Recently, the Centre decided to release the country’s population on the basis on religion. As per the 2011 census, Hindus have dropped below 80 percent of the population for the first time since Independence. Meanwhile, the other headline statistic, according to news reports, was that the share of Muslims rose to 14.2 percent from 13.4 percent in 2001 - the only major religious group to record a rise. Many in the Indian media have cast aspersions on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s intentions to release census figures on the basis of religion. One such accusation laid against the Modi government is that these figures were released with an eye on the upcoming Bihar assembly elections, with a specific intention to polarise the electorate on religious lines. Interestingly, the previous UPA government had withheld these figures for the very same reasons in reverse before the 2014 general elections. All these accusations, however, remain in the realm of conjecture. Instead of focussing on the census figures on the basis of religion, the government must address the underlying problem of India’s burgeoning population the effects it will have on development and the consequent distribution of resources. Measures should be taken to tackle them, rather than abiding by selective census leaks. According to a recent UN report, India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2020. In 2015, India had 1.311 billion people, according to the UN’s new estimates, against China’s 1.376 billion, a difference of 65 million. Instead of the absurd forced sterilisation programme, which former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had initiated in the 1970s, India can go a long way in reducing its population by laying greater emphasis on the sexual and reproductive rights of women. Although India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has declined to 2.2 today from around 6 in the 1950s and the urban TFR has reached replacement level, large variations continue to exist across states, education levels and socioeconomic status. One in five young Indian women aged 20-24 had their first baby before they were 18 years of age.
Moreover, one in eight young women had three children. Though India has one of the oldest family planning programmes in the world, the contraceptive prevalence rate remains low at just 49 percent. Not only is Indian women’s access to reproductive health services limited, with only 47 percent of them having access to a trained attendant at the time of giving birth, the quality of care in the public health system is also a concern. One of <g data-gr-id="29">mankind’s</g> greatest assumptions is that technology will aid its growth, despite limited resources. Large sections of the Indian population live in abject poverty. Add excessive population growth and limited resources to the mix, there is no reform agenda in the world, which can tackle the situation.