India's Population Spinning Out of Control

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - World Population Day was marked here Tuesday with the news that India has added another 2.5 million people to its one billion population - in just two months.

The government Tuesday launched a new program aimed at encouraging Indians to have smaller families. Thirty babies are born every minute in India, which now supports nearly 17 percent of the world's population, on just 2.4 percent of the world's land mass.

Health Minister C P Thakur said medical camps and mobile clinics would be conducted across the country to spread a "family planning message."

Just two months ago, India's population reached the one billion mark. Sixty days later it stands at 1,002,594,606, and growing at an annual rate of 1.64 per cent compared to the global average of 1.33 per cent.

A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in India, Michael Vlassoff, released a report to mark World Population Day, saying that India would, at its current pace, overtake China in becoming the world's most populous nation, by 2045.

Lawmaker Jayanthi Natarajan, a member of a 140-member population commission, established by the Indian government, said that government officials had shown "very little interest" in the population problem.

"Parliament has not discussed it. Most ministers in this government still talk of incentives and disincentives. This is a deathblow to the program. I find a complete lack of commitment at the highest level," Natarajan said.

Earlier this year, India adopted 16 promotional measures to check the population growth, including a health insurance scheme for couples who undergo sterilization after two children.

The government also offered financial rewards for couples earning less than a dollar a day who marry after the legal age of 21 and have two children.

In 1984, a declaration on population control made at an international gathering in Cairo rejected "incentives" as a means to control population growth. It said governments should instead focus on educating people on links between smaller families and higher standards of living.

"Promotional measures" have faced opposition in India. Lawmakers last year blocked legislation that prohibited citizens with more than two children from running for political office or joining the civil service.

The government said it would try to achieve consensus on the matter before re-introducing legislation.

Economist P R Brahmananda said India should follow what is known here as the "one-child norm" to check the population growth. "What is really required is a one-child norm. But for it to succeed, a crash program for women's education and empowerment is vital," he said.

India was the first country in the developing world to initiate a state-sponsored family planning program in 1952 and, on the surface, the official figures suggested a certain measure of success.

Since independence in 1947, the fertility rate has been cut from six births per woman of childbearing age to 3.5 while the birth rate has declined from 40 per 1,000 in the 1960s to 28 per 1,000 in 1995-96.

However, a declining death rate has seen India's population grow by two per cent annually since the 1960s. As a result, the population has almost tripled from the independence-era figure of 350 million.

In a disastrous population control program in the 1970s, Sanjay Gandhi, son of then- Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, encouraged doctors to sterilize as many people as possible. Some were forced to undergo operations or were sterilized without their knowledge.