Where was the seventh billionth baby born on Monday? While Uttar Pradesh seems to have been the destination of choice for the new arrival into this world, the Philippines also staked a claim. Notwithsta-nding the celebrations, there are enough reasons to worry because a growing population means more pressure on the world's stretched resources. For India and its galloping population, the future is much more challenging: while we have a young population, which can add valuable numbers to the workforce, it is also important to remember that 50% of that population is within the productive age. The country, with its 1.24 billion will overtake China in 2025 and its population will only decline by 2060. And yet, much to our amazement, India's cool as a cucumber Union health and family welfare minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told this newspaper that "India is right on track and with a little effort, we will win this one". He is so gung-ho because India's crude birth rate - births per 1,000 population - has almost halved in 50 years and the decadal population growth has dropped by 4% to under 20%, the best since independence.
But, Mr Azad, a "little effort" will not do simply because we need to do a great deal before we can reap the demographic dividend. Sample this: The immediate objective of the 2000 National Population Policy was to address the unmet needs for contraception, healthcare infrastructure and health personnel, the medium-term objective was to bring the total fertility rate down to replacement level by 2010 and the long-term objective was to achieve a stable population by 2045. These objectives are more or less similar to the ones that were formulated in the country's First Five-Year Plan (1951-56)! Having said that, there have been good examples of population stabilisation and the states which have done well - Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh - have done it in different ways. But some commonalities exist: a strong, result-oriented bureaucracy, massive investments in health and education and empowerment of women. Therefore, there should be little doubt where the money should be invested to stabilise and empower this growing population.
Moreover, the minister would also do well to stick to the national population policy that actually lays down the some innovative strategies to achieve our targets: Along with women, it says that men should also be brought into the fold of family planning since, in most cases, they are the decision-makers. As for contraceptives, India must have a 'cafeteria approach' so that women can choose whichever mode of contraception they want. Last but not the least, family planning must not be only the headache of the health ministry. Other related ministries must pitch in wholeheartedly and set up a coordinated strategy. After all, a productive population is in all our interest.