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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 18:00 GMT
New Indian initiative on population growth

children at desk Poor couples are to be encouraged to have just two children

By Daniel Lak in Delhi

India has announced a new policy on population growth that seeks to encourage the poorest couples in the country to confine themselves to just two children through awards and incentive schemes.

The Health and Family Welfare Minister, N T Shanmugam, said India's state governments would work closely with Delhi to get population growth down by the middle of this century.

By 2050 India's population could top two billion. It is currently hovering around one billion.

Action imperative

Mr Shanmugam did not pull any punches.

He said that if India does not get its population growth under control, gains in healthcare, education and the economy mean little.

commuters on bus As population grows, there is more competition for resources

At the moment, Indian women have between three and four children each - down from six 50 years ago, but well short of the two needed for a zero growth rate.

Roughly speaking, northern India has the highest population growth rate, the south of the country the lowest.

Critics of this new policy say that regional disparity needs to be taken more into account and such schemes as rewards for poor couples to have fewer than two children need more focus.

They also maintain that more general economic development and better primary healthcare will make all incentive schemes unnecessary.

Negative memories

Incentives for sterilisation carry a great deal of negative weight in India, where people still remember forced vasectomy schemes brought in during the 1970s by the son of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

There is praise, though, for the new policy's discouragement of marriage before the age of 21 - as teenage marriages are a big contributor to population growth.

India no longer sets targets on contraceptive use or sterilisation but works to keep population growth in check by primary health care access and female literacy campaigns.

With the official population set to cross one billion people any time soon and with India set to pass China as the world's most populous country within 25 years, the need for urgent action is obvious.

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See also:
29 Jun 99 |  World population
Planet feels strains of people pressure
01 Jan 99 |  Sci/Tech
A fight to the last drop
30 Jun 99 |  World
Global population conference divided
02 Sep 98 |  World
Global population growth rate slows
01 Jul 99 |  World population
Population pressure and conflict

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