India's Population Bump and Its Consequences
by Moses Seenarine
Growth for Who?
India is a young country with a fast growing annual GDP of above seven percent in 2016, up from two percent at Independence in 1947. India's per capita income rose from Rs. 7,513 from 1950 to Rs. 69,959 to 2014, yet according to the World Bank, it had the largest number of poor people in any country in 2012.
The country's economic growth is lauded by the ruling class, but is India's growth rate sustainable and equitable? What is the cost of decades of growth in terms of environmental degradation and social exclusion? India is portrayed as one of the world's top greenhouse gas polluters, but India's extended period of economic growth is driving energy consumption, not necessarily its people.
Economic growth has remained positive since the mid-1970s and has hovered above five percent since the 1990s. Exports grew from $59 million in 1958 to over $30 billion in 2013, while food grain production rose from 51 million tonnes in 1950 to 257 million tonnes in 2012. Widespread belief in a raising GDP is viewed as a solution for all India's social and political problems, and the growth rate is the only indicator of progress to which all Indian politicians pay homage. But there is an annual negative balance of trade of $13 billion, and total external debt of $470 billion.
The youth unemployment rate hovers around 13 percent officially, but the actual figure may be much higher. The Rangarajan study estimated that 363 million, or close to 30 percent of India's 1.2 billion people lived in poverty in 2011-12. The study considers people living on less than Rs 32 a day in rural areas and Rs 47 a day in urban areas as poor. A vast majority of the poor come from Dalit and other disadvantaged communities.
The median Indian age is under 27 years, slowly raising from its low of 19 years in the 1970s. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. The population growth rate is falling, and the pace of the decline has increased in the last few decades. The first decade of the new millennium saw fewer people added to India's population than in the previous decade.
Women are the main reason for this decrease in growth rate. Indian women are having fewer children, and they are choosing to stop having kids early, so the mean age at childbirth is falling. The average fertility is 2.3 children, well down from 5.9 births per female in 1951, and is expected to further decline to the replacement rate of 2.1 by 2025. The rural fertility figure is 2.5, and in urban areas it is 1.8, close to the European Union's 1.6. The urban population is around a third of the total, around 400 million people. The number of female births for every male birth in India is very low and just above that of China, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The sex ratio was 944 females for 1000 males in 2016, but this disparity should start to improve by 2020, when male and female child mortality is expected to be similar.
While the tremendous decline in fertility rate means that India does not represent a population bomb, there is a significant bump ahead due to demographic momentum that can still lead to resource problems and ecological crisis. Indians already represent a fifth of the world's humans, totaling over 1.3 billion in 2016, so the current slight value above the replacement rate translates into hundreds of millions of people in the coming decades. According to a 2017 United Nations' report, India will overtake China to become the world's most populous country within the next seven years. And, India's population will continue to grow until 2061 to over 1.7 billion people, by which time China's numbers is expected to decline to 1.2 billion.
In 2012, India had the tenth-largest economy in the world but was the fourth-largest energy consumer, trailing only the United States, China, and Russia. Primary energy consumption more than doubled between 1990 and 2011. India was the fourth largest consumer of oil and petroleum products in the world in 2011, after the United States, China, and Japan. India relies heavily on imported crude oil, mostly from the Middle East, and became the world's sixth-largest liquefied natural gas importer in 2011.
India's power capacity increased from 1,323 MW in 1947 to 240,000 MW in 2013. Coal is India's primary source of energy; the power sector accounts for more than 70 percent of coal consumption. India's dependence on imported energy resources and its inconsistent energy sector reform may make it difficult to satisfy rising demand. Because of insufficient fuel supply, the country suffers from a shortage of electricity generation, leading to rolling blackouts.