Underserved people make a crowded world
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Underserved people make a crowded world

Increasingly, I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of people I see around me when I step out of home. Don't get me wrong. My home is in a quiet cult-de-sac and I like people. Sanchita Sharma writes.

columns Updated: Jun 16, 2012 23:51 IST

Increasingly, I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer number of people I see around me when I step out of home. Don't get me wrong. My home is in a quiet cult-de-sac and I like people.

Well, mostly. And I certainly don’t object to cohabiting the planet with these highly evolved — and some
not-so-evolved — animal forms.

What I object to is the way in which humans and their machines have overrun the planet. Morning traffic drowns out birdsongs. The chugging of water boosters and tractors are the only sounds you hear in open fields and village streets. And there are more humans at New Delhi’s Raisina Hill than monkeys now, which wasn’t the case a decade ago!

The reason, of course, is that the more than billion people living in India have to go somewhere. Most head towards the cities, where there is employment and infrastructure of sorts. One in every three person lives in overcrowded urban areas, in slums that Slumdog Millionaire and Behind the Beautiful Forevers have made familiar, and embarrassingly so. As a result of the desperation to find work that pays you enough to survive, three of the world’s ten most populated cities are in India.

With over 22 million inhabitants, Delhi is the second-most crowded city after Tokyo’s 36.7 million. Mumbai has 20 million people, and Kolkata has 15.5 million. China, the world’s most populated country, only has Shanghai, with its population of 16.6 million, among the world’s top ten most crowded metros.

And the situation is getting tighter with each passing day. One-third of the world’s poor live in India, which is home to 410 million people below the poverty line. And the number of the impoverished is growing faster than the middle-class because it’s an established fact that people with little or no education and poor access to health services and contraception have larger families. You are more likely to have more children if you’re not sure how many of them will
survive to become adults. Also, many young couples are either clueless or too shy to ask for contraception. Compared to 85% of people in China and 79% in the US using some form of contraception, only 56% Indians use birth-control methods. Even neighbouring Sri Lanka, with a history of decades of conflict, has 68% contraceptive use.

The projections, given the current population growth rate, are pretty frightening. By 2030, India’s 1.46 billion population will overtake China’s 1.39 billion to become the world’s most populous country. While China’s population will decline to about 1.3 billion by 2050, India’s will continue to grow to about 1.7 billion by 2060 before beginning to decline, show projections from Population Division of the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs.

Given there are 27 million births in the country each year, it’s clear that young people are not spending their time watching television, as was infamously proposed by Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad some years ago. Clearly, the government’s population stabilisation schemes and products are not reaching people who need it most.

And it can’t be that difficult. All the government needs is marketing lessons from the private sector, which has successfully taken cold drinks, chips and toothpaste to places where electricity and running water are a novelty. If the private sector can reach untapped markets, there is no reason that the government, with its infinitely deeper pockets, cannot do so too.

Perhaps offering contraceptive pills or condoms with a kilogram of rice or a bottle of beer can be a start. With the population of several Indian states equalling that of large countries, the government cannot sit back hoping for reality TV shows more interesting than sex.

First Published: Jun 16, 2012 23:46 IST