Opinion

The elephant in the room —our population

Updated on: Jan 12, 2018

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India’s ‘demographic dividend’ is a myth. Resources are under stress, be it health or education. The government must act

If you ever doubted the power of compounding, just take hum do humaare do and poof, magically you have 1.3 billion!

Let’s face it, India’s enormous population is at that tipping point — a little north of China’s numbers, and we are in for a downward spiral. Slightly better reforms and workforce management, and we could be giving most progressive countries a run for their money! But how do we get there?

In the recent years, we have conveniently dodged the worrying fact that we are now the second most populated country in the world. But unlike China, who’s major national agenda has largely revolved around population control, India’s approach consistently walks the “we’ll figure this one later” narrative.

Sense of urgency

There is power in numbers, but when you’re moving at break neck population density speeds, and pretending to have your head in the sand while the world moves you by, disaster is imminent. It is time we talked about that imminent danger. It’s time we talked about our population, and not by way of juicy gossip.

For one, there is need for strong governance. That is what we voted our present government to do; to take unpopular steps, if necessary. And if the recent “surgical strikes” both economically and militarily are anything to go by, the political will is undeniable.

Our policy makers have their hands tied. We all remember Sanjay Gandhi’s nasbandi fiasco that cut the nerves of the very democratic fabric this country stands on. It’s important we walk in the right direction now by creating new and more relevant national narrative on population.

Fraying resources

The government’s plans to improve railways, roadways, connectivity or programmes such as Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan cannot work unless we take serious measures to manage our population growth. Because overpopulation over stresses resources. Their wear and tear is quicker. Social services like education and healthcare come under immense strain and there is shortage of houses and food.

We have real-time examples of large population not working in our favour. Witness heavy traffic and long queues, exasperated faces and patience running dry on an all-time low. It’s not just depleting resources but also affecting the cultural fabric of the nation.

Delhi’s population in 2012 (18.98 million) was higher than the population of the Netherlands’ at 16.94 million in 2015! Yet, there is a spin of ‘demographic dividend’ introduced when speaking about India’s population. After all, we are set to beat China as the world’s largest nation by 2025, with a big chunk of working populace. Over the coming 20 years, India’s demographic dividend could add about two percentage points per annum to India’s per capita GDP growth.

However, if we don’t take any action towards population control, basic minimum living standards including food, water and energy will become a struggle for us. Because simply put, we will never be well-prepared to handle a population of over 1.6 billion people, as it is projected to reach by 2050. It will impact the 3Es – education, employability and employment.

We all know that to finally have that coveted “developed nation” tag, we have to work exceptionally hard on our education system. However, because of our burgeoning population, education becomes difficult to disseminate and be provided to one and all. This has a direct effect on employability and hence, quality of living, while the number of job seekers continue to soar.

These three issues put together have adverse effects on our economy – reduced rate of capital formation, lower standard of living, adverse effect on per capital income and so on. This is what we call the vicious circle of poverty.

Therefore, it is important to come up with effective ways to implement population stabilisation. Digital India is a great punchline that unites the youth of our country. Why not use this platform to create more conversations around population?

For years, we have been sweeping our biggest elephant in the room under a national carpet, locking the room and pretending to have thrown away the keys in a cesspool of people. It is time we change this narrative.

Population control has got to be pushed into our collective ethos. It is time to replace the priorities we are placing on who eats what food, and whether or not Romeo and Juliet are part of our culture and bring population control, healthcare services, child mortality rate and per capita income into our homes, into our office aisles, schools, educational institutions, and into Parliament.

If there was ever a right time for intervention on our “population” explosion, it is now!

The writer is Managing Director, APAC & Middle-East, Monster.com

Published on June 18, 2017
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