Union health and family welfare minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has no plans to mark the world's seven billionth birth tomorrow. "What's the big deal? We'll celebrate when population stops growing," he says in an exclusive interview to HT.
Every sixth person in this world lives in India, where the population shot up by an incredible 181 million - the combined populations of Spain, Germany and Italy - in the past decade. Delivering condoms and contraceptives to your doorstep is just one among the many family-planning initiatives introduced by Azad's ministry to control the country's galloping population.
Its association with forced sterilisation has made everyone shun the phrase "family planning". Why do you insist on using it?
Why not? "Family planning" is not a derogatory word. Each Indian needs to plan ahead to control the population, which is projected to grow 36% from 1.029 billion in 2001 to 1.46 billion in 2025. India won't legislate to control population but offer people contraceptive choices to plan their own family. Women are being given access to choices that will help them choose their family size.
With more than 50% of the country's population in the reproductive age of 15-49 years, can we afford to wait for people to make the right choice?
Every nation goes through the process of demographic transition and comes to a stage where population gets stabilised. India has the objective of achieving replacement total fertility rates (TFR) - the number of children a woman has in her lifetime - of 2.1 by 2012. While 20 states and union territories have TFRs of 2.1 and under, some states are way behind with TFRs of more than 3.
What can be done to make non-performing state governments act?
Since some state governments don't act - Uttar Pradesh health minister does not even attend review meetings - we have identified 264 districts with poor health indicators as "high focus", where health services will be provided by the Centre directly to the primary health centres. Even as we speak, consignments of contraceptives for women have reached 233 of these districts, and condoms to 195 districts. Under a Central scheme, Ashas - accredited social health activists - will distribute these door to door and get 20% of the cost as an incentive to promote use. You'll see results in the next census.
Distributing contraceptives does not ensure use. How can you ensure people use the services offered?
That's true, you can take a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. The Centre is paying for the cost, transport and distribution, but that's not enough. The health ministry is in the process of finalising plans with the Information & Broadcasting ministry to start a 15-30 minute talk show on Doordarshan and its regional channels, where experts will talk about health issues and answer queries from people. Each state is finalising the names of 50 doctors in each language. Once they are empanelled, the shows will go an air. We plan to have the shows on air within three months.
How do you rate India's success so far in controlling population?
Very good. Crude birth rate -births per 1,000 population - has almost halved in 50 years, from 40.8 in 1951 to 22.5 in 2011, while death rate has gone down from 25 to 7.3 per 1,000 in the same period. Despite people living longer, the decadal population growth has dropped by 4% to under 20% for the first time since Independence, from 21.54% in 2001 to 17.64% in 2011. India's on the right track, and with a little effort, we'll win this one.