The overcrowding of Indian cities is not due to overpopulation but to migration from villages, often due to rural distress and lack of employment opportunities, highlighted by farmer suicides across the country.
The population debate resurfaces every now and again. Lack of development, overcrowding of public transport and our cities, poverty and our pollution levels are all blamed on India’s burgeoning human numbers. This year the focus on overpopulation has been brought about by a new group of citizens called TAXAB or the Taxpayers Association of Bharat who are calling for a new population control law under the hashtag #Bharat4PopulationLaw.
The overall logic of the Association’s campaign is two-fold — it argues that as taxpayers of India we should be concerned about the misuse of our taxes by the system towards the development of Bharat. It then explains the nature of the misuse which manifests as lack of good roads, joblessness, increasing poverty, lack of good food, clean air etc. And this lack of good infrastructure and facilities as well as pollution is due to increasing population — primarily among the BPL.
TAXAB creates a division between the taxpayer who is being short-changed by the poor who are growing in numbers, and secondly it attributes all the ills of the country to growing population, though it first argues that there is mismanagement by the system. The campaign has roped in Bollywood biggies like Shaan and Kailash Kher who have lent their voice to a video that presents a doomsday picture of India.
Taking cudgels on behalf of the voiceless poor and those with more children is the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights (NAMHHR), a group of 53 organisations and 16 individuals from across the country who have worked on health and women and human rights issues. Its convenor, Dr Abhijit Das, director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice, explains the facts and myths of India’s overpopulation.
NAMHHR has pointed out that the population growth rate in India is not growing, but instead has been slowing for the last few decades. From a high of 2.3 per cent per year in the 1970’s and 80’s it is now down to 1.2 per cent per year. At the level of the family the Total Fertility Rate or number of children a woman has in her life has reduced from five in the 1970s to 2.2 in 2015-16. The total wanted fertility is below two but women do not receive the contraceptive services that they want.
The population growth rate is determined by birth, death and migration. Das points out in India the birth rates are still a little high, but not because women are having more babies but because the number of young couples in the reproductive age group is higher than ever before. And even if these large numbers of young couples have fewer babies each, the total adds up. This will come down as the babies born in the heydays of population growth and their children become older. So not much can be done to reduce their reproductive rate other than provide them with contraceptive services.
Decoding the various problems that have been attributed to population growth, the alliance points out that India was a poor country in 1947 at the time of our Independence but it is no longer so. Experts estimate the GDP growth between 1951 and 2011 was over 20 times and food grain output grew by over four times while population grew by a little over three times in the same period. Clearly, the total amount of food or income available per head has grown but poverty seems to be all around us. The TAXAB campaign has blamed the bad state of roads and infrastructure in cities also to overpopulation.
The Alliance rightly points out that the overcrowding of Indian cities is not due to overpopulation but to migration from villages, often due to rural distress and lack of employment opportunities, highlighted by farmer suicides across the country. The TAXAB campaign also makes reference to pollution in the name of shudh and ashudd food, water and air.
Pollution in India is undeniable, but is it due to overpopulation? It is the burning of fossil fuels for vehicular transport, for running factories and generating electricity that causes pollution. However, the poor, who are a dominant proportion of the population, require very little fossil fuel generated energy. Their requirements for water too are very little. Research shows that the richer countries and the rich in countries like ours consume 20-30 times more energy than the poor.
The overall logic of the #Bharat4PopulationLaw campaign seems to imply that the taxpayers need to be worried because not much has happened through their taxes in the last 70 years.
The Alliance points out that while overcrowding is a fact, it does not indicate a failure of contraceptive related practices among the people.
Overall contraceptive usage rates have increased from 13 per cent in the 1970s to over 56 per cent now. The infant mortality rate, or number of children who die before reaching the age of one, has reduced from over 130 per 1,000 birth to 41 now. Life expectancy too has increased from less than 40 years at the time of Independence to over 64 years. More people are living, less people are dying, fewer children are being born but more people are crowding to cities.
The Alliance points out that the problem lies not in population related policies but in economic policies which have not focused adequately on health or education or economic opportunities for the poor.
Yes tax-payers need to rise up and make demands from our government to increase investments in public healthcare and the quality of government schools so that they attract and empower children.
Quite definitely a population control law is not the solution to our problems. Have we forgotten the impact of Sanjay Gandhi’s sterilisation drive during Emergency.
A population control law, as seen in China, will lead to further decline in the number of girls in the country, a problem that our society is already facing.
It will lead to reducing opportunities for the poor, and marginalised, including the dalits, as such laws deny benefits to those with more children.
Data shows the poor have more children, but not because they want them, but because they don’t receive appropriate services for smaller families. Women bear the burden of population control laws, as they bear children and can be faced with repeated abortions or even desertion as men take desperate measures to keep their family size small and qualify for positions that make it mandatory not to have more than two children.
Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, Uttarakhand have population control policies and now Assam too is pushing for a two-child limit for government employees. Take the case of Maheshwari who became pregnant while running for a local post in Andhra Pradesh.
To prevent herself from being disqualified from the election she aborted her child five months into the pregnancy. Maheshwari lost the election. Soon thereafter, her two-year-old son died after drinking kerosene.
Menka, a 26-year-old village-level panchayat leader in Odisha, decided to keep her fourth child after she had been told that she was having a boy. But when the child was born, it became apparent that the doctors had determined the child’s sex incorrectly. “If I had known (that the child was a girl), I would have aborted. Now I have lost my (government) position and there is no son,” Menka said
Ram Prakash, a sarpanch in Madhya Pradesh, forced out of office after the birth of his third child took solace that the sarpanch’s post was not going to support him during his old age, but his son would.