Is India an overpopulated country given its resources? by Naveen Jindal

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By Naveen Jindal

Ultimately, it is people who matter. India’s population, hypothetically speaking, should be its biggest boon. When it comes to nationalism, patriotism and moral support, it surely is but in matters of economic development, public health — I beg to differ with the Cornucopians and their faith in endless abundance.

I believe in the people of India and always have, but the question is of balance. I also deeply appreciate the potential of “demographic opportunity” but I ask you this – will we be able to seize the moment, extract the economic bounties and be at the forefront of growth? Some food for thought: research has shown the higher the population growth rate of a state is, the more economically inferior it is.

I will not belabour the oft-stated population facts, figures and data but I will ask you to look around, look at our public facilities, look at our streets, hospitals, shops and houses — what do you see? I see people and a lot of them. The optimists argue that we must find ways to make people productive rather than dwelling on absolute number. I am not a pessimist but we, as a nation, have gone much beyond the inflection point. The government provides facilities for accessing health care, capital, skill and knowledge.

When people are not productive, because they cannot access facilities or they are not skilled or educated enough, they blame the failure of the public delivery system. But we must understand that although the system has its imperfections, it can only function properly if citizens too contribute and complement the efforts. Especially with an ever-growing population.

Historically, sterilisation has been India’s preferred mode of family planning, as contraceptives are that of Brazil and Bangladesh. Given the dramatic, irreversible nature of sterilisation, usage requires uprooting deep socio-psychological norms and changes. Therefore, we must advocate and promote reversible methods such as contraceptives, which allow birth control and spacing.

India’s young population is moving into the working age group, which could lead to a higher number of workers and consequently, higher economic growth but they must also be given choices. Sterilisation does not provide option-value to today’s generation. Contraceptive methods vary among individuals and at different phases of life — needs change from an urban teenager or a rural housewife to a career-woman or a labourer. Therefore, it is important to have a wide variety of contraceptive options so that people can capitalise on the benefits of contraceptive use as their needs evolve. Above all, each individual should have the right to choose the size of his/her family.

Recently, I tried to conduct a little randomised survey at one of my urban construction sites to gauge the workers’ receptiveness to incentives and attitudes towards sterilisation. They were not interested even if the incentive was 50 times their daily wage. That being said would you and I, the educated strata, undergo sterilisation if we have had the number of kids we wanted to? I assume the answer would largely be no for various reasons. Your reason could be option-value, health effects, unknown events of the future etc.

Historically, contraceptives were considered ineffective, known to have several side-effects and be dubious and thus, we resorted to sterilisation. But, that is no longer the case. On-going research is promising and is constantly providing proven and effective methods. A lot of these contraceptives are available in India now and we must make our people aware. Let us not be bogged down by outmoded and primordial methods, let us look ahead – look to the future and make sure we set our posterity up for success.

(Naveen Jindal, Member of Parliament and CMD, Jindal Steel & Power)

(Article first published in Sunday Economic Times, October 30-November 5, 2011)

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