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India gets its strategies in place to check population growth

india Updated: Jul 11, 2016 14:31 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
India's population

File photo of commuters at Bandra station in Mumbai. , India. Humanity has expanded exponentially over the past 15 years, with a billion people added since 1999.(Vijayanand Gupta/ HT Photo )

Confused about which contraception to use? Want to know where to go for a safe abortion? Or where to get your child vaccinated for free?

Call the Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh’s (JSK, National Population Stabilisation Fund) toll-free number 1800-11-6555 and a counselor such as Varun will enthusiastically give you more options than you thought possible. A simple question about contraceptive choices has Varun speaking knowledgeably about contraceptive pills, intra-uterine devices (IUDs), and injectable contraception, which gives protection for three months a week after it’s injected.

But he doesn’t mention female sterilisation as a contraception option.

Forced sterilisations during the Emergency led to India dropping ‘birth control’ from its national population policy lexicon, but “female sterilisation” continued to be a popular form of contraception.

Not anymore. “Contraception methods are no longer forced or incentivised, but marketed as a tool that can help women take charge of their life, bodies, health, and the health of their children,” said Dr Teja Ram, head of office at JSK, an autonomous body in the health ministry.

JSK has outsourced its toll-free helpline to a Gurgaon call centre where trained counselors answer queries in Hindi and English.

Birth of a nation

Humanity has expanded exponentially over the past 15 years, with a billion people added since 1999. In 2015, the world’s population became 7.3 billion, and is expected to be 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, estimates the United Nations.

In India, 26 million babies — the populations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland combined — are born every year. 350 million people were added to India’s population in a decade, compared to China’s rise by 210 million in the same period.

Things on trackIndia’s total fertility rate (TFR, the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime) is steadily declining, from 2.6 in 2008 to 2.3 in 2013, just 0.2 points away from the replacement population target of 2.1, after which the population begins to decline. West Bengal has India’s lowest fertility of 1.6, with Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, J&K, Punjab, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh all recording TFR below 2.

“If this continues, India may achieve its demographic transition and reach replacement levels by 2022,” said Dr P Arokiasamy of International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai. Incentivised and coerced female sterilisation camps continue in pockets but these are an anomaly now. The way ahead is ensuring women have access to standardised care. JSK has mapped 450 districts showing the population, sub-divisions and distance to the nearest health facility. A health ministry official said the maps show inequities and this data is used to target resources. “I’m encouraged that the government is finally coming back to family planning. They have re-energised it, they are saying they understand it needs to be voluntary and they are starting to offer a basket of choices and options to women,” Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told HT in March.