India is the second most populated country in the world behind China and in the next six years - by 2024 - India would surpass China. High population is a problem about which successive governments have been aware and it is not that steps aren't being taken to address it. To get an idea how serious this problem is we must know this fact that India has over 16% of the world population, but its land area is merely 2.4% of the land area of the world.
The main impact the growing population has is on the economic growth as a modest increase in national income under economic development is being eaten up by the increase in population. As a result, the per capita income of the country does not grow which in turn results in a poor standard of living.
So, the overall development of the country and rise in per capita income are directly linked to population.
Reasons for high population:
The rate of population growth depends on the difference between the birth rate and the death rate. Thus, the population growth experienced in India can largely be explained by variations in birth and death rates.
In 1900, India's population was roughly 238 million. In 1950-51, India's population was 361 million. According to 2001 census it was 1,027 million. The population started soaring in the 1950s and saw the highest decadal growth of 24.8 per cent in the 1960s and 24.7 per cent in the 1970s. Since the 1980s, decadal growth has been falling and the 1990s saw a significant fall.
In fact, India's total fertility rate - a measure of the number of children born to a woman during her lifetime - was down from 5.9 in 1951 to 2.3 in 2011. The fertility rate due to the population policies and other measures has been falling but even then it is much higher compared to other countries.
This means that the birth rate has been falling, but with rapid progress in medical sciences, the death rate has fallen which has ensured that the population grows.
Other reasons that have contributed to high birth rates are early marriages, lack of awareness, poverty and illiteracy, and illegal migration.
How to deal with it?
A recent report by the UN forecast that India's population could surpass that of China by around 2024. And this is despite the fact that the country has one of the oldest family planning programmes in the world, dating back to 1951.
Last year, as part of its latest national family planning initiative, the government launched Mission Parivar Vikas. It marks the first attempt at the government level to deal with family planning as a social issue rather than just a health issue, to be dealt with at a health centre. The initiative incorporates a component called 'Saas Bahu Sammelans' aimed at improving communication between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.
It would not be right to say that the programs initiated by the government to rein in population growth have not been successful. A fertility rate of about 2.1 is a benchmark figure for ensuring a broadly stable population. India is expected to reach replacement level fertility of 2.1 by 2020, just two years away, much faster than was expected. So, India is actually close to stabilizing its population. Incidentally, the fertility rate in urban India is 1.8, close to the European Union's 1.6.