Topic Area: Population Control
Geographic Area:
Focal Question:
In the last several decades, fertility control policies in India have failed to promote a sustainable solution to the problem of overpopulation.  What factors have caused these efforts to fall short?

“Alternative Contrceptive Methods and Fertility Decline in India,”

Brown, Lester R., Brian Halweil “India Reaches 1 Billion on August 15: No Celebration Planned,”

“Development Challenges,”

“India: First Urban Slums Population Project Shows Encouraging Results,”

“India: historical demographic data of the whole country,”

“India’s New Population Policy”

“Population and People,”

“Population Growth and Family Planning in India: An Analysis,”

“Population Trends: India,”

 “World Population: Major Trends,”

Reviewer: Zac Hansen, Colby College ‘02


            In August of 1999 India became the second country to have its population reach the one billion mark.  Although certainly a landmark, a billion people in a country one third the size of the United States is more worthy of alarm than celebration.  In any country, rapid population growth places a strain on the available resources, but in a developing country like India, many resources are already scarce (in 1960, 0.21 hectares of farmland was available to the average Indian, 0.10hectares in 1999, and it is thought to fall to 0.07 hectares in the next 50 years[1]).  A quickly regenerating population exacerbates shortages of food and water and ensures that the nation’s long-term growth will be hampered by a less healthy therefore less productive work force, a greater demand for natural resource consumption, and a higher level of environmental degradation resulting from such consumption.


            Realizing these consequences, India has been implementing official family planning programs to curb population growth since the 1950’s.  However, India’s population has more than doubled since those days (from 431,463,000 in 1960 to 1,014,003,800 in 2000[2]) and current projections predict that India has a good chance of overtaking China as the most populated country in the world within the next half century.  The graph below illustrates the possible projected exponential growth paths of both countries.

(Graph from


suggests that these programs fell short of the goals with which they were implemented. 


            In spite of these facts, India’s rate of population growth is actually decreasing.  In 1991 India’s annual population growth rate was 2.15%[3] and by 1997 this figure dropped to 1.7%[4], which indicates that India is indeed making some progress. While this may be true, most evidence would suggest that the country’s policies have been largely ineffective and changes must be made to prevent further problems resulting from overpopulation.


So where did India’s efforts fall short?  Throughout the decades following the implementation of India’s Family Planning Program in the 1950s, the prevailing idea in dealing with overpopulation has been that drastic measures needed to be taken.  Education regarding temporary methods of contraception was neglected in favor of encouraging sterilization. Government agencies would have sterilization quotas to fill among the employees, and the inability to meet them was sometimes met with withheld salaries.  Workers were often rewarded with a radio or television if they successfully convinced enough people to opt for the surgery. At its worst, India’s policy included declaring a state of emergency in 1976 and implementing forced sterilization in poor neighborhoods.  When applying for government loans, or jobs people were told that their chances of receiving such aids would be increased if they could produce a certificate of sterilization.


The national focus on sterilization seems to have created an “all or nothing” mentality among Indians towards birth control especially since the awareness of other, temporary methods of contraception for much of the 20th century was minute.   A 1993 study, India’s National Family Health Survey, revealed that of all contraceptive use at the time, 67% was by female sterilization (compared to 9% male sterilization).[5]  The prominence of female sterilization indicates another flaw in the India population control strategies.  By targeting women instead of men, the government inadvertently opts for the more hazardous means of birth control.  The surgical procedure is more difficult and the rate of failure is high, not to mention the danger to the patient, which sometimes means death.


            Upon learning of these semi-forced, safety-negligent policies, we get what is likely to be a fairly accurate explanation why family planning efforts have failed to curb rampant population growth in India.  When the only option available to many people is one that is irreversible, not to mention potentially life-threatening, people would probably be inclined to opt for no contraceptives at all.  In such a scenario, the problem is not solved and the population keeps growing and resources per head keep dwindling. 


Fortunately, in recent years, it appears that many Indians are aware of the negative effects of the traditional policies and are striving for a change in the system.  Taking heed of the recommendations put forth in the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development, India has shifted attention away from the strict promotion of contraceptive measures and is working on the development of women’s economic, educational and social welfare which will give women more control over their own bodies and indirectly curb population growth. 


In 1994, India put forth a “New Population Plan” (NPP), hoping that by the year 2010, the average total fertility rate will fall from the early 90’s figure of 3.4 to around the replacement rate of 2.1.[6]  In order to achieve this goal, the NPP will make strides in improving reproductive health: it will allow universal access to contraceptives and promote greater education on contraception, train more people to safely aid in the birth of children, require a formal registration of all marriages and births, maintain and enforce the minimum age of marriage at 18, and strive to provide primary education for more citizens.[7]


            Other movements toward progress include the 2000 freezing of the population-proportional quota of representation for each state in the Lok Sabha.  This means if a state effectively reduces its population it will not lose votes in the national government.  Also, loans such as the $57 million from the World Bank affiliate, the International Development Association in 1989[8], have gone to rural and urban areas to successfully aid in the improvement of reproductive health and increasing the awareness of and access to temporary contraceptives.







[4] pg.1

[5] pg. 3