Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thoughts on population

One of the biggest failures in the Indian history, and probably the costliest too in monetary terms, has been the “hum do hamare do” policy. When India gained independence it had 345 million people, mostly in the rural area, and less than a quarter of them were healthy enough to make any meaningful contribution to the GDP. It took less than 50 years for the country to notch the population to a full 1 billion – and most of them still don’t make any meaningful contribution to the GDP.

It’s not that the government didn’t play its role in trying to control the population. Within four years of independence there was a family planning policy in place and most of the old inland envelopes carried the advertisement “have two or three children but not more” or something to that effect. By 70’s when they government realized that their old slogans weren’t delivering fruits, (and women continued to deliver) they put up mass media behind each truck – We two ours two, Horn OK please.

That didn’t work either and the authorities took it a step further – Boy or Girl, single child is a happy family. Of course we know how effective that was and ever since family planning has become a case of voluntary adherence correlated directly to ones financial resources, rather than any socio responsibility. Today India has 50% of the population who are below 25 years of age. Which means the population explosion took place in the early 80s – after 35 years of government crying hoarse about population control.

Contrary to the view that it was poverty that made the rural folk to go berserk and produce extra pair of hands – in order to earn livelihood, I believe it was improved financial conditions that gave them the confidence to have more children. Irrigation and green revolution in the rural areas bought handsome returns even to small farmers and with a bigger purse these rural folks felt they could afford to have that one extra child.

The question to really ponder is – what if family planning had worked? For one, I wouldn’t be writing this article because my daddy had already fathered two and I came to bat in at number three. India’s population would have been in the range of 600 million. And what the per capita GDP would be is a hard thing to guess since, without this massive population India would not have had so much produce.

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