Brahmacharya. It is an infallible and sovereign remedy.”

Students are advised to use Gandhi’s statements, mentioned above, only when answering questions on different views, debate or evolution of ideas of population control. Any wise candidate will know that the above views of Gandhi cannot be a concluding point of any answer on the subject.


Manas: We have received a question from an aspirant. The question is:

What are some prominent issues (challenges) related to population growth? ~ Rasmita Purusupalli (Gujarat). Can you help with some pointers?

Pranay Aggarwal: Similar question has been answered in Part 1 (What are the challenges of overpopulation?). Let’s add some more points here.

Adverse economic consequence of overpopulation include rampant poverty, rising inequality and widespread unemployment and underemployment. Sustainable development becomes a challenge as excessive resource exploitation, environmental deterioration and degradation are all directly related to overpopulation.

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Crime, delinquency and violence are some of the possible negative social consequences of population growth. Excess population puts pressure on social and economic development. Governance becomes a challenge as continuous efforts are needed to eradicate hunger and ensure that everyone has access to health care, education and other basic necessities. Fears of loss of identity of ethnic minorities and migrants may also arise from overpopulation. As a result, it might fuel communalism and cause rifts in the social fabric based on religion and place of origin.

Due to overpopulation and resultant environmental damage, infectious diseases evolve and spread easily. Malnutrition and several illnesses are caused by a low standard of living.  Due to an increase in life expectancy and the resultant rise in the elderly population, healthcare and social security costs have increased.

(Add key takeaways from the recent UNFPA report in mentioned in Part 1)

What is in store for you in Part 3?

In the last part of the topic Population and associated issues, we shall focus on analytical questions like:

— Boon or bane?

— Good anecdotes and good phrases on population that students can use in their answer’s intro or conclusion.

— Why to focus oh health, education and skilling?

— Compare and contrast with China.

and many more points to ponder…

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