Population Dynamics and Distress
(India needs definitive population policy)
Sardara Singh Johl
With every human being, the economy gets two hands to produce and a body to consume. The former creates supply of goods and services, utilizing and simultaneously generating productive resources and the latter generates market demand. Larger the number of hands employed, greater is the production and supply of goods and services. As the opportunities for gainful employment fall short of the hands demanding productive work, imbalances start emerging to the detriment of inclusive growth and development that lead to economic distress and social unrest. This mismatch can emerge due to (i) the high density and growth of population that cannot be sustained by the available productive resources, (ii) the productive resources not expanding consistent with the growth of population, limiting the availability of gainful employment opportunities leading to unemployment, underemployment and disguised employment, (iii) the composition of population with disproportionately larger number of dependents (children and the old) that generate demand but do not add to the supply, (iv) disproportionately larger number of youth demanding jobs that are not available. On the other hand, very low, no or negative population growth leads to a larger and larger proportion of old population that puts heavier and heavier demand in the market, but contributes little on the supply side of goods and services. Indian society is suffering from all the above four variables of demographic dynamics that create a situation of distress for large majority of poor segments of the society. In market driven economy with highly skewed distribution of incomes, large majority of poor population does not earn enough purchasing power to buy even the basic amenities of life.
In view of the high base of more than 1.07 billion persons in India, even a lower level of population growth adds tremendously to the total population, outbalancing the available gainful employment opportunities. Here it is a paradoxical situation. If like China, the population growth is controlled through one child norm, our social system of marriages, wherein brides move to the house of their in-laws, leaves half of the couples without any one to tend to them in their old age. If the second lowest norm of two children is followed, the growth bloats the total population on existing huge base to unmanageable level. With huge base, China style norm of one child, still remains less problematic than Indian approach of lackadaisical nature. Yet, another aspect of low or negative growth in population is that the growing older segment of the population puts higher and higher demand on supply of goods and services and withdraws itself from productive activities, which dampens the growth of the economy. Thus, aging societies too run the risk of adverse economic consequences. For instance, a world bank report indicates that Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union comprising 28 countries from Russia to Albania is the region that is facing the combined challenge of rapid aging, relatively poor populations. This region is expected to shrink by about 24 million population in next two decades and Russia alone will lose 17 million in their total population. Therefore, from a certain level of low base, addition to population, specially to the younger segment of the society is a boon. But, economies like India and China need to shed considerable load of population to make their development visible and inclusive in nature. India needs to adopt the one child norm at least for five decades to check the population blob which usurping the productive lands, creating jungles of concrete, degrading the ecology, promoting crimes of all shades, spreading rampant corruption and unhealthy competition in all walks of life right from education sub-sector to administration, police, judiciary and politics. When ambitions soar high propelled by demonstration effect,but opportunities do not match up to the demand, corruption and crime takes the society into its iron grip. That is what has happened in India.
Unfortunately, the policy makers in India are not paying due attention to the problem of fast growing population, which is the mother of all problems in the country. Uncontrollable corruption, black money, disrespect of law, lax administration, uncertain security of life and property, illiteracy, ignorance and poverty, all are the off-springs of excessive level of population growth. Whatever progress the economy makes is being absorbed by the blob of population and is washed off to a considerable extent. Whether it is food, fiber, housing, water, sewerage, education, health or infrastructure, all run short of demand. Most of these life sustaining facilities have to be provided at the cost of public exchequer, because large segments of the poor population do not earn enough purchasing power to pay for these essentials of life.
Take the case of universal free and mandatory education to the children up to fourteen years of age provided under the law of the land. It has remained a law on paper only. It cannot be enforced, because the country does not have enough free schooling facilities and the children and their poor families that depend considerably on the meager earnings of these children cannot be compensated for the loss of these earnings. Even where voluntary organizations and individuals have put in effort to educate such children in poor colonies and shanties, they have not succeeded fully due to this constraint. Even the law banning child labour is being flouted with impunity, because there is no alternative for these poor children and their families. In case a child is withdrawn from whatever work he or she might be doing, neither there is any opportunity for schooling due to poverty nor there is any alternative engagement in which he or she can be involved. Children begging in tattered clothes at road crossings, religious places and streets are visible even to the policy makers and the parliamentarians, who enacted these laws. These are not the only laws which are being de facto mocked at because these cannot be enforced. In fact India has come to be a ‘no punishment’ society, because some laws are not enforceable in their very nature and content, which have been enacted without relating them to the realities of life in this society. Our society proves the dictum, “more the number of laws, lesser they are respected”
All these problems and incongruities emerge out of fast growing and bloating population and the demographic dynamics that are affecting the quality of population. Those who can afford to bring up and educate their children are limiting the size of their families to one or two children, but those who cannot afford to bring up and educate their children are indifferent to the number of children they have in the family, because there is no lower rung of life to which they can fall, whatever be the number of children they have. This is adversely affecting the quality of population in its totality. Thus, fast expanding population on huge base, poverty, ignorance and lack of matching opportunities for gainful employment leading to corruption and crime is fast becoming the bane of Indian society, which can be related to the adverse demographic dynamics, to which our governing class and policy makers are acting mute. Yet, this silence is too loud to be ignored and indifference to the impending disaster too serious to be slept over. If we do not wake up to the ground realities now and design definitive population policy, it is not too far that we will be shaken out of slumber by civil unrest and violence.