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The seven billionth dilemma

 | November 4, 2011

Ultimately, India needs to strive for a balance between population stability and resource management.

COMMENT

In a country like India where every birth was once greeted with song and dance and feasting, the coming of baby Nargis as the world’s seven billionth person may have invited anxiety rather than joy.

Nargis was born the other day in one the country’s most populated States of Uttar Pradesh. Of course, it is just impossible to tell where exactly on this earth the seven billionth person was born. It could have been anywhere.

But Nargis is the seven billionth person for the sake of Indian record.

Even as Nargis’ first cry could be heard in the humble home of a farming family, Kolkata’s Hilla Sorab Billimoria was groaning, her 102 years of planetary existence clearly visible on her shrivelled face and weakened limbs.

Nargis and Billimoria are the two ends of a spectrum that India must quickly learn to grapple with as it races to beat China’s population of 1.34 billion.

By 2025, India will be the country with most people, who will exert enormous, enormous pressure on every kind of resource.

Quite a frightening thought, given that the nation of 1.21 billion has close to 900 million men, women and children living in degrading poverty and in a community that selfishly refuses to share its wealth.

Just one disturbing example: the 26-storey building that the Ambanis built in Mumbai for the family to live in remains unoccupied for some strange superstition, and what is even more disgusting is that the structure overlooks Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi.

Apart from wealthy Indians’ dogmatic attitude, the country’s young and the old have already begun to throw up peculiar challenges.

About 50 per cent the population is under 25 years of age, largely healthy, vibrant and rearing to go. These young men and women anxiously await opportunities to better the state of the country even as they do, their own lives.

With a far greater number of women today getting out of home to earn a livelihood, the workforce is bulging.

The government, which blissfully knotted itself into a lethargic web till about two decades ago (when the economy opened), is now so addicted to scams  that it appears to be in no mood to think about the millions of suffering Indians.

Lack of political will

Where then is the question of creating more jobs for the ever increasing under-25-year olds?

Besides employment, the young and the old need care in different ways. While the aged need physical care in the face of the vanishing joint family system, children have to get decent education to help them face competition in a globalised world.

As things stand today, India seems incapable of providing these. At least satisfactorily.

Admittedly, India’s population which peaked at over 24 per cent in the 1970s has slowed down to around 17 per cent in the past decade. But even this is far from comfortable.

The kind of pressures that is seen on the resources is scary. There is just not enough houses, clean drinking water, hospitals, schools and, of course, money to buy food, paradoxically in a nation that grows  grains and vegetables in adequate quantities.

If owning a house is a dream for millions, a full stomach is nearly as impossible as that. Land prices have shot up, thanks to speculative buying, mostly by politicians who find real estate the best bet to park their ill-gotten wealth.

Public food distribution schemes in most parts of India are a farce.  Grains are “stolen” from these outlets and sold in the open market for fancy prices.

There are of course schools without teachers, schools without structures, hospitals without doctors, hospital without medicines, commercial complexes struggling to rent out vulgarly priced space and housing apartments crying for takers with deep pockets.

Ultimately, India needs to strive for a balance between population stability and resource management.

There is enough, and more, land available. There are enough, and more, healthy people to push the country towards economic prosperity. Not just for a few, but for all.

What is terribly scarce is the will to get these going, a political will, the lack of which is aided and abetted by a race that either believes it is destined to suffer or is circumstantially forced into a state of stupor or tolerance.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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