Leveraging demographic dividend for Viksit Bharat - Hindustan Times
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Leveraging demographic dividend for Viksit Bharat

Feb 13, 2024 10:03 PM IST

By focusing on investments in young people, and addressing variations in socioeconomic conditions, India can achieve sustainable growth and development

Finance minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman announced the formation of a high-powered committee to address challenges arising from “fast population growth and demographic changes” during the interim budget. One hopes that the committee will look beyond the rhetoric of “population control” and fear-mongering around the population of certain demographic groups, and instead focus on leveraging India’s demographic trends for sustainable development.

India’s demographic dividend, characterised by India’s 370-million-strong young population (aged 10 to 24), presents a golden opportunity(Mourya/ Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
India’s demographic dividend, characterised by India’s 370-million-strong young population (aged 10 to 24), presents a golden opportunity(Mourya/ Hindustan Times)

India has made significant strides in stabilising its population growth. Census 2011 confirmed that India’s decadal growth rate during 2001-2011 reduced to 17.7% from 21.5% over 1991-2001. Similarly, the total fertility rate (TFR) — the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime — has declined to the replacement level (defined as the TFR at which the population replaces itself from one generation to another), going down from 3.4 in 1992-93 to 2.0 in 2019-21, according to the NFHS-5. According to projections by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, India will see its population peak at 1.6 billion in 2048 and then start declining. India’s population is projected to be 1.1 billion in 2100. Thus, India’s efforts towards population stabilisation should not be overshadowed by undue alarmism around population numbers. Instead, the committee’s mandate should be to prepare India for the real demographic challenges.

The committee must steer clear of myths suggesting that coercive policies to “control” the population are a solution. The demographic crisis in China, as a result of the one-child policy implemented in the country, cannot be ignored. China now has an ageing and declining population and a skewed sex ratio.

India’s demographic dividend, characterised by India’s 370-million-strong young population (aged 10 to 24), presents a golden opportunity. By channelling investments into health, education, and skilling, India can harness this dividend to become a global hub of human capital. This approach not only addresses domestic needs but also positions India as a critical player in the global labour market. Reaping this demographic dividend will closely depend on addressing India’s significant gender disparities, ranging from early-life nutrition to workplace inequalities. With women and girls comprising nearly half of India’s population, enabling them to realise their full potential is crucial for achieving the government’s vision of a developed India by 2047. The nation should embrace a “life-cycle” approach to empowerment at every stage of life and establish gender-responsive work environments and better financial access. Expanding access to modern family planning methods is essential, as approximately 9% of women of reproductive age (about 22 million) currently experience an unmet need for contraception, according to the NFHS-5 (2019-21).

The proposed population committee must carefully consider the groundwork laid by previous commissions, notably the insights and recommendations from the National Commission on Population, while also being mindful of the changing demographic landscape. The commission needs a holistic approach, fostering inter-sectoral convergence. To achieve this, the committee must incorporate inputs from a diverse range of stakeholders. This includes engaging across party lines and consulting with various ministries — including health and family welfare, education, women and child development, and youth affairs — to gain a multi-faceted understanding of the issues at hand. Furthermore, collaboration with civil society groups and researchers specialising in demographics will provide both grassroots insights and innovative solutions.

The FM’s acknowledgement of the youth’s energy and aspirations in her budget speech reflects optimism and belief in India’s young population. Such a forward-looking stance can catalyse the realisation of the collective aspirations of India’s youth. Demographic transitions also necessitate preparing for an ageing population. The UNFPA’s India Ageing Report 2023 highlights that by 2050, 20% of India’s population will be over 60 years old. Investments in social and health infrastructure are essential to support the elderly, which will ensure that India also benefits from a “silver dividend”. Addressing the needs of this demographic is crucial for social cohesion and economic stability.

By focusing on strategic investments in young people, women and girls, preparing for an ageing population, and addressing interregional variations in socioeconomic conditions, India can achieve sustainable growth and development. This approach aligns with the broader vision of achieving a “Viksit Bharat” and ensuring that demographic changes catalyse progress.

Poonam Muttreja is executive director, Population Foundation of India. The views expressed are personal

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