Forgetting the recent talk about the positive demographic dividend, India's health minister on Saturday voiced his concern about the population explosion and called for fighting it by reaching to the grassroots level and creating awareness.
"It's a great concern. We need to work at supersonic speed to curb population growth," Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said at a function organised in New Delhi to observe World Population Day.
"Go to the village level, block level and district level where the problem is real. Make family planning reach every household. There is no need of using force (for family planning) but yes, we have to keep our focus intact," Azad asked his ministry officials.
With over one billion population, India's share in the world population stands at 17 per cent though it occupies less than three percent of earth's land area.
The state controlled National Population Stabilisation Fund estimates that India's population will exceed that of China in 20 years, giving it the dubious distinction of being most populous country in the world.
The fund predicts that India will have 371 million more people in 2026 than in 2001.
"We don't need so much. The population growth needs to be controlled," said TV Antony, a retired bureaucrat, who has been conferred the Padma Bhushan award for his contribution to population control in Tamil Nadu.
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, former rural development minister, was candid. "Population forecast in our country is really scary. Unless population stabilises, all our efforts will fail.
"We need to do at least three things to stabilise population -- awareness generation, people's participation and incentives to people," he said, adding that the central government must hold meetings with states where the population growth rate is high.
"The centre must sit more with seven states to solve some problems. Poverty and education are two other areas where attention must be given."
He was referring to states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh where the population growth is far higher than in other states. Singh, who is from Bihar, said that while implementing new schemes, it is important to have "strict vigilance".
Dinesh Trivedi, minister of state for health and family welfare, said that demography is in India's favour as the country is young in comparison to other countries. But to take advantage of this situation, there is a "need to promote education and awareness".
"Population control is a must," he added.
Delhi Health Minister Kiran Walia lamented the rising trend of sex selection even among the affluent and educated sections of society, and called for strict implementation of the law to check this practice.
National Population Stabilisation Fund executive director Amarjeet Sinha said there is a huge unmet demand for services in the most problematic states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.
Gopi Gopalkrishnan, president of World Health Partners, an NGO, said that family planning can be success if the private sector steps in in a desired way.
Gopalkrishnan runs a public health centre chain in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to promote family planning. "India's population size will be determined by what happens in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh," he held.