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Yes, India Should Invest to Stop Population Growth — By Dismissing Uttar Pradesh's Policy

July 22, 2021

Taj Mahal. Photo by Julian Yu on Unsplash.
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The nation of India is projected to become the planet’s most populous country sometime before 2030, taking the place currently occupied by China. The United Nations Population Division’s medium variant projection, circa 2019, pegs the year this will occur as 2027. But, unlike the world at large, the UN does project India’s population will come to a natural end of this century — around the year 2059, perhaps.

According to the UN, India’s peak population in 2059 might be around 1.65 billion people. This is quite a difference from 1959’s population of 441 million. Adding over 1 billion people in less than 100 years is clearly going to impact the ecological footprint of the country as a whole. Even worse, Global Footprint Network already calculates an ecological footprint deficit for the nation. On the other hand, that isn’t saying much considering the whole of human civilization has been in an escalating ecological overshoot since the early 1970’s.

Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India, with a surface area about the size of Michigan but with a population that is estimated to be 22 times larger, at around 225 million in 2020 (Michigan’s population is around 10 million). Uttar Pradesh also has one of the higher total fertility rates (TFRs) in the country, at around 2.7 children per woman — an unfavorable measure when compared to the national average of around 2.1 children per woman, and unfavorable because a TFR that stayed at 2.7 in perpetuity would lead to never ending population growth.

It is not very surprising then that reasonable people might look into how the conditions could be created to usher in a fertility rate that was at least 2.1, the national average – or even below (known as sub-replacement level fertility). The sooner such conditions could be created, the sooner Uttar Pradesh’s population would stop increasing. In turn, this would most assuredly help India’s overall population to peak earlier than 2059, and at a level below 1.65 billion.

In fact, many of India’s other states already have sub-replacement fertility level. So, one question is how to best help create the conditions for fertility to decrease further and faster?

Unfortunately, there is a long and sordid history of “population control” in the collective consciousness of India. Population control ideology is rooted in the concept of forcibly pushing down on fertility rates; in practical terms, it views the reproductive lives of men and women solely as a means to some preferred demographic end. Moreover, the ideology can be characterized as either embracing or advancing coercive, human-rights damaging ideas and proposals to “control” fertility, and ultimately, population.

Recently proposed legislation in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is said to want to create a “two-child norm” in the state. There is nothing categorically alarming about small family size norms. For example, since the 1970's American families have averaged less than two children. But, the bill in question reportedly would render individuals with more than two children ineligible for government jobs, disbar them from running for local elected office, and exclude them from the state’s welfare programs (Uttar Pradesh Population: Control, Stabilisation and Welfare Bill, 2021).

Multitudes of Indian women’s groups have issued blistering condemnations of the bill.

“The Bill is geared to control women’s fertility rather than improving women’s health and promoting women’s reproductive rights. The proposed Bill should be deemed unconstitutional since it violates the right to equality,” they write.

The following quote is from Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India:

“The Technical Group on Population Projections for the Period of 2011-2036, constituted by the National Commission on Population under the ministry of health and family welfare in July 2020 projected that Uttar Pradesh will achieve the replacement level of TFR by 2025, without a need for coercive policies.”

You can write off this bill as domestic politics run amok. After all, this bill was advanced by Uttar Pradesh’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and at least 152 of their 304 elected members to the state assembly have three or more children. But there is a larger issue at hand.

Global population is setting a new record high every single day, adding over 200,000 people per day, net growth, for a total increase of 80+ million for the year. In about 18 months (early 2023), human population will exceed 8 billion: quadrupling in less than 100 years, after hitting 2 billion in 1927. The last thing sustainable population advocates need is scurrilous, counter-progressive, counter–productive political banter. Especially when such bluster traffics policy proposals that would harm real people if ever implemented.

There are well-known, progressive, human-rights enhancing ways to create the conditions for fertility to fall to replacement level, or below. There is nothing objectionable about prominent, unembarrassed public discourse and campaigning to affect population trends, in fact it is something that is much needed. But the real path towards a sustainable planet with equal rights for all is not the one being suggested by the current majority in Uttar Pradesh.


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Written by Joe Bish

Joe is the Director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Center. He holds a Master of Science in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing from Antioch University New England.