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Indian Population

The world has a population of 6 billion. As of March 2001, the total population of India was a little over 1 billion -- 1,027,015,247 to be exact (531,277,078; female: 495,738,169). Of this number, 157,863,145 are children up to the age of six years (81,911,041 males and 75,952,104 females). Despite the fact that India was the first country in the world to have a population policy, not much has been achieved in terms of population control.

India is facing an intense crisis of resources. There is fierce competition for the nation's limited natural resources leading to quarrels between states, between communities and even families. Our land and water resources are being exploited to the hilt. The exploitation of mineral resources is threatening forests, nature reserves, and ecology. Seventy percent of the energy resources need to be imported putting constant pressure on us to export more or face currency devaluation. Over use of resources is contributing to natural disasters occurring more frequently and with greater devastation.

For many Indians, life is a big struggle just to put together the bare essentials for survival, and shortages of resources works most against the poor and underprivileged. Even as sections of India's middle-class struggle with scarcities, it is the poor and vulnerable sections of society who suffer most. It is well known that the biggest curse to the lives of millions of Indians is poverty. Though the rural poor have always been a deprived lot, their urban counterparts are not an inch better off. Having migrated to towns and cities in search of better life, they now survive under the most appalling of living conditions, with scant regard to the basics of cleanliness and hygiene. Awareness of healthy living habits is woefully lacking, so that, though the mortality rate has fallen over the years, epidemics and killer diseases continue to claim lives that could easily be saved. Infant mortality and deaths related to childbirth are still disturbingly common all over India, with large sections of the female population and a fair section of the male yet to receive their first lessons in literacy. With illiteracy rampant among the impoverished majority of the country, it is not difficult to understand why the rich easily exploit the poor, and corruption seems to have become a way of life. Indian life presents a classic example of being trapped in a vicious circle of poverty, from which there appears to be no escape. Nevertheless, a close inspection of the nature of these ills and inequalities reveals a single root cause lying at the core of the great entangled mass of our national life: viz. Population.

Population is the only non-depleting resource and a parameter of a country's development. In a country like India where the factors contributing to population growth far outweigh the factors for development, population is no longer a resource but a burden to society. India's population policy has been guided by the perception that a growing population is a serious impediment to development efforts. At the time, census figures showed a Crude Birth Rate (CBR) of over 45/1,000 population -- every year; over 45 children were born for every 1,000 people. Many couples have large families as insurance against multiple infant and child deaths. The National Population Policy 2000 notes that only 44 per cent of India's 168 million couples in the reproductive age group use effective contraception. Reproductive health and basic health infrastructure and services often do not reach the villages.

When India became independent, population growth was seen as a major impediment to the country's socio-economic development and population 'control' was seen as integral to the development process. Population growth was seen as an urgent problem related to economic development with limited resources. At the same time, family planning would benefit both individual families as well as women's health. In 1952, a sub-committee appointed by the Planning Commission asked the government to provide sterilization facilities and contraceptive advice through existing health services, in order to limit family size, and also institute studies on population. The Reorganized Family Planning Programme ended up focusing on programmes for IUD insertion and sterilization camps. In 1966, the health minister announced annual targets of 6 million IUCD insertions (20/1,000 population in the urban areas and 10/1,000 in the rural areas) and 1.23 million sterilizations (or 2.5/1,000 population). Sterilization accounts for more than 75 per cent of total contraception in India, with female sterilization accounting for almost 95 per cent of all sterilizations. In 1976, the first National Population Policy talked of integrating family planning with general health care, of maternal and child health, the influence of female education, employment and age of marriage on family size, the effect of a high infant mortality rate, and so on. 1977 saw the Policy Statement on the Family Welfare Programme. The National Health Policy of 1983 emphasized the need for "securing the small family norm through voluntary efforts and moving towards the goal of population stabilization". In 1991, the Report of the National Development Council Committee on Population proposed the formulation of a National Population Policy with a long-term and holistic view of development, population growth and environmental protection. The Reproductive and Child Health Programme, launched with much fanfare in India in 1997, has generally provided only contraceptive services. NPP 2000's stated goal is to achieve net replacement levels by 2010, by meeting people 'reproductive and child health needs'. Following the announcement of a National Population Policy, a number of states are coming out with their own policies.

The pressing need of the day is to at create ideal conditions for acceptance of the need for stabilizing the population and how it is an essential element of human welfare and development. The solution to this lie in spreading of education and enlightenment, and in the empowerment of women. Birth control programmes should also be integrated with medical and public health services to make them popular among the masses.

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