A demographic window of opportunity: on
population and policy (The Hindu)
Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level: Total Fertility Rate
Mains level: Populations and associated issues
• In India, investing in the laggard States will ensure their role as being
the greatest contributors of the future.
• The United Nations released the 26th revision of World Population Prospects
and forecast that India will overtake China as the most populous country by
• The only surprise associated with this forecast is the way it was covered
by the media.
Impact for short-term projections
• The biggest impact comes from an existing population, particularly women in
• Having instituted a one-child policy in 1979, China’s female population in
peak reproductive ages (between 15 and 39 years) is estimated at 235 million
(2019) compared to 253 million for India.
• Thus, even if India could institute a policy that reduces its fertility
rate to the Chinese level, India will overtake China as the most populous
• The element of surprise comes from the date by which this momentous event
is expected. The UN revises its population projections every two years.
• In 2015, it was predicted that India would overtake China in 2022, but in
the 2019 projections it is 2027.
• The UN has revised India’s expected population size in 2050 downward from
1,705 million in 2015 projections to 1,639 million in 2019 projections.
• This is due to faster than expected fertility decline, which is good news
by all counts.
• Like it or not, India will reign as the most populous country throughout
most of the 21st century.
• Whether we adjust to this demographic destiny in a way that contributes to
the long-term welfare of the nation or not depends on how we deal with three
Do we need to adopt stringent population control policies?
• History tells us that unless the Indian state can and chooses to act with
the ruthlessness of China, the government has few weapons in its arsenal.
• Almost all weapons that can be used in a democratic nation, have already
• These include restriction of maternity leave and other maternity benefits
for first two births only and disqualification from panchayat elections for
people with more than two children in some States along with minor incentives
• If punitive actions won’t work, we must encourage people to have smaller
• There are sharp differences in fertility among different socio-economic
• Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for the poorest women was 3.2 compared to only
1.5 for the richest quintile in 2015-16. To get to TFR of 1.5, a substantial
proportion of the population among the top 40% must stop at one child.
Population and policy
• We must change our mindset about how population is incorporated in broader
• Population growth in the north and central parts of India is far greater
than that in south India.
• These policies include using the 1971 population to allocate seats for the
Lok Sabha and for Centre-State allocation under various Finance Commissions.
• In a departure from this practice, the 15th Finance Commission is expected
to use the 2011 Census for making its recommendations.
• This has led to vociferous protests from the southern States as the feeling
is that they are being penalised for better performance in reducing fertility.
Reason for their concern
• Between the 1971 and 2011 Censuses, the population of Kerala grew by 56%
compared to about 140% growth for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
• A move to use the 2011 Census for funds allocation will favour the
north-central States compared to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
• However, continuing to stay with a 1971 Census-based allocation would be a
mistake. Cross-State subsidies come in many forms; Centre-State transfers is but
one. Incomes generated by workers in one State may also provide the tax revenues
that support residents in another State.
• The varying pace of onset and end of demographic transition creates
intricate links between workers in Haryana today and retirees in Kerala and
between future workers in Uttar Pradesh and children in Tamil Nadu.
• Demographic dividend provided by the increasing share of working age adults
is a temporary phase during which child dependency ratio is falling and old-age
dependency ratio is still low. But this opportunity only lasts for 20 to 30
years. For States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu which experienced fertility
decline early, this window of opportunity is already past.
• As the United Nations Population Fund estimates, over the next 20 years,
the window of opportunity will be open for moderate achievers such as Karnataka,
Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir.
• As the demographic window of opportunity closes for these States, it will
open for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other States that are the last to enter
fertility transition. This suggests that workers of Bihar will be supporting the
ageing population of Kerala in 20 years.
The focus areas
• In order to maximise the demographic dividend, we must invest in the
education and health of the workforce, particularly in States whose demographic
window of opportunity is still more than a decade away.
• Staying fixated on the notion that revising State allocation of Central
resources based on current population rather than population from 1971 punishes
States with successful population policies is shortsighted.
• This is because current laggards will be the greatest contributors of the
future for everyone, particularly for ageing populations of early achievers.
Enhancing their productivity will benefit everyone.
• It is time for India to accept the fact that being the most populous nation
is its destiny.
• It must work towards enhancing the lives of its current and future
Q.1) With reference to the Data provided by the Minister of Social Justice
and Empowerment in Lok Sabha related to Manual Scavenging, consider the
1. The number of deaths of sanitation workers while cleaning septic tanks
and sewers has fallen drastically.
2. Of the 15 States/UTs that submitted details to the Ministry, Tamil Nadu had
the highest number of sewer deaths with 144 cases, followed by Gujarat with 131.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only
B. 2 only
Q.1) What should we do about the old policies aimed at not rewarding
States that fail to control population growth?