Overpopulation in India

Theory and definitions:

In nature, the evaluation of overpopulation is conceptually straightforward. If a group relies on a local area for its sustenance, then its population will be limited by the productivity of that area. If productivity does not meet the demands of the group, the group’s numbers will decline to the point of sustainability, or the group will move to find more productive land. Thus, sustainability can be viewed as a ratio of the demands of the group compared to productivity of the land, or more simply, the number of mouths compared to the amount of food (or land to produce it).

The same limitations apply to humans; we are bound by our regions, both geographical and political. If a country can not produce enough food, its members can be put in dire straits. Imports, however, add a new element into analysis, as it effectively raises the amount of food a region has. Thus, the population of an area could theoretically greatly exceed the productivity levels of its political boundaries if it imports enough to feed its population. This, however, brings up another level of analysis; dissemination of goods. If a country’s government fails to adequately dispense goods to its population, then government can be substituted for land, and overpopulation can be measured as the ratio of the demands of the people to the ability of the government to meet those demands in terms of infrastructure and distribution. Ultimately, humans are collectively limited by the production capabilities of planet Earth.

Can overpopulation be a problem for humans? Given these analyses, it seems it can. If a country does not produce enough goods itself, fails to import and distribute goods adequately, or if the world’s population exceeds its productive capabilities, then overpopulation is a problem. Overpopulation also seems to be a culprit to the extent that as population decreases, problems associated with limited resources are ameliorated, and over time disappear. On the other hand, if population rates continue to climb, problems will be measured in terms of world-wide productivity rather than state-wide distribution.

crowded street

Is overpopulation a problem in India?

As of July 2003, India had a population of just over one billion (CIA World Factbook). With around 170 million hectares of arable land, it has the potential to produce among the world’s highest crop yields, and indeed, India produced the second highest amount of both rice and wheat per year in 1999 (Hopper). While whether or not this amount of food could sufficiently cover the needs of the population, two things are clear without dispute; millions of Indians’ fundamental biological needs are not met, and should the population continue to rise, it will not be possible to produce enough food to cover those needs.

Evidence for the first argument is simple to find. In 1999, 53% of the Indian population under the age of five was malnourished, and 37% had no access to safe water (The Earth Times). Fifteen million people in Bombay have sidewalks for beds (Associated Press), and 25% of the population is below the poverty line (CIA World Factbook). All of these issues boil down to the simple idea that there are not enough goods to go around. Or, if there are enough goods to go around, then there is not enough government to dispense them.

The second argument, that as population rises problems are worsened, is intuitive. But beyond this, growth rates are a big deal for a country with a huge population. India adds more people to the world each day than any other country (Clarke), adding up to about 12 million people per year by one estimate (Litke), and 18 million by another (ENN). Each added person increases the number on the side of the ratio that should decrease if needs are going to be met. And this brings us to the heart of the problem.

What is the solution?

Both of the two types of overpopulation addressed (inundated government and depleted environment) are the causes of a problem. Addressing both issues is necessary—for no matter how small a population is, its government may be inadequate to suit its needs, and no matter how good a government is, if a population is to large, it does not matter how good distribution is. Additionally, it attempting to solve one problem may be integral to solving the other. So which issue is more pressing?

In both ratios, the common factor is population, and lowering the population will lower the ratio, bringing both problems to more manageable levels. Furthermore, while lowering population numbers will safeguard against overwhelming the regional environmental capabilities and those of the planet as a whole, addressing the issue of a bad government will not. Finally, decreasing the population will directly ameliorate hardships whether or not the government is improved, given that the government continues to do what it can with what it has (i.e., it will have less it has to do), and evidence for such an assumption is not hard to come by. It appears that an attempt to lower population levels will address both the issues at hand, while attempting to increase the denominator of one ratio might fail to address the problems caused by the other, and neither one individually will address the fact that we live in a limited world. So the only solution must be to attempt to lower the population.

How do you lower the population?

The ratio to examine here is birth rate to death rate. If birth rates exceed death rates, population is increasing. There are two ways to lower the growth rate; decrease births or increase deaths. Because development centralizes around ideas of improving quality of life, and thus life is a central idea to development, advocating a policy of causing death seems contrary to the spirit of the project. So the viable option is lowering birth rates.

India’s growth rate has markedly improved over the past years, dropping from 2.2 in the 1980s (ENN) to 1.47 in 2003 (CIA World Factbook). It remains above the world average of 1.33 (Earthtimes). A stable population (zero growth) by the year 2045 is the goal of India’s National Population Commission, but some call into question whether or not this is enough (Times of India, Sept. 12). Some believe that population growth must be brought to zero by the year 2015, and only after stabilization will India then be able to comprehensively address the problems caused by the large population (Times).

What is the best way to lower birth rates? When the pressures of overpopulation are prevalent, women sometimes feel the effects more than men. Coercive governmental measures like decreasing benefits to a family with more than one child (as are being enacted in India (Reuters) can result in discrimination against female children if there are cultural pressures to produce boys, which also exist in India. This discrimination ranges to depriving girls of food, education, and health services, to aborted female fetuses and female infanticide (ENN, Earthtimes).

Other coercive measures have been attempted in India. In 1975-77, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi created sterilization camps and forced vasectomies (Deutsche Presse-Agentur,), causing population-control policies to be met with strong resistance and fear, stagnating progress significantly (Earthtimes Dec. 23). More recently, the government has considered using injection birth-control methods, which have been alleged to have significant negative side effects and recall the coercive measures of the 70s (The Hindu 2001).

The fact is that there are different reasons for high birth rates; religious reasons, ignorance, attempts to ensure reproductive success, attempts to create a family labor pool—the list continues. But the measures being considered should not involve draconian laws aimed only at results which neglect the rights and potential usefulness of the people.

What needs to happen is support, financial and political, must be given to promote and facilitate birth control philosophy and methods which involve people as an agent of change rather than a source of dilemma. Around 30 million Indians want to use contraceptives, but do not have access to them (The Earth Times, 1999); money must be given to provide it. Others are unaware and unwilling to discuss birth control methods (ENN Oct. 12); efforts must be made to promote discussion and spread knowledge of it to those who are receptive. Campaigns currently expound on the good of the country. kidsInstead, media should “emphasize that a small family is beneficial to an individual's own well-being rather than focusing on population control for the national good” (Times of India). These types of measures have been enacted in some states including Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and they have since been country’s growth stability leaders (Times). The philosophy must be to have the people be an active participant in the country’s problem. If the people understand and want to help, then the problem disappears because there is no one left to cause it. On the other hand, if a dichotomy is set up between government and people, rates will likely drop slowly, and will accrue a multitude of human rights violations along the way.

Works Cited:

CIA World Factbook. Updated January 2003. http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/in.html

The Earth Times. India: Democracy Not Enough to Combat Population and Poverty.  December 23, 1999.

http://abcnews.go.com/ABC2000/abc2000world/abc2000_991011_IndiaPopulation.html.Mark Litke, Chief Correspondent Hong Kong. ABCNEWS.com

ENN.  One Billion Boom India Copes with a Population Explosion.  October 12, 1999.

EarthtimesMarking World Population Day, UN highlights India's Adverse Sex Ratio. July 13, 2000.

Times of India. India: In Mission Mode Try to Prove Demographers Wrong September 12, 2000

Reuters. Worries, Not Celebration, as India Hits a Billion. May 10, 2000.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur. India Not to Use "Coercive" Methods to Control Its Population.  August 21, 2000.

The Hindu. Health-India: Women Campaign Against Birth Control Injections. 2001.