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The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell
"There are fears that unrestrained the Indian population could overtake China"
 real 28k

The BBC's Satish Jacob
"Nearly half the country's population is illiterate"
 real 28k

Saturday, 22 July, 2000, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
India tackles population boom
People on a Railway platform in India
India urgently needs to curb its growing population
The Indian Government has launched an urgent initiative to curb population growth following the birth of the country's billionth baby.

The move follows predictions that, if present trends continue, India's population will exceed 1.25 billion by the year 2016 and could overtake China's by the middle of the century.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said a special fund was being established to promote family planning.

Atal Behali Vajpayee
Atal Behali Vajpayee: Determined to slow growth
He told the first meeting of the National Commission on Population in New Delhi that the government was also setting up a group to prepare programmes for specific areas, particularly five northern states, which account for half of India's population.

Mr Vajpayee provided no details on how the funds would be used, or what the programmes would entail.

Contraception and child care

But he did urge states to improve co-ordination between health, education and development programmes and to improve access to information on contraception and child care.

"Every year, more than 15 million children are born here to an unsure future.

"As many as 100 of every 1,000 of our children aged under five, and more than 200 out of every 1,000 of our children under 15, risk dying a premature death," Mr Vajpayee said.

Clock showing Indias growing population
A clock shows the population pass the one billion mark
"This dark reality is in sharp contrast to the progress made by us in food production, disease control and overall socio-economic development."

The leader of India's main opposition Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, expressed reservations about the government's plans.

She said the policy document did not spell out how the work of the various ministries and state government departments would be co-ordinated.

Funding doubts

She said her party also had serious doubts as to whether there would be adequate funding.

The National Commission on Population brings together senior leaders from India's 31 states and federal territories.

It consists of more than 100 members, including government officials and non-government groups, family planning and medical experts.

"We hope to go to the states to see programmes for ourselves, and try to bring the states together and hear again all the key areas of concern within a state," said the commission's member secretary Krishna Singh.

"We are encouraging states to form what is known as a State Population Commission, where they would look at the state profile in the same way as the national one," she said.

Alarm

The birth of India's billionth baby in May caused alarm in a country where population has grown rapidly in recent decades.

BBC correspondents say the creation of the new commission shows that the Indian Government is taking the problem seriously.

But some have already criticised it, saying it is too large and bureaucratic to be effective.

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See also:

11 May 00 | South Asia
India hits the billion mark
01 Jul 99 | World population
Population pressure and conflict
29 Jun 99 | World population
Planet feels strains of people pressure
12 Oct 99 | World population
World population: Special report
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