The numbers keep adding up: The Tribune India

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Chetana Vaishnavi

THE contest judge cheered my name after the first two winners, “And now you know that little girl you heard about a while ago…she’s taking third place!” I stood to a thunderous clapping. I thought there was little chance of winning an award because of the strong competition. An intercollegiate speaking contest on the subject of “Population Explosion and the Reaction of the Youth” was held at Manipal Engineering College, and the participants came from the neighboring medical and technical colleges, while I was a pre-university student at a college in Udupi. The next day, AIR broadcast our speeches. That was over five decades ago!

With a population of just 55 million at the time, India was concerned about the population explosion because of baby boomers who had numerous children. I remember when we were growing up in Mumbai, the radio was promoting the benefits of having fewer children. Dad, who had worked abroad, jokingly suggested we emigrate to the tiny island of Nauru, where the population was minimal. As kids we dreamed of living there after braving the crowds of Mumbai.

In the early 1980’s we were enthralled by the deserted streets of Chandigarh with few people. When the census took place in 2000, the census clerk exclaimed, “We’re now a billion!” The symbolically selected billionth child was born at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi.

Population growth is in an exponential phase, with 7.9 billion people in the world and at least 1.38 billion in India. World Population Day, which falls today, is a grim reminder of the effects of overpopulation. Despite numerous proposals to control the population, India is bursting at the seams. The main factors behind the population explosion are illiteracy, early marriage, increase in the birth rate, better health care, reduced mortality, religious attitudes towards family planning, immigration, etc. The environment is being damaged by the rapid increase in human population. Developed and developing countries continue to pollute the environment and deplete natural resources.

The migration of people from the villages to the cities causes social problems such as the growth of slum areas, unemployment, poverty and frustration. A poor standard of living leads to malnutrition. There is an increased need for fuel, food, water, transportation and open space. Consequently, deforestation is taking place at an alarming rate, with water and air pollution, overproduction of waste and global warming leading to depletion of the ozone layer and the extinction of diverse flora and fauna.

The resources to save human life are limited and the demand is high. The government should fund family planning programs generously. Some measures to control the population include empowering women, education, banning child marriage and raising the legal age for marriage. Sincerity helps to achieve the goal.

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