Dr Gyan Pathak
India celebrated 14 November as Children’s Day, and exactly five months after on 14 April, 2023 would surpass China crowning itself the world’s most populated county. The world has already celebrated the arrival of 8 billionth baby on Earth, as it signified a milestone for humanity in terms of achievement in human health with the increased expectancy of life at birth.
14 April 2023 would thus not only be a milestone, both for India and China, it may also mark the beginning of unprecedented multiple crises on account of new known and unknown challenges of the future on account of its adverse impact on living conditions. There are already numerous unresolved crises including food and energy security, climate change, and growing domestic and international conflicts exacerbating the crises. Moreover, global population would continue to rise, and within 15 years, another one billion will be added to become 9 billion.
India and China, both would have over 1.4 billion population each by 14 April 2023. It is only theoretical argument that more population means more hands to work, and both the countries would potentially garner the so called population dividend. However, in practice, both the countries will no be in position to provide work for its growing people, which would further put burden on the responsibility to feed their people, especially those who will have no job and means of livelihood.
COVID-19 pandemic has already indicated that providing access to heath would be another major challenge coupled with the food crisis. India will have to face greater challenge on this account since the pandemic have increased the ever increasing inequality among the haves and have-nots, pushing millions of people below poverty line. It has changed the world of work in which the economic growth is creating too little new jobs to offset the unprecedented level of growth in population. Without complete coverage of the entire population under social security, majority of the population cannot feed themselves. Even during the pandemic India needed to provide foodgrains to 800 million of people out of about 1390 million population.
India’s population growth has always been much more than the projection. In 2000, the country was projected to surpass China’s population by 2045, but by 2017 it was projected to become world’s most populous country by 2027. However, only after 5 years the latest UN projection of 2022, said that India would surpass China’s population to wear the crown of the most populated country in the world. No resource in the country is growing at this rate, and hence we are heading towards a multiple crises.
A Stanford study has indicated that by 2100, India’s population would shrink by 41 crore. However, it would not even be a good thing to happen, because when population growth becomes negative, knowledge and living standards stagnate for the population that gradually vanishes. The study emphasised that it would of course be a harmful outcome. India’s population density is estimated to fall significantly by that time, which would fall from the present 476 person per sq km to 335.
The population growth in India and China must be understood by Indian planners in its correct perspective and ramifications, since the largest populated tag for both the country significantly differ, and hence the crises. For example, China is presently the world’s largest populated country, but its population density is only 148 persons per sq km. Despite India being the second largest at present, its population density is 476 person per sq km which is over 3.2 times per sq km. It means the total natural resources available to Indians is only 1/3rd of that of Chinese. It must also be noted that China’s economy even at present is nearly six time larger and India’s.
Thus, Indians have or will have much more on stake than of the Chinese people, and therefore India needs to be preparing for any eventuality. India’s population will be increasing even after it surpasses China on 14 April 2023. By 2025, its population density would increase from the present 476 to 486 by 2025, and then 514 by 2050. It means India would have less and less per capita resources until 2050 after which the population would start declining, as against the global population density of only 62.4 by 2025 and68.5 by 2050.
India would therefore be in a difficult position on account of growing population until 2050, and new challenges would emerge thereafter when the population starts declining. India thus needs to plan in advance to face the challenges – both is short and long term.
The very year 2023, when India would become the most populous country, the world is heading towards a “dire global food shortage” from this year’s “crisis of affordability” as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned G20 leaders recently. The world is on its way to “a raging food catastrophe” he has warned.
The warning should be taken seriously by India since it houses the largest number of poor in the world, a major contributor in South Asia having about half of the world’s poor. Russia-Ukraine wars has exacerbated the conditions of the poor due to disruption on food, fertilizer, and energy supply. If India is to feed its people and take care of its other requirements, it must focus on these three at present.
Climate crisis has also increased the incidents of droughts, floods, and other natural and man-made disasters. The increasing pressure on population on resources will have other consequences too, such as conflicts among people, that may trigger law and order problems. Ensuring equitable access to resources and services, such as health services, transport, energy etc would put a greater challenge.
All these means that India needs a paradigm shift in its present planning structure and implementation of pro-people policies, rather continuing the profit oriented mindset of the Narendra Modi government. (IPA)
India surpassing China in total population
Dr Gyan Pathak