Mohan Bhagwat has a point: intervention is required to slow population growth
Ensuring girls complete the senior secondary level of education and delay marriage can reduce the Total Fertility Rate and population rise
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat had suggested, rather controversially, on Sunday that India should consider drafting a policy to slow the growth of the country’s population. That policy could decide how many children a couple may have, he said. While Bhagwat’s statement was seen as needless and seemingly targeting one specific community, there is no denying that India has a problem of rapid population growth.
India’s population is projected to exceed that of China by 2027, according to a report released last year by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The report ‘World Population Prospects, 2019’, estimated that India’s population would continue to expand till 2060, and then gradually shrink.
These projections validate Bhagwat’s comments — interventions are required to slow the pace of growth of the population rather than depend on natural processes such as falling fertility rates. But the RSS chief failed to say that these interventions are required only in select States rather than country-wide. Here’s why.
No uniform population growth
Population growth rates vary across States — the southern States have been expanding at a far slower rate than the northern States, as is evident from the Census data. Consider, for instance, the growth of population between Census 2001 and 2011; the country’s population expanded at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.6 per cent during that period.
However, the population in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand rose at a CAGR of 2 per cent or more during that period while Kerala reported a CAGR of 0.5 per cent. The population of Andhra Pradesh, prior to its bifurcation, saw a CAGR of 1 per cent. For that matter, States that performed well on various social indicators such as female literacy and access to healthcare reported a slower rise in their population than those that were lagging.
Quicker growth in North continues
As the country sets out to count its people next year, States in the northern plains will once again report faster growth in their population than those in the peninsula. This is because the total fertility rates (TFR) for women in the northern States were, and continue to be, far higher than the corresponding rates for southern States.
Total fertility rate refers to the number of children likely to be produced by a woman during her reproductive years. At the all-India level, TFR for 2017 was estimated at 2.2, and at a higher 2.4 for rural areas and a lower 1.7 for urban areas, in the Sample Registration System data compiled by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.
States that experienced faster population growth between 2001 and 2011 also had a higher than average TFR in 2017. The TFR for Bihar, at 3.2, for instance, was twice that for Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
North will lead the population explosion
However, population growth in the long term is not just a function of the number of children a woman may bear but also the number of female children born to her. To estimate the population at any period in time in the future, the gross reproduction rate (GRR) needs to be considered.
The GRR is a measure of the average number of female children a woman is expected to bear during her entire reproductive span. It is only natural that GRR would be on the higher side in states where the TFR is high, given the desire to have a son or two. The 2017 SRS data estimated that, on average, a woman would bear one girl child.
Literacy, a change driver
States that managed to lower the TFR and slow their population growth over the last few decades were also the ones that ensured their girls were more literate and spent more years in school. Literate women usually have a lower TFR compared to the unlettered ones, though the fertility rate among literates varies.
The TFR for women who had a primary level of education or less was higher or about the same as that for illiterate women. The TFR declines as the level of education progresses. Those who have studied till Standard 12 have a lower TFR than those who had studied till Standard 10. It drops further for women attending college, as marriages are delayed by a few years.
So, clearly, better implementation of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme can go a long way to reduce the number of children a woman bears. The RSS chief would do well to insist that any population policy considered by the government should focus on incentivising girls to study till the higher secondary level and delay marriage rather than punish people for having more than two children.