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- Nurul Islam Laskar

According to Census 2001 as on March 1, 2001, the population of India stood at 103 crore. India added more than 18 crore people to its population during the last decade, which is more than the estimated population of Brazil, the fifth most populous country of the world.

Though there are many plus points in the Census Report in terms of a slight decline in birth rate, a rise in literacy rate and the like, still we are far away from accomplishing the population stabilization target. For, the fall in the average annual growth rate, from 2.14 per cent in 1981-1991 to 1.93 per cent for the decade 1991-2001, still remains marginal under the Indian conditions. Perhaps, only Kerala, with an annual growth rate of 0.9 per cent (down from 1.34 per cent for 1981-1991) and, to some extent, the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, with a corresponding figure of 1.06 per cent have reached closer to achieving the goal of population stabilization.

Over the years, considerable thought has gone into the problem of population explosion. The real shift came in 1994, the year world experts on population met in Cairo and voted against using targets to stabilize growing populations. The shift has been from mere demographic targets alone to the provision of better services, ensuring safe motherhood, controlling infant mortality and placing women at the centre of development issues.

The earlier contraceptive-specific, target-oriented coercive methods have been a failure in stabilizing population. People have a right to choose the number of children they want and if they can be offered safe spacing methods and a mix of contraceptive services, they will opt for smaller families on their own. Even in India, the fertility rate has declined from 2.4 in the eighties to 1.86 in the nineties.

The National Population Policy 2000 envisages addressing the basic needs of reproductive health care, bringing the total fertility rate to replacement level by 2010, achieving a stable population by 2045 and targets 14 national socio-demographic goals to be achieved by 2010.

But there are issues which the policy has failed to address. For example, let us take the political issues. The Cabinet has recommended a freeze on delimitation of constituencies till 2026; otherwise States which had effectively controlled population would end up with fewer seats in the Lok Sabha. All that the Cabinet has done is to decide in positive terms that for a quarter century, there will be no fresh delimitation of constituencies.

On the broader spectrum, in the light of the recommendations of the International Conference of Population Developed (ICPD) 1994 at Cairo, the following components constitute the basis for a new curriculum in Population and Development Education - adolescence education, family life, gender equality and equity, health and education, sustainable development, urbanization and migration. It aims at providing authentic knowledge to learners, in these sensitive areas, and developing in them rational attitude and responsible behaviour.

The Government's action plan on National Population Policy seeks to involve the civil society for disseminating information, counseling and spreading education about the small family norm, the need for fewer but healthier babies, higher female literacy and late marriages for women. Knowing full well that the Government alone cannot manage the problem, the action plan rightly seeks the assistance of the society in monitoring the availability of contraceptives, vaccines and drugs in rural areas and in urban slums.(PIB)

BN/NC/Guwahati Feature dt. 28-07-2004