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India continues to add country-loads to its population

Deepshikha Ghosh (Indo-Asian News Service)

Friday 11 July 2003, by GHOSH*Deepshikha

Article du Hindustan Times, New Delhi, ?dition du 11 juillet 2003.

India added about 180 million to its population in the past decade. That is three times the population of Britain or France, or more than one entire Russia.

India added about 180 million to its population in the past decade. That is three times the population of Britain or France, or more than one entire Russia.

On the occasion of the World Population Day, these staggering figures give the government something to think about after years of labouring over exactly how to maintain the delicate balance between coercing or encouraging citizens to plan their families.

The family planning theme comes this year packaged in new slogans: "Small family - big opportunity! ", "Small family, key to prosperity" and the more direct: "Son or daughter, raise them with equal love and care", "For prosperity and joy, a small family whether girl or boy!"

According to National Commission on Population (NCP), the population of India has nearly trebled in the last 50 years, from 361 million in 1951 to 1.027 billion in 2001.

More facts add to these mind-boggling statistics — one-sixth of the world’s people and one-third of the world’s poor live in India.

More than half of India’s children are malnourished. Two-thirds of city dwellers lack sewerage and one-third lack access to potable water.

About four million people are infected with HIV and more than two million develop active tuberculosis each year.

Only 54 per cent of women are literate, compared with 76 per cent of males.

The good news is that the rate of growth is decreasing and the pyramid base is also shrinking. The rate has reduced from 2.14 per cent in 1991 to 1.93 per cent in 2001.

In large parts of India, families still believe in having as many children as it takes to have a son, or as many sons as possible, to ensure a prosperous future.

Experts fear that India’s population will rise to 1.5 billion by 2050, comparable to that of China, which is the most populated country in the world.

The resources remain more or less stagnant, spreading thinner and thinner over the growing mass and affecting the quality of life, say NCP officials.

Kerala’s population growth rate has been the lowest in the country in the last 10 years, and NCP gives statistics to point out how the state’s human development index is the highest.

On the other hand, Bihar, which has increased its annual population growth rate, has one of the lowest development indices.

Also at the bottom of the scale of development are Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where the rate of growth is more than three per cent.

In a bid to give a big push to the population stabilisation programme, the government has decided to amend the constitution to restrict persons with more than two children from contesting elections.

The Constitution (79th Amendment) Bill, introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 1992, seeks to restrict seeking or holding office as a member of either house of Parliament or state legislature on grounds of having more than two children.

Such law has worked wonders in states such as Andhra Pradesh, which has been able to reduce its growth rate significantly in the past decade, where a law restricts people with more than two children from contesting elections to village councils and other local bodies.

However, the biggest challenge to the population control programme is the in-built reticence in discussing matters related to family planning and safe sex in the open.

Health Minister Sushma Swaraj recently said that India’s AIDS programme should focus on abstinence and faithfulness rather than condoms in a slogan that became: "No condoms, use abstinence."

The statement, say experts, reflects on a society where millions of people still shy from the use of contraceptives and believe the birth of a child is a "gift from heavens" and should not be interfered with.

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