Need for a Population Policy

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    Context

    • Recently, the data published in the World Population Prospects, 2022 report of the United Department of Economic and Social Affairs show that India would surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2023.

    Present National Population Policy (NPP) 2000

    • It was based on the principle of voluntary and informed choice, target free approach and achievement of replacement level of fertility.
    • It aimed at simultaneously addressing the issues of contraception, maternal health and child survival.
    • The National Family Planning Programme of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare is guided by the tenets of the National Population Policy 2000 and oversees its implementation.             

    Need for a new population policy/changes in NPP 2000

    • Economic Survey 2018­-19  data: India’s demographic dividend will peak around 2041, when the share of the working age population is expected to hit 59%. In contrast, the world’s population is expected to hit a peak and then drop by the end of the century. 
    • Aging: As fertility drops and lifespans rise globally, the world is aging at a significant pace. 12% of India’s total population by 2025 is going to be the elderly. Every fifth Indian by 2050 will be over the age of 65. 
    • Productivity: Thomas Malthus’ population theory suggested equilibrium between the population growth and productivity. To make the present population productive and employable, targeted skills training and better economic planning is needed. 
    • Lesson from China: Drastic changes in public policy to manage the population may have unexpected consequences. For example, China’s one child policy led to a sharp reduction in the population growth rate but it also led to a rapidly risingelderly population. 
    • Evidence based policy: Indian government should focus on creating a situation to ensure gradual changes in the family size in the context of a growing economy, rather than excessive focus on the reduction of a fertility rate.  
    • Automation: In today’s modern world the productivity of individuals is greatly affected by automation, sometimes causing loss of employment. However, it doesn’t replace human nature and human touch. For example, the informal care economy.
    • Demographic dividend: India has a very brief window of opportunity (next few decades) to tap into the potential of our youth population by investing in education, skills and well being of adolescents. Otherwise, India’s demographic dividend might become a demographic disaster. 
    • Gender issues: Fertility decline lowers burden on women. But two thirds of the elderly are women as they tend to live longer than men. Thus India needs to recognise the gender dimension in the population policy to tap into these changes. 
    • Gender neutral employment: India needs to improve employment opportunities for young women and increase the female employment rate. Elderly women need economic and social support networks. 
    • BIMARU States: India’s future lies in the development of youth potential, especially in U.P., Bihar, M.P. with a higher Total Fertility Rate (TFR)  than the national average. These States need more resources and support in ensuring their education, skilling and employment, else risk a huge economic liability. 
    • National population policy 2000: It was a well intentioned policy with the objectives of family planning and reduction in maternal mortality ratios. States also have their own population policies. However, it needs to include focus on the ageing population and reproductive health. 
    • Change in population policy discourse: Policy orientation can be changed from traditional narrative of population control to a policy enhancing population as resources for India’s development. It needs to change the mindset and focus on ensuring a happy, healthy and productive population. 
    • The two child norm indicates a coercive approach to primarily one community. It diverts attention away from the modern and complex population related problems. It can be an objective at most, but should not be the focus of the population policy.                       

    Positive developments

    • National Family Health Survey 5 in 2021 reported India’s attainment of a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.0 for the first time which is less than the replacement level of 2.1 and fell from a TFR of 2.2 in NFHS 4. 
    • Promotion of increased use of contraceptive methods, spacing of pregnancies, access to health care and providing impetus to family planning. 
    • India has contributed to the decrease in TFR, Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) and increasing wealth and education. 
    • 25 out of 37 States/UTs have already achieved replacement level fertility of 2.1 or less.
    • The Decadal growth rate has declined from 21.54% in 1999-2000 to 17.64 % during  2001-11.
    • The Crude Birth Rate (CBR) has declined from 23.8 to 20.2 from 2005 to 2017 (SRS).
    • The Teenage birth rate has halved from 16 % (NFHS III) to 8 % (NFHS IV).

    Way Forward

    • Adequate investments (at least 5% of GDP) are needed in family planning and youth capacity enhancement with proper implementation of schemes like Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, Skill India Mission, PM Kaushal Vikas Yojana etc.
    • India needs to shift from a family planning approach to a family welfare approach. 
    • Policy attention should be focused on empowering men and women to make informed choices about their fertility, health and wellbeing. 
    • COVID-19 pandemic: Special attention must be given to addressing ways in which the pandemic has affected the lives of India’s adolescents and youth. 
    • Institutional or state capability needs to be strengthened to take care of an ageing population along with a better elderly protection regime. 

    Source: TH