India’s Population Surpasses China’s by 2024 – Should we Rejoice or Regret?

UN Report on World Population

The United Nations (UN) has recently released its report on World Population Prospects.  The report presents a disappointing picture of many Asian and African countries. Regarding India it says:India’s population is likely to exceed that of China by around 2024. When I came across this news item my reaction to it was something like this:

Should we countrymen rejoice on that news, or just regret?

Rejoice? Yes, after that date, we shall be the biggest country on this planet. We shall then be known to be not only the biggest democracy but also population-wise the biggest country. Would not that be a matter of pride for us?

Regret? The country is already riddled with numerous problems. Ever -increasing population is going to add more and more to them. Have we enough resources to solve the population-caused problems? No. Then this population growth must fill our hearts with sorrow and disappointment.

Growth of India’s Population

To understand why India’s population would exceed that of China let us have a look at the following census figures of this land:

   Year Population (in Crore) %  growth per ten years Population as % of 1951
   1951 36.01 —– 100
   1961 43.92 21.64 122
   1971 54.81 24.80 152
   1981 68.33 24.66 190
   1991 84.64 23.87 235
   2001 102.37 21.54 284
   2011 121.02 17.64 336

1 Crore = 10 Million = 100 Lakh; Source:

Note that the average 10-year percentage growth rate of our population has been consistently high. It exhibits a little fall now after year 2000. Note that 2011 population is nearly 3.5  times that of year 1951.

In this discussion the percentage growth rate is calculated with respect to the starting year of the corresponding 10-year period. It would be different (and smaller) if it were calculated w.r.t. an intermediate or the end year. This figure should be therefore carefully interpreted. It actually gives a feeling of how fast the growth is.

It is an irony that this huge rise in population and the news that it is going to surpass China’s has not agitated us, particularly our governments and political leaders.

I have some comments to make on this silence on the parts of our leaders, social activists, and intellectuals. But before doing that let discuss very briefly how China’s population is under control.

Population: China vs India

China’s population was nearly 56.3 crore – about 20 crore more than India’s population at that time (1951; ratio roughly 1.5 to 1.0). Its average percentage growth was similar to that of India for a few decades. Its population rose to 100 crore – 32 crore more than India’s, roughly 1.5 times of that. (The ratio is maintained, interesting?). It was in year 1979 that China took a drastic (draconian?) decision of controlling its population.  A legally binding 1-child policy was introduced. People did not like that policy, but could not oppose it. Opposition is almost an unknown phenomenon in China.

This policy resulted in a significant fall in the growth rate.  Today the estimated population is nearly 140 crore. Compared with the 1951 figure it is 2.5 times larger. Relevant information about China’s population can be found here

India on the other hand did not take any strong measures to control population. It continued to grow at comparatively much larger rate. It is estimated that the growth rate has fallen to a reasonably lower value, perhaps because many in the middle class of the society have consciously and voluntarily adopted for small-family norm. But that is not enough, because people in the lower social stratum continue to have larger families than what they could actually afford to have. India’s estimated population at present is around 134 crore (a conservative estimate is 132 crore). This is about 3.7 times that of 1951 figure!

Note that China’s population rose by 2.5 times and ours by 3.7 times during the same time span (1951 till today).

Arriving at 2024 figures

let us now attempt to understand how we can arrive at this conclusion that by 2024 our population will surpass that of China.

As stated earlier China’s Population is around 140 crore (1.40 billion) and the Percentage Annual Growth Rate is about 0.4 (low). At this growth rate China would be adding 0.4*(140/100) = 0.56 crore per annum. For a constant growth rate, the net population after a 7-year period (2017 to 2024) would be roughly 149.2 crore.

Similarly India’s population at present is 134 or 132 crore (lower estimate). The projected Percentage Annual Growth Rate is estimated to be 1.1. At this rate the population rise in one year would be 1.1*(134/100) = 1.474 crore. Thus during the said 7-year period the growth would be 10.32 crore. Thus the net population after this period would be 144.32 crores.

I have taken relevant figures from Wikipedia and these are based on UN report. These are best possible estimates. Even if they may not be exact, they definitely help us understand the future scenario.

The UN report is exhaustive and presents detailed study of future possibilities. For example it shows that India’s population will be around 150 crore in 2030. It will continue to increase to become nearly 166 crore by year 2050. On the other hand China’s population will get almost stabilized by 2030 and thereafter it may even show signs of decrease.

Again note carefully the difference between China and our country.

Birth and Death of Family Planning  Program

I remember those old days of 1960’s and 1970’s. It was during the sixties that I first passed my school examinations, then earned university degrees and finally entered a research career. By that time I had gained reasonable maturity to understand what a planned family program means.

Soon after gaining independence the government of that time realized that the country’s population should not be allowed to increase to a large value. Note that in 1961 and 1971 the population figures were 44 and 55 crore. These were definitely small compared with today’s figure (134 crore). In those days to have 4-5 children or more was quite common for a married woman. It was considered unfortunate to have smaller number of children.

The freshly independent India had all-round development as its priority. Poverty in the country was then prevalent, illiteracy was large and educational system needed rapid growth, medical facilities were inadequate. Tackling these and other similar problems were in government’s agenda. Leaders of that period knew that they had first to cater for the needs of existing population using country’s limited resources. It was realised that population growth must be curtailed. Strong measures were not taken in this regard; instead the concept of Family Planning Program (FP Program) was introduced in the social system to make people aware of the need of a smaller family size.

I remember that during the 1960’s and early 1970’s a Red Triangle was used as a logo or symbol of government’s FP Program. “We two, our two” (हम दो, हमारे दो – Ham Do, Hamare Do ) was an accompanying Slogan. These were boldly displayed in public places, hospitals etc. Public transport system had on the bodies of their buses the Red Triangle and the Slogan painted. The program was well publicised and was accompanied with methods of birth control made available to the people. It had a positive, albeit slow, effect on the people.

It was during the middle of seventies that this movement took an unfortunate “U-turn”.

The middle years of 1970’s proved unfortunate for India – truly unfortunate I should say.  A political movement against Indira Gandhi’s “dictatorial” regime had already started by a student community and Jai Prakash Narayan. At the same young Sanjay Gandhi – younger son of Indira Gandhi emerged as an Unconstitutional Political Power Centre. He was an overenthusiastic advocate of FP Program and allegedly forced the government machinery to take harsh measures to implement the program. For example, measures like forced sterilization were adopted in numerous cases. I cannot give the details of related events. Whatever happened then lead to resentment among the masses.

Sanjay Gandhi’s over-indulgence and imposition of national emergency in mid-1970’s caused a big setback to FP Program. Even though the program in itself was worth pursuing and in India’s long term interest, yet it was given a bad name.

Talking about family planning became some sort of taboo. The Red Triangle and that Slogan vanished forever!

Since then successive governments have avoided taking effective interest in population control measures. It was left as part of the inefficient routine health services of state governments. Even then some states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu) did well but others (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar – already over-populated) did and are doing miserably poor.

It is truly shocking to me that the news item stated in the beginning received practically no attention from TV channels, newspapers, governments, political leaders, and people in general. – Yogendra Joshi



One thought on “India’s Population Surpasses China’s by 2024 – Should we Rejoice or Regret?

  1. Reblogged this on इंडिया बनाम भारत and commented:

    2024 तक भारत की आबादी चीन के बराबर या अधिक हो जायेगी (यू.एन. रिपोर्ट)। इस विषय पर मेरे विचार (आलेख अंग्रेजी में)।

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