We, The People | World Population Day

India | World | Population | Democracy

We, The People is a DraftCraft International report, authored by Manu Shrivastava, analysing what it means for India to become the world’s most populated nation, the State’s attempts to tackle issues and the challenges ahead.

Burgeoning India Must Reap In Rich Dividends Smartly

India has now overtaken China to become the world's most populous nation. And, that could have well happened sometime last year itself, feel experts. South Asia already had a larger population — around 1.8 billion people — than China for at least a dozen years and had the shift from British rule not divided the landscape into India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, an undivided India’s population would have already exceeded China’s long back.

Interestingly, it may be noted that India has now achieved a fertility rate of two children per woman, demonstrating that intended drops in fertility can be achieved without resorting to severe and draconian state measures such as China’s one-child policy.

While two-third of Indians are under 35 years, the nation's population will continue to grow for a while. Also, the decline in fertility rate is not distributed evenly across India’s states. In India’s populous Hindi-speaking northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the fertility rates are 2.35 and 2.98 per woman respectively, whereas in several Southern states, the fertility rate stands below the 2.1 children per woman - the mandatory limit needed for a population to replace itself. 

Also, across religious, linguistic, and ethnic groups, contrary to beliefs that some groups have significantly higher birth rates than other groups, fertility has been dropping. Between 1992 and 2005, the Muslim birthrate dropped from 4.4 to 2.6, whereas during the same period, the Hindu birth rate dropped from 3.3 to 2.1 children per woman.

Since 1881, India has held a census every ten years. However, the last census was held in 2011, as the 2021 census was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having notched the status of being the world's most populous, with over two-thirds of India's population being of working age, India must seize this opportunity to grow. Despite the unemployment, India is becoming a manufacturer's hub as most vibrant industries like cell phones and semiconductors opting for the country putting India on track to become the third-largest economy in the world by the end of the decade.

For the first time, on geopolitical positions, India has held on to an independent stance instead of backing either the West or Russia during the Ukraine conflict, which won praise even in Pakistan for pursuing an independent policy. Now, most Indians feel their country should follow its own interests and that other major powers are rivals. This attitude is set to be more pronounced in the next decade as India continues to implement its own agenda.

The most populous country in the world, with one of the world’s largest economies and militaries, India will push for its interests, values, and goals on the global stage.

Now, India has a population of 1,425,775,850 according to UN projections calculated through census data and birth and death rates and has surpassed China's for the very first time. Also, it's the first time since UN started keeping global population records that China has been displaced from the top spot.

It was at China’s annual parliamentary meeting in early March, that proposals to help address and boost China’s falling birthrate began to flow in. The All-China Women’s Federation called for a national publicity campaign to 'advocate a positive concept of marriage and childbearing,' through film and television. There have been calls for tax breaks for companies that employ more mothers, opening up maternity insurance to college students, free college education for families who have a third child born after 2024 and allowing unmarried women to access fertility services. A worrisome case in point is, in 2023, China’s birthrate fell to 6.77 per 1,000 people, the lowest on record.

Among pro-fertility policies being rolled out, in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province on the east coast, one health insurance scheme is offering couples 3,000 yuan nearly Rs 35,000 as reimbursements for IVF treatments. Concurrently, Sichuan, with more than 80 million residents, removed all restrictions on birth registrations, and dumped rules permitting only married couples to register newborns. Others offer newly-weds paid leave in an attempt to encourage marriage and boost the birthrate. Data from the National Health and Medical Commission reveal, in the five-year period, between 2016 and 2021, the number of medical institutions approved to offer assisted reproductive technology increased from 451 to 539.

India will face dilemmas as its population grows. There will be more Indians of working age in relation to the elderly parents they will have to fund, but the leadership will have to be agile to reap the demographic dividend. The demographic dividend is not an automatic occurrence because it would suppose young working-age people who work will need to have work and be productive too. South Korea and Singapore have managed to seize the opportunity offered by the demographic dividend.

Trends suggest, by 2050, only a few countries will be accounting for all of the world’s population growth, most of them in Africa. According to Swedish physician and academic Hans Rosling, the world’s current 'pincode' was 1114, meaning there are very roughly one billion people in the Americas, Europe and Africa and four billion in Asia. In 2050, the code will be 1145, with four billion in Africa and five billion in Asia.

Now, having peaked in the list, the ball is in India's court. India will need to provide the perfect environment - jobs and opportunities - for the two-third of her population below 35 to be able to reap in the rich dividends.

India's Ascending Population: A Billion-Plus Opportunities

India recently claimed the title of the world's most populous country. Interestingly, a quarter of India's population is below the age of 14, while 18 percent falls within the 10-19 age bracket, and seven percent is aged 65 and above, as per the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report.

Debates are underway, questioning whether India's billion-plus population is a blessing or a curse. Numerous reports analyse the potential advantages or burdens that come with being the most populous nation. Forecasts also indicate that India's population will continue to rise for several more decades before eventually stabilising.

The preparedness of Indian legislators and policymakers to ensure sufficient resources and opportunities for the country's people, both present and future, carries a significant responsibility. Government agencies, research institutions, think tanks, and international organisations are actively collaborating to develop scenarios, pathways, and solutions for a progressive and self-reliant India. 

For instance, India's premier think tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), along with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, including the National Transfer Accounts (NTA), engages in discussions and dialogue with the UNFPA on demographic dividend and population aging in India.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in 2015, serve as a blueprint for global peace and prosperity. These seventeen interconnected objectives aim to eradicate poverty and protect the planet. India, as a crucial global player, plays a pivotal role in determining the success of these goals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated during the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Summit that the sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity would significantly impact the world and our planet.

Tracking relevant indicators related to the SDGs is essential for monitoring the progress and effectiveness of population-related policies. NITI Aayog maps the schemes and targets of the SDGs, coordinating with relevant ministries. State governments also play a vital role in the effective implementation of the SDGs, prioritising the welfare of their people to ensure that no one is left behind, while providing sufficient resources and opportunities for the growing population.

India's population dynamics vary across states and regions, necessitating the formulation of policies and schemes tailored to specific dynamics. For instance, while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have a predominantly young population, Punjab and Kerala have a higher proportion of elderly individuals. 

With a significant youth population of 254 million, India possesses a vast source of opportunities if harnessed through careful planning. The energy, productivity, and innovation of the youth must be nurtured within an environment conducive to growth and advancement, enabling them to tap into infinite possibilities.

Contrary to popular belief, a larger population offers several benefits. A larger population translates into a stronger and more extensive human capital. A productive population can lead to higher economic growth, rapid development, effective policy implementation, improved living standards, and overall progress within society. With an expanding youth segment, it is crucial to provide them with the necessary resources, such as quality education, technological access, skill training, innovation, and global exposure.

Ensuring gender equality in terms of education, work opportunities, and empowerment is also pivotal for a productive and progressive India. True empowerment enables young girls and women not only to uplift themselves but also to contribute to nation-building and social transformation, fostering a more inclusive society. India has made significant progress in this regard, with reductions in teenage marriages from 47 percent to 27 percent and teenage fertility from 16 percent to seven percent. Increasing numbers of women are now pursuing education and joining the workforce.

India's current population, which stands as the world's largest, also boasts a substantial working-age segment, which works in its favour. A larger working-age population results in increased economic growth, primarily due to a higher number of working individuals and fewer dependents, thus driving higher rates of economic activity. Since independence, India has witnessed a decline in the dependency ratio, reflecting the decrease in the number of children and elderly persons per working-age population. Over the next three decades, the number of working-age individuals is projected to increase, promising a boost in economic growth and ample opportunities for India's young workforce.

The proactive Indian government closely monitors policy effectiveness and plans for the needs of a growing population. Steps are being taken to help India's youth reach their full potential, fulfil their aspirations, and contribute to the nation's development. The government's motto of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, or self-reliant India, ensures that no one is left behind. India's status as one of the world's fastest-growing economies relies significantly on its demographic dividend, particularly the large segment of young individuals. Policies and missions are being implemented to empower the youth, with initiatives such as Start-Up India, Fit India, Make in India, Digital India, National Education Policy, and Science Technology & Innovation Policy.

A healthy population forms the foundation of any progressive country. A growing population necessitates increased healthcare provisions. The Aspirational Districts Program, launched in 2018, aims to rapidly transform India's 112 most underdeveloped districts, with a particular focus on health, nutrition, and education. This initiative plays a pivotal role in India's future development with a forward-looking approach.

To expand India's economy and generate more employment opportunities, the government's ambitious and successful Make in India scheme, launched in 2014, is transforming the country into a global hub for design and manufacturing. 

The Effect Of Population Growth On Inclusion

The impact of population dynamics on poverty and sustainable development is significant and far-reaching. Population growth patterns and demographics have a direct influence on poverty parameters, both absolute and relative. Various population variables, such as growth rates, rural-urban divides, age demographics, gender demographics, and social stratification, act as indicators of a society's economic prosperity. These factors also affect development prospects and economic markers.

Population growth places a burden on available resources and economic opportunities for the general population. Overpopulation exacerbates the divide between the haves and have-nots within society. This rift can continue to widen if appropriate policies are not formulated and implemented, leading to social unrest. Among the have-nots, vulnerable groups such as the disabled, indigenous communities, and marginalised populations are particularly at risk. Their already marginalised existence becomes even more precarious when population growth intensifies economic pressures.

Well-intentioned economic policies and administrative initiatives are necessary to shield these groups and communities from the economic impacts of rapid population growth. Measures must be taken to ensure their inclusion and protection.

The impact of population growth on the financial inclusion of marginalised communities varies between rural and urban settings. In India, over 60 percent of the population still resides in rural areas, in contrast to the global average of 40 percent. This disparity significantly influences how economic indicators fluctuate with overpopulation and how it affects economically weaker sections of society.

In rural India, a significant portion of the population relies on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. Agriculture, heavily dependent on monsoon rains, faces increased stress due to climate change, which has made weather patterns unpredictable. Rapid population growth places additional pressure on agricultural resources, resulting in less land available for cultivation per person. For subsistence farmers, smaller plots of land lead to reduced income, which is already vulnerable to the unpredictability of climate change-induced rainfall. Consequently, unsustainable population growth can drive poverty among weaker sections in rural India.

In urban areas, an increasing population of migrant workers from rural India and smaller towns exacerbates competition for employment opportunities. The situation is particularly dire for unskilled laborers, who face limited job prospects due to population growth. This scenario further perpetuates poverty and homelessness, particularly among uneducated migrants with limited skills.

The lack of financial capacity leads to limited access to quality education for their children, perpetuating a cycle of limited opportunities. Financial inclusion plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges.

Financial inclusion ensures equal and accessible financial services, including affordable credit, particularly for the economically weaker sections, low-income groups, and vulnerable populations. It plays a vital role in economic support, providing necessary funds for investments in education, agriculture, and contingencies such as healthcare. Financial aid is crucial for the marginalised and vulnerable groups.

It involves integrating financial services to reach the poorest of the poor, creating employment opportunities, developing a skilled labour force, and reducing poverty. Financial inclusion also emphasises increased participation and access to banks for all individuals, regardless of their economic standing.

India has made significant strides in financial inclusion. In 2017, 80 percent of adults had a bank account, compared to 53 percent in 2014. Additionally, the percentage of Indian women with bank accounts increased from 43 percent in 2014 to 77 percent in 2017, according to the World Bank's Global Financial Inclusion Database.

Financial institutions are now focusing more on serving low-income customers, and there has been an improvement in last-mile connectivity in delivering financial services.

Tribal communities represent one of the most distressed social groups in India. More than half of India's tribal population no longer resides in their traditional habitats and has migrated in search of livelihood opportunities. These tribal communities are vulnerable to demographic, economic, and environmental changes. Migration is primarily driven by economic distress resulting from the extinction or inaccessibility of traditional sources of income and intrusion by non-tribal populations into their habitats. Rapid population growth exacerbates these challenges.

Over half of India's 104 million tribals now live outside the nearly 900 blocks with a majority tribal population. The 2011 Census reported a 32 percent reduction in the number of villages with a 100 percent tribal population between 2001 and 2011. Tribal communities primarily depend on forest resources and agriculture. However, their traditional livelihoods are threatened by human-induced environmental degradation, increasing human activity, and economic pressures caused by overpopulation.

Another vulnerable group that faces severe impacts from overpopulation is people with disabilities. According to the 2011 Census, approximately 2.68 crore (2 percent) of India's population was disabled, with a majority (69 percent) living in rural areas. Access to resources, education, and employment opportunities for people with disabilities is limited. While India has implemented laws to protect the rights of the disabled, population growth exacerbates the pressure on the limited resources available to them.

Addressing the consequences of population growth on inclusion requires targeted interventions and policies that protect marginalised communities and ensure their access to resources, opportunities, and financial services.

Population Surge Triggers Major Infrastructure Challenges 

India, in a significant milestone, has overtaken China to become the most populous nation on Earth, according to data released by the United Nations in April 2023. With a staggering population of 1.4286 billion, India's rapid growth poses immense strains on its infrastructure. The impact is particularly pronounced in densely populated cities and towns, where existing resources are already stretched to their limits. The nation grapples with substantial infrastructural hurdles in critical areas such as housing, transportation, and basic amenities.

To address these challenges, government departments and agencies are engaged in a relentless pursuit of authorising and implementing development projects, while formulating comprehensive, forward-thinking policies. India's robust economic performance, ranking as the world's fifth-largest economy, coupled with positive indicators, fuels optimism for a thriving nation. The International Monetary Fund reports an average ten-year growth rate of 6.49 percent for the Indian economy. Moreover, India boasts the world's largest workforce, with a median age of 28.2 years, as per the World Population Prospect.

In any developing country, limited urbanisation stems from inadequate urban infrastructure, exacerbating the strain on existing resources caused by rapid population growth. A sluggish pace of urbanisation curbs the urban sector's potential to contribute substantially to the national gross domestic product. Therefore, the need for comprehensive urban infrastructure development becomes crucial to bolster economic indicators. Notably, a survey by the Asian Development Bank identified larger Indian cities like Thiruvananthapuram, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, and Bengaluru as having better provision of infrastructural facilities for their residents.

A November 2022 report by the World Bank, titled "Financing India's Urban Infrastructure Needs: Constraints to Commercial Financing and Prospects for Policy Action," estimates that India must invest a staggering USD 840 billion in urban infrastructure over the next 15 years to adequately meet the needs of its rapidly growing urban population. This translates to an average annual investment of USD 55 billion.

With migration to urban areas occurring at an alarming pace, projections indicate that by 2036, more than 600 million people, accounting for 40 percent of the country's total population, will inhabit urban centres and cities. Consequently, the challenge facing India is multi-faceted. Rapid population growth not only presents its own set of challenges but also intensifies the difficulties posed by an increasing number of individuals migrating to cities.

The influx of more people into cities amplifies pressure on existing resources, urban infrastructure, and natural resources alike. As rural-to-urban migration rates surge in India, the demand for proper sanitation, clean drinking water, safe and efficient transportation, and reliable electricity in cities escalates.

Moving forward, it is imperative to involve diverse entities in the urban infrastructure financing process, exploring various partnership models. Currently, state and central government agencies bear the majority burden of financing urban infrastructure requirements, covering approximately 75 percent of the total cost. Urban local bodies contribute around 15 percent of the funding. However, there is a growing demand to explore additional avenues for private investment to create robust and futuristic city infrastructure, capable of meeting the challenges posed by rapid population growth and urban migration. Presently, a meagre five percent of Indian cities' infrastructure needs are financed by private sources.

India's burgeoning population has exerted tremendous pressure on the housing sector, posing a daunting challenge for administrations striving to provide affordable housing for all. Affordable housing, which caters to low-income and moderate-income population groups, remains a distant dream. Unplanned urbanisation and rapid population growth have resulted in millions of people residing in slums throughout Indian cities.

The latest estimates reveal that over 65 million Indians live in slums, with Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh accounting for one crore each. These states exhibit slum populations of 10.54 percent and 12.04 percent, respectively. Ensuring affordable housing with adequate sanitation, water, and power in clean and hygienic conditions is crucial for social and economic development. It not only aids poverty alleviation but also alleviates the burden on the government's healthcare system. However, providing affordable housing has proven to be a herculean task for cities across the country.

The surge in population, coupled with rapid urbanisation, has fuelled an exponential demand for safe and affordable housing. Local administrations and governments strive to curb gentrification, but implementing policies and schemes encounters significant hurdles. Unsustainable development plans, flawed policies, insufficient focus on long-term solutions, and scarcity of land in densely populated city centres all impede progress.

As existing cities expand and smaller towns metamorphose into urban centres, the inevitable growth requires a strategic approach. Greater opportunities and resources in cities serve as magnets for migration from rural areas and smaller towns. Resolving the urban issues resulting from population growth hinges on smart urban planning, sustainable solutions, and infrastructure development, taking into account future trends and demands.

Additionally, attention must be given to sustainable development in rural areas, accompanied by the creation of ample employment opportunities to slow down migration from towns and villages to cities. This can be achieved through support for and promotion of cottage and small-scale industries, agricultural modernisation, and reforms empowering small farmers. Furthermore, implementing credit mechanisms for farmers in an increasingly unpredictable, climate-change-driven agricultural economy is paramount.

The government has implemented schemes and devised futuristic policies to meet the infrastructure demands of a growing population. The challenges posed by housing, healthcare, and education have prompted robust responses. With an increasing focus on sustainable living and development, local and state administrations are exploring alternatives to alleviate the strain on natural resources, including land, water, forests, and air.

Political will plays a crucial role in swiftly implementing existing schemes. For instance, the Indian government's Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), a significant and extensive housing scheme launched in June 2015, has proven highly effective in providing affordable housing to eligible beneficiaries in urban areas. Moreover, the Union Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs has initiated the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHCs) sub-scheme under PMAY-Urban, aiming to offer dignified, affordable rental housing near workplaces for urban migrants in the industrial sector and non-formal urban economy.

Another notable initiative, the Jal Jeevan Mission, initiated by the government of India in 2019, aims to provide safe and adequate drinking water to all rural households through individual household tap connections by 2024. The Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) strives for universal water supply coverage through functional taps in all 4,378 statutory towns, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 6. This ambitious mission aims to bridge the estimated gap of 26.8 million urban household tap connections.

Empowering India's Young Through Education

In a country as populous as India, basic challenges take on immense proportions due to sheer numbers. While providing education itself may not be a significant hurdle, ensuring access to quality education for the billion-plus young population is a serious challenge.

According to the National Youth Policy, individuals aged between 15 and 29 years are considered youth. With over 808 million people below the age of 35, India is home to the largest youth population in the world, constituting 66 percent of the total population. Almost 40 percent of the country's population falls within the age group of 13 to 35 years, and India leads the world in the number of millennials and Gen Z individuals.

With more than one-fourth of the population below the age of 15, India's youth must not be ignored. They represent a highly productive segment of society, holding immense potential for growth and development. By investing in their education, rights, healthcare, and equal opportunities, they can become future leaders and innovators. Ensuring access to quality education is a fundamental requirement for enabling youth to contribute to nation-building.

Rapid population growth can hinder education and growth opportunities for the youth. By addressing their basic needs, such as education, skills, training, and employment opportunities, their energy and potential can be channelled towards personal and national development. They can become the future innovators, leaders, thinkers, and change-makers.

Education poses a major challenge in India, spanning primary education, higher education, skill building, and training. A survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office revealed that only 59.5 percent of India's youth fall under the "literate" category. Moreover, there exists a significant disparity in terms of quality education between urban and rural areas and within different socio-economic categories.

Under the revised National Education Policy of 2020, the government is working to increase the number of schools, colleges, and universities to meet the growing demands of the youth population. Efforts are being made to develop holistic curricula that are futuristic, career-oriented, and on par with international education standards.

New initiatives and efforts in the education sector focus on increasing access to education, promoting equity by addressing gender and socio-economic discrimination, improving quality through enhanced teacher training and technology integration, fostering a research-based environment, and encouraging innovation.

India's education industry is the largest in the world, with over 250 million students, 1.5 million schools, and 9.7 million teachers. With a staggering 580 million individuals aged between 5 and 24 years, the potential and opportunities in the education sector are enormous.

Education in India is increasingly becoming technology-driven, with the integration of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other technological advancements. There is a growing emphasis on quality vocational education, inclusive learning, and career-oriented education modules to enhance employability.

India's higher education institutions provide globally recognised quality education. The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru and eight Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) rank among the top 500 universities in the QS World University Rankings 2023.

The education sector is witnessing rapid growth, with an increasing demand for industry-specific specialised degree programs. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a surge in demand for online education modules, prompting more educational institutions in India to focus on online programs.

India's education system is highly competitive, both domestically and internationally. Indian students enrol in universities worldwide, leveraging the advantage gained through education in India. The country's large English-speaking population facilitates the dissemination of information, knowledge, and educational products.

India is a significant player in the global education arena, with one of the world's largest networks of higher education institutions. It is estimated that the Indian education market will reach USD 225 billion by FY25, and edtech startups received USD 3.94 billion in investments in FY22.

The National Education Policy of 2020 draws from India's rich heritage of ancient knowledge, emphasising the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and truth as the highest human goals. This philosophy underpins the current education policy.

The policy places strong emphasis on high-quality vocational education. It aims to establish regional and national institutes for virology, over 15,000 schools, one hundred new Sainik schools, and 750 residential schools in tribal areas based on the Eklavya model. Mother tongue as the medium of instruction is also encouraged in schools and higher education institutions.

To ensure uniform implementation and maximum impact, it is imperative to include all sections of society and ensure that everyone benefits from these initiatives. Women play a crucial role. Today, more young girls are outperforming boys in education and other opportunities.

The National Commission for Women has initiated a country-wide capacity building and personality development program for women undergraduate and postgraduate students, preparing them for the new world and empowering them to be job-ready and independent.

By prioritising education and addressing the needs of India's young population, the nation can harness their potential for growth and development. Through comprehensive policies, investments, and initiatives, India can equip its youth with the necessary tools to shape a brighter future.

Prioritising The Needs Of India's Seniors

As India experiences rapid economic growth and population expansion, the needs of its elderly population, often overshadowed by the focus on youth, must not be overlooked. A young India must recognise and address the needs and aspirations of its seniors, who constitute a significant demographic component.

India's population dynamics are rapidly changing. According to the 2011 Census, over 58.3 percent of the population is aged 29 or below, while those aged 30 and above make up 41.4 percent. The young population has outnumbered the older population in recent years. While policies primarily target the youth, as they form the largest percentage of the population and are considered future leaders, the needs of senior citizens often take a back seat.

The social landscape of India is transforming rapidly. More young individuals are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of better job opportunities, while others are pursuing careers overseas. These changing family structures have left many elderly individuals dependent on external support. Old age homes, retirement homes, and hospice care have seen an increase in occupants, highlighting the growing needs of seniors. However, much more must be done to ensure their social and financial inclusion, access to healthcare, and a decent quality of life.

Projections from the Government of India's Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation indicate that by 2036, individuals above the age of 30 will constitute the majority of India's population. The share of senior citizens, those aged 60 and above, is projected to reach 15 percent by 2036, up from 10.1 percent in 2021. The National Commission on Population predicts that the share of the elderly will reach 18 percent by 2036, marking a significant increase.

With advancements in science, technology, and healthcare, the average life expectancy in India has risen. In 2023, the life expectancy stands at 70.42 years, a considerable improvement from 69.96 years in 2021. This increased life expectancy, coupled with a declining fertility rate, leads to a larger aging population.

Aging is a natural process, and societies recognise the valuable knowledge and experience that older individuals possess. India's 2011 Census reported that there are 103.8 million people aged 60 and above, accounting for 8.6 percent of the total population. Women outnumber men in this demographic.

A report by the United Nations Population Fund projects that by 2030, around 12.5 percent of India's population will be 60 years or above. Additionally, it estimates that by 2050, the share of senior citizens will reach nearly 20 percent.

With retirement and the potential loss of financial independence, many seniors face challenges related to financial dependence. Physical dependence on family members for basic necessities further adds to their struggles. The disintegration of joint family structures and the shift towards nuclear families in urban areas exacerbate the physical and mental health issues faced by the elderly. Neglect, loneliness, and mental illnesses, such as depression, are prevalent among seniors.

Healthcare is a major concern for the elderly, as it affects both their quality of life and financial well-being. Mobility issues, locomotor disabilities, sensory impairments, and neurological conditions are common health issues among the elderly. Geriatric care facilities are still limited, primarily accessible to those in urban areas and with financial means. Rural areas lack such provisions, amplifying concerns for the aging population.

The Government of India has implemented various policies and programs to address the needs of senior citizens. The National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) of 1999, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007, and the National Policy for Senior Citizens of 2011 provide a legal framework for supporting the well-being of the elderly. These policies emphasise adequate food, clean water, community support, social integration, and access to healthcare to ensure a dignified life, free from abuse or exploitation.

The National Programme for Health Care of Elderly (NPHCE) and the Ayushman Bharat - Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs) specifically focus on providing healthcare services to the elderly. NPHCE aims to provide accessible, affordable, and high-quality care services to the aging population, promote active and healthy aging, and converge with other healthcare initiatives. Financial assistance schemes, such as the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) and the Atal Pension Yojana, aim to provide support to the elderly and those in the unorganised sector.

The National Policy on Older Persons encompasses financial security, healthcare, shelter, and other needs. It also emphasises social security, intergenerational bonding, NGO involvement, manpower training, and research to uplift the elderly.

By acknowledging and addressing the needs of India's seniors, society can ensure their well-being, safety, and security. A comprehensive approach, encompassing social, financial, and healthcare aspects, is essential for providing a dignified life to the elderly.

Matching Economic Growth With Population Rise

The rapid growth of population puts immense strain on infrastructure and resources. It also impacts economic resources, necessitating the continuous generation of employment opportunities for the youth and the diversification of mid-level and senior-level professionals. In today's global and dynamic job market, both domestic and foreign variables shape employment sectors.

The employment landscape is evolving rapidly, adapting to the changing needs of a global society. The demand and remuneration for jobs that were once lucrative a decade ago have diminished. Development across states has created new channels of internal migration in India.

Migration from smaller cities and towns to metropolitan areas has become prevalent as individuals seek better employment opportunities and career advancement. The workforce is now engaged in employment for longer durations, and women, who were previously confined to household work, are now competing for jobs at all levels. Economic policies must be designed with a futuristic approach, considering the nation's growing needs and changing demographics.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment's report from the third quarter of the Quarterly Employment Survey (QES) for October-December 2021 provides insights into employment trends. The survey focuses on sectors such as education, construction, manufacturing, transport, trade, health, accommodation/restaurants, IT/BPOs, and financial services, which account for about 85 percent of total employment opportunities in India. The report indicates an increasing employment trend in the organized sector across these sectors.

The manufacturing sector, the largest employer, accounts for nearly 39 percent of total employment, followed by the education sector at 22 percent. The survey identified approximately 1.85 lakh job vacancies in these sectors, with around 83 percent regular workers and close to nine percent contract workers.

Agriculture remains the primary sector of employment in India, employing 43.96 percent of the workforce in 2021. The remaining workforce is engaged in other sectors and services. Currently, the service sector, encompassing software, telecommunications, textiles, chemicals, and more, generates the most economic opportunities and contributes significantly to India's GDP.

In April 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected India's economy to grow by 5.9 percent in the current fiscal year, positioning it as the world's fastest-growing economy. The World Bank also predicted India to remain the fastest-growing major economy, with a growth rate of 6.3 percent for FY24 and 6.4 percent for FY25. The World Bank attributed India's robust growth to resilience in private consumption, investment, and the services sector. India's economic progress is expected to have positive spillover effects on South Asia as a whole.

India's employment landscape is undergoing rapid changes, including the increasing participation of women in the workforce. Unfortunately, this shift has not translated into pay parity, equal employment opportunities, or career growth. Addressing these disparities requires awareness and sensitisation efforts.

For decades, planners, policymakers, and economists have been working together to create an environment in India that provides employment opportunities for all. Employment has remained a significant challenge. With higher literacy rates and more Indians pursuing higher education and vocational training, job seekers are now seeking well-paying and decent jobs with provisions for career growth, social security, and a good working environment.

Another significant challenge is the availability of a skilled workforce. India is facing a shortage of skilled workers, which disrupts the economy despite the presence of ample employment opportunities. Addressing this issue requires recognizing workers with basic skills and enhancing their capabilities to integrate them into the productive workforce. Additionally, training programs must be implemented in all types of industries to increase the skilled workforce.

According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO), the unemployment rate in urban areas for individuals above the age of 15 decreased to 7.2 percent in July-September 2022, compared to 9.8 percent in the same period the previous year. The unemployment rate for men and women during this period was 6.6 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively, as opposed to 9.3 percent and 11.6 percent in July-September 2021.

To address the needs of India's growing population, the government has implemented various schemes and initiatives focused on generating employment opportunities, providing skill training and upgrading programs, and promoting entrepreneurship. The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), a flagship scheme of the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, aims to provide industry-relevant skill training to many Indian youths, enabling them to secure better livelihoods.

The Startup India initiative fosters innovation and entrepreneurship in India by creating a comprehensive and inclusive ecosystem. It includes measures to enhance infrastructure, simplify patent filing, improve regulatory environments, provide economic stimuli, and establish extensive networking databases for entrepreneurs.

The Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana (ABRY) incentivizes employers to generate new employment opportunities while providing social security benefits. It also incentivizes the restoration of employment for those who lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Career Service (NCS) Project offers a range of career-related services such as counselling, job matching, skill development courses, internships, and apprenticeships.

Addressing employment challenges and creating a conducive environment for job creation are crucial for India's growing population. The government's initiatives aim to generate employment, enhance skills, and encourage entrepreneurship to drive economic growth and improve the lives of its citizens.

Rising Population: A Mounting Public Health Challenge

As a country experiences an increase in population, it faces a substantial burden on its public health system. The surge in population exerts immense pressure on sanitation, healthcare, infrastructure, and environmental resources like water, air, and soil.

While population can be an asset to a nation, uncontrolled growth has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond straining the economy. It directly impacts human health on a large scale, compromising the overall quality of life. A direct correlation exists between population growth, environmental degradation, and increased public health risks.

A recent study conducted by the University of Cambridge revealed that 90 percent of Indians are now more susceptible to public health issues and face an increased risk of death due to climate change-induced weather patterns, particularly heatwaves. High population density areas lack the administrative capacity to effectively control, mitigate, or adapt to such circumstances. These areas often suffer from inadequate amenities, illiteracy, lower income levels, poor infrastructure, and limited adaptability, exacerbating health risks during extreme weather events.

Heatwaves, a consequence of climate change, are becoming increasingly frequent worldwide. In 2022, the Indian subcontinent experienced an unprecedented heatwave that persisted until April, resulting in the hottest March since 1901. Heat exposure poses severe health risks, including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses. It can also worsen existing health conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes-related complications, and negatively impact disease transmission and air quality.

Sanitation plays a vital role in public health, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation. Inadequate sanitation contributes to diseases like trachoma and intestinal worms, causing more than 800,000 deaths in low and middle-income countries. Poor sanitation also contributes to malnutrition. Despite progress, sanitation remains a major concern in many developing nations. In India, a significant portion of the population still lacks access to improved sanitation facilities, particularly in rural areas.

Recognising the urgency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014, aiming to eradicate open defecation, promote scientific waste management, and drive behaviour change. The mission has yielded significant results, achieving a hundred percent access to sanitation facilities in urban India. Over 7 million toilets have been built, benefiting women, transgender individuals, and people with disabilities.

However, population growth presents a range of challenges for public health. Overpopulation leads to pollution, food insecurity, malnutrition, overcrowding, and an increased risk of communicable diseases. Densely populated areas and cramped living conditions facilitate the spread of infectious diseases, particularly airborne illnesses. Pollution, exacerbated by higher human activity and increased air pollution, contributes to respiratory diseases, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and lung cancer.

Children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution. Additionally, overpopulation strains natural resources and human-generated waste, polluting water sources and contributing to waterborne diseases. The demand-supply imbalance resulting from overpopulation hampers progress in other sectors, such as the economy and education.

Although healthcare costs in India remain affordable, maintaining a balance between population growth and the capacity of infrastructure and natural processes is crucial to safeguard public health. Failure to do so jeopardizes the equilibrium and can have dire consequences for the well-being of the population.


Edited by Gajanan Khergamker

Inputs from Anushka Singh, Nandini Rao, Nimisha Lakhia, Kriti Kalra and Mayank Taurani