The growth of population has a direct effect on the living standards of people. This is why, despite our spectacular progress in the agricultural and industrial spheres since independence, our per capita income has not risen appreciably.
How has the population growth affected India? It is estimated that 25 million people (out of 1000 million people, i.e., 2.5%) are homeless, 171 million people (i.e., 17%) have no access to safe drinking water, 328.9 million adults (i.e., 33%) are illiterate, 53 per cent children below five years are underweight, and country as a whole has 135th position in the World Human Development Index.
The appalling overcrowding of our cities (which like cancerous growths are mushrooming unchecked with slums proliferating) has brought about a virtual breakdown of transportation, electricity and other services. It has also led to the rise of crime and an increase in violence in the urban and the semi-urban areas. All this has been directly fuelled by the addition of about 17 million people every year or an annual population growth rate of 2.14.
If the population continues to increase at this rate, in a few years from now, we will have an army of unemployed, hungry and desperate people who will threaten the very foundations of the social, economic and political systems and institutions of the country.
All sectoral demands have a numerical dimension. Whether it is education, employment, health, housing, water supply or any other sector, the perennial question is for how many? Even for the present population of 100 crore (in August 1999), it is futile to think of jobs for all or shelter for all or health protection programmes for all by 2000 A.D. especially when another 1.7 crore people will have been added and, hence need to be accommodated.
It has been calculated that for every addition of about 165 lakh people every year in our country, we will require every year 1.5 lakh primary and middle schools, 10 thousand higher secondary schools, 50 lakh primary and middle school teachers, 1.5 lakh higher secondary school teachers, 5,000 hospitals and dispensaries, 2,000 primary health centres, two lakh hospital beds, 50 thousand doctors, 25 thousand nurses, 5 lakh tonnes cereals, 25,000 metres of cloth and 2.5 million houses and 30 lakh new jobs (The Hindustan Times, July 4,1997).
The impact of the population boom on the quality of life is now being examined in terms of Household Misery Index (HMI), i.e., in terms of peoples’ deprivations and basic needs. The HMI index has five parameters: pakka housing, safe drinking water, electricity, sanitation (toilets), and fuel for cooking. Some scholars have examined it (population boom) in terms of effect on human resources (literacy, health, etc.).
At present, 49.1 per cent people in India have no electricity in their households, 69.7 per cent have no toilets (flush or others), 51.5 per cent have no pakka houses, and 19 per cent have no safe drinking water. If we compare Human Development Index (HDI) on certain selected items in India with some other countries in 1990, we notice the serious effects of increasing population on the quality of our life.
According to 1996 UNDP report, India invests only 14 dollars (about Rs. 500) per person annually on health and education unlike other developing countries like South Korea and Malaysia which spend 150 to 160 dollars. The impact of this insufficient sum on the 36 per cent population of our country living below the poverty line (i.e., about 34 crore people) can easily be imagined.
What do these figures predict? The countdown for India’s great leap into the twenty-first century has begun. In the beginning of the 1970s, there was light and hope. Then came darkness in a Biblical reversal in the 1980s.
Population explosion, militancy and separatism gathered momentum. Matters touched rock-bottom as the 1980s staggered to a close and we entered and then crossed the middle of the 1990s. What do the remaining fifteen months of the 1990s have in store for us?
Our country has to come to terms with the highly competitive world economy. India will be looking for a leader who can be bold enough to take up the issue of controlling population explosion seriously. Unless India can find such a leader, its future cannot be bright.