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  • Writer's pictureRakesh Shukla

Overpopulation: Fountainhead of all Problems

I do not know why this year’s budget announcement prompted me to realize how hard it must be for our country to support, or rather bear, such a large population. Every year the govt. has to undertake this exercise, involving extremely arduous economic and, of course, political acrobatics to present a budget to satisfy the teeming millions. Nevertheless, most, if not all, remain dissatisfied. And those who seem satisfied are actually unconcerned, and take this monetary inconvenience as a yearly unavoidable irritant in their relatively good economies.

While the ruling party flaunts choicest adjectives about the budget, the opposition finds faults with almost everything in this exercise. And this sham debate continues for a few days. Neither the govt. nor the opposition, however, raises concerns about the impossibility of making life comfortable for such a huge population. They always shy away from discussing this population explosion - the root cause of India’s problems - as this might remind them of their own failings to lead the nation in the right direction. We have no evidence that any country with such a large population and human density ever became “developed”. It can only remain “developing”. Development does not mean only modest market economy, income, and the resultant spartan existence of the millions. Development in its real sense includes a strong economy, quality education and healthcare, and overall happy living, with the realization of full potential of the nation in every sphere of life – science, philosophy, technology, governance, administration, infrastructure, civic sense, environmental conservation, art, literature, and so on. A developed nation is characterized by excellent physical and natural resources and services for a comfortable living and continual production of quality education based perceptive minds in different fields for original and innovative thinking to make a difference on a world level. When development is clearly defined as such, then we realize how our unmanageably large population constrains developmental efforts that constantly require huge amount of money. And the nation is left with no course but to somehow manage a large percentage of population for its bare survival.

When the country achieved independence, its total population was around .33 billion, with a density of around 216 people per square kilometer. Nobody’s fault that the country was poor with appallingly low on a number of international development indicators. At that time there were a large number of wise and influential politicians and social reformers/ activists around. While they knew perfectly well that illiteracy, poverty, and poor healthcare system tended to increase natural populations in almost all societies, no concrete policies could be made. Either they did not realize the enormity of this problem, or spared themselves the discomfort of enforcing any right but relatively unwelcome policy. They had no idea the country would later have to pay so dearly for their populism. This was an extremely serious lack of vision for the nation building that no healthy population growth rate was visualized let alone ensured. The nation vitally needed effective population control measures with proper pursuance/ enforcement to work parallelly throughout until now.

While the country slowly moved along the way to development and progress, its decadal population grew at around 21 percent in the 1950s and around 24 percent in the 1960s! In 1965 the population rose to around .45 billion, with a human density of around 264 per square kilometer. The country had now been independent for the past around 18 years, and was practicing its newfound democracy with full vigor and enthusiasm. No doubt, the country was making the most of all kinds of available resources nationally and internationally to achieve its vision. This time around, however, the country should have laid down and strictly enforced a practicable long term population control policy to make up for lost time and prepare for the unpredictable future.

But this was not to be. Existing lukewarm policies and schemes seriously lacked national significance, and consequently had not many takers. Our wily political players had by then made up their mind to not annoy the public by enforcing these schemes, and not risk coming back to power! They thought their pursuance might boomerang on their own electoral fortunes. And people were left to their own devices to practice the Indian version of democracy, rather chaotic, if not downright anarchic! This was probably the best decade when a very basic all-party national vision could have been developed and a political consensus forged to tackle this problem on a level playing political field. This myopic attitude proved to be the most unfortunate failing in the first few decades of our independence.

The population showed no sign of decrease, but kept increasing from 1961 to 2021 at an average decadal growth of around 21 percent to reach approximately 1.40 billion, with human density of around 464 per square kilometer. This was only the last decade when the decadal growth recorded an all time low of 12.5 percent population increase. The population bomb, however, had actually exploded several times much earlier, and the govt. had, as in the past, no option but to keep on managing the demographic fallout.

This fallout resulted in a wide range of serious problems as a result of chronic financial constraints for such a large population. While some problems were very visible and worrisome, others were subtle and harmful. Perceptible problems include unemployment, lack of business opportunities, defective agricultural and animal husbandry practices, low level education, poor healthcare system, and related all-pervasive poverty. Subtle problems resulted from poverty, frustration, and helplessness were anger, unrest, enviromental degradation, crime, civil conflict, violence, and chronic anti-establishment dissent.

The country failed miserably, as far as population control was concerned. Is it not frustrating that our country is projected to be the most heavily populated country in the world by 2030 with 1.51 billion and by 2050 with 1.66 billion? Despite having several models of some developed countries for so long, we could not adopt anyone. In 2021, the USA, the UK, France, and Germany had 34.5, 276, 118, and 233 people per square kilometer respectively. Now compare India's figures with the average decadal growth figures of the USA and Germany since 1971, which were 0.7 and 0.1 percent respectively, and those for France and UK were 0.5 percent. These nations and several more are true epitome of all-pervasive development in every sphere. While I agree with Mark Twain that“few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example”, any aspiring nation needs to adopt the best policies/ practices of the nations it admires, keeping in mind its own unique cultural, economic, and political circumstances.


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