In 1965, about 40 years ago, there were less than 500 million of us. By 2004, the population of India has more than doubled. The effect of this incredible increase has been a falling standard of living in general, shortages, untold misery and conflict. It is foolish to expect that we can provide a decent standard of living to so many in such a short time. The vast majority of us do not have adequate drinking water, sanitation, health care, education and job opportunities. The preceding statement does not even begin to indicate the amount of human misery and sorrow which it implies. It hides within it the teeming millions who suffer without the slightest hope of ever seeing a future remotely human.
By the year 2030, at the current birth rate, India would have 1700 million people, surpassing China to become the most populous nation on earth. For the present, India has an additional 16 million mouths to feed, clothe and educate every year. Even the most optimistic scenario for the future of India is daunting due to demographic momentum.
Some of the effects of overpopulation should be briefly indicated. Intensive agriculture can impoverish the soil and the relentless conversion of forests and old growth to farmlands leads to soil erosion and desertification. India loses about 8,000 square miles of arable land each year. Fresh water reserves are used up faster than what nature can replace; groundwater levels fall. With the disappearance of forests, rainfall patterns change leading to droughts and floods. The biotic diversity decreases with the loss of animal habitat. Pollution of lakes, rivers and the atmosphere takes its toll in terms of health hazards.
At the social level, overcrowding leads to communal tensions and civil unrest. Malnutrition and poor health services create unnaturally high infant mortality rates. Education takes the back seat while the society is remorselessly driven to unemployment and underproductivity. The cycle of poverty finally gets a firm hold on the population at large and it is a vicious cycle from which it is almost impossible to break free. Though we may gloss over the details of the exact effects of all this, it can be reasonably argued that overpopulation is the corner stone upon which all the other ills of society are founded.
The scarcity of goods and the abundance of people are a potent formula for poverty. Poverty and exploitation are quite well suited.
In effect, India is like a nation of bonded labourers with no recourse. The exploitation of this nation is inevitable given the circumstances however unfair it may appear to be. It is unfair that 20 percent of the world’s population consumes 80 percent of the world’s resources. It is unfair that India with 16 percent of the global population uses only 3 percent of its resources. But who is responsible for this imbalance and who are we going to complain to? Unfortunately, we have no one to thank but ourselves for the situation that we find ourselves in.