The growth rate of India’s population has declined  in the last three decades, says demographer S Irudaya Rajan from Centre for Development Studies

A campaign has been started by a group named ‘Taxpayers Association of Bharat’ to support a national law to control India’s population growth. The campaign ‘#bharat4populationlaw’ asks supporters to sign a petition online.

According to the group India’s population is growing so rapidly that it is neutralising gains from economic growth. The group has  pointed out that the population of India has grown four times since independence — from 36 crore to 132 crore. The group’s forecasts are dire: it is estimated by them  that India’s population will grow at the annual rate of 1.2% and reach 199 crore in 2050. The group has predicted that India’s fertility rate — the number of children per woman — will be 2.45 in 2050. With such a mammoth increase in its population, India’s share of the world’s population will from grow from 17% at present to 20% in 2050. Is this doomsday scenario possible?

No, said RB Bhagat, professor and head of the department of migrant studies, International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai. “The United Nations (UN) population division has projected that India’s population will grow to 170 crores (and then decline),” said Bhagat.

A reading of India’s decennial census reports also suggests that the predictions by the tax payers’ group could be fantastical. While it is true that the country’s population has quadrupled since independence, the growth rate has been declining. In the first decade of independence, population grew by around 21%. Between 1961 and 1971, our numbers grew by 24.8%. The growth rate remained similar between 1971 and 1981, but it progressively declined in every decade after that. While population grew 23.87% between 1981 and 1991, the growth rate declined to 21.54% in 1991-2001; the last census estimated that population grew 17.7% between 2001 and 2011.

Demographer S Irudaya Rajan from Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvanthapuram, said, “Population growth rate has declined in the last three decades. The decline may not be enough, but that is a different story.”

Other studies also suggest that population growth may no longer be a matter of concern in many parts of the country. A 2013 study by Rajan estimated that nearly a fifth of India’s over 600 districts had fertility rates below the replacement (usually calculated as 2.1 children per woman). This means that the number of children per family is lower than what is needed to keep the population at the same level. Most of these districts are in the south, west, north and east of the country. It is the districts in the large central states, like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where population growth is still high. “There are districts where families have more than five children [on an average], but they will follow the rest,” said Rajan.

Bhagat said that India’s overall fertility rate is 2.3. “We are going to reach replacement level (2.1) by 2020, but population will continue to grow for some time because of the higher proportion of young people and universal marriage,” said Bhagat. “Population could even come down [from the UN estimates]. We do not know about mortality changes because of climate changes and other factors.”

Some states are looking at population control laws. In Assam, where the demographic change has been faster because of migration from Bangladeshis, the government has announced a draft population policy, which among things, seeks to deny government jobs and elected offices to people with more than two children. The policy also proposes State Population Council and State Population Research Centre.

Bhagat said this is unnecessary. “We already have a population policy and though family planning is an integral part of this, the target for state governments have been removed,” said Bhagat. “Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra have below replacement rate fertility. States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have high fertility rates but they will also reach replacement levels in a decade or so.”

Rajan said that the focus should be on economic and social policy rather than population control. “Population growth is part of a larger story — education, infant mortality, early marriage.”



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