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Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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Mrs. Shiela Gujral

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"A Demographic future of India"

Fourth J.R.D.Tata Memorial Oration by Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India in New Delhi on 15th January 1999 at 1630 Hrs.

We are, now standing on the threshold of the next millennium. This has induced leading thinkers and the two Houses of Parliament to literally burn their mid night oil to identify the issues and the problems that blocked the Nation’s way to adequately meet the "tryst of its destiny". Such introspections highlighted a long and formidable inventory of our shortfalls.. The one that catches the eye and disturbs the minds pertains to tremendous growth of population.

I am thankful to you Mr. President and the Foundation for providing me this opportunity to share my views with you and learn from your experiences and observations.

With your permission Mr. President, may I before coming to subject offer my humble homage to late J.R.D. Tata - the founder of this institution. He was a person of large and varied dimensions. He is remembered as a far sighted entrepreneur who saw far beyond the horizon and gave a Human Face to the premier industrial house over which he so gracefully presided. He had a rare quality of looking beyond his times. When aviation was still in its infancy the world over he heroically took to flying. He made India enter the civil aviation era.

His vision made him look at the demographic data with concern and courage. Of course like many of his contemporaries he knew that an unchecked growth of population would never let this country emerge out of the poverty syndrome. While many watched and some lamented he took some commendable initiative to set up institutions that would re-educate the public mind and help in transforming rigid mind set This Foundation personifies his concerns.

May I take this opportunity to offer my tribute to that great son of India whose memory enlightens our path. But this alone would be ritualistic if it does not beckon us to unitedly attend to this task and not let the political considerations or partisan myopia diffuse the focus.

I am not making any unheard of revelation when I say that wealth of a nation lies in its people. A skilled people apart from meeting their day to day needs generate economic surpluses that push the nation’s growth upwards. A view of the hind tells us that not enough was done to develop the needed skills and capabilities of our people. Not that much was not done but the challenge has been so formidable that this much was not enough. Once we succeed in making the poor productive the prospect for banishment of poverty gets within the reach.

The high mark of 20th century was that a mass non-violent movement successfully trounced a mighty empire. Vision of the father of our Nation had an uncanny method of mobilising the people to join the heroic struggle. His strategy was built on educating the un-lettered masses to discover a new meaning in the traditions of our civilization. As the struggle developed he succeeded in ushering in an era of attitudinal change towards the social relationships amongst the castes and the family members. He placed high value on status of women. He was the one who asked his followers and the admirers to eradicate illiteracy. The slogan was:" Each one teach one". Of course he was concerned about the rising population and drew the Nation’s attention to it several times though the methods he suggested were based on the tradition of self restraint that made little impact.

Despite this epoch making victory, I do not hesitate to say, we did not succeed in wholly owning the 20th century even though the building of a modern Nation state has not been a mean achievement. There is much that we can be proud of but we must ensure that the 21st century moves in our favour.

I would be saying the obvious that for this purpose containment of population growth should occupy a priority position in our agenda. A twin item of the same schedule must be to improve the education and skills of those who are already with us.

Mr Chairman, you will kindly recall that in my address from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 15th August, 1997, I had emphasised importance of educating the girl child. This alone can usher in the process of social transformation that will take us to our destiny.

We all know that of the twenty five million children that are brought to this world by Indian parents every year, nearly half are girls. If we were to hand out to them what our constitution had promised that is their right to education the kismat of this nation would be undoubtedly rosy. This is not a distant dream. It only require a commitment. If on the fateful day of our nation’s dawn "we the people of India" had given to ourselves a viable democracy, we may now recall the same spirit and ensure that each and every child shall be in a school acquiring the appropriate skills then the "last person" to which Gandhi Jee referred will be made self reliant. This alone will enable India to play its role and occupy the appropriate space in the comity of nations.

To appreciate the prospective let me briefly state some facts. In the year of 1998 that has just said Good Bye, we were 970 million strong. This 15% of the World population occupies only 2.5% of total land area that makes an adverse man land ratio. The situation was not always such. We were approximately 240 million on the opening day of 20th century and despite shedding of some land mass and the population due to partition of the country, we continued to inflate decade-by-decade about to touch a billion mark when we will bid good bye to the 20th century.

This rate of demographic growth has not been similar in every part of the country. Sustained efforts and enlightened outlook on part of the local leaderships in some states have been able to reduce the rate of growth of population while many have not. Generally speaking the States located in the southern part of our country have managed their population growth remarkably, while most of the States in the northern part of the country, particularly the Hindi belt, still have very high rate of growth of population.

In the last decade, the population of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka increased by 1.34, 1.43 and 1.92 percent per annum respectively. Uttar Pradesh On the other hand, had an annual growth rate of 2.27 percent, Rajasthan 2.50, Haryana 2.42 and Bihar 2.11 per cent per annum. The annual expected growth rate for the country as a whole was 2.15 percent during this period. Thus, controlling rapid growth of population of northern States holds the key to solving India's population problem in the coming years.

Let me present another dimension of the problem. In 1997 the crude birth rate of Uttar Pradesh was estimated to be 33.5 per thousand as compared to 27.2 for the country as a whole and 17.9 for Kerala. In Goa it is as low as 14.5. In the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh this birth rate was even higher at 34.6 births per thousand live births. The higher levels of fertility in Uttar Pradesh can also be judged by the fact that each mother is expected to bear, on an average 5 children, as compared to only 1.8 in Kerala. According to the official projections of future growth of population, Uttar Pradesh would achieve the small family norm of two children per couple only by the year 2100, while the same level had already been achieved by Goa in mid 1980, by Kerala in 1988 and by Tamil Nadu in 1993. Let me put it in another way. The population growth rate as an index of socio-economic development, we find that the State of U.P. is lagging behind Goa and Kerala by about 100 years in its level of development.

Demographic studies in more successful States, especially in Kerala, bears out that four major forces have operated in tandem to achieve their success. These are, one, a strong political commitment to small family norm and family planning programme by all political parties in power or out of power. Two, provision of primary education for all especially the girl child; thirdly, greater economic equity and social participation in development; and finally, reduction in infant mortality and better and more easily accessible family planning services.

Mr Chairman, It may not be an easy task to transplant these Kerala policies and programs to Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. But there are no options if serious efforts have to be made in this direction.

I am conscious that some developing countries with large populations, such as China and Indonesia were successful in achieving rapid demographic transition since a monolithic party system or a dictatorship ruled in those countries. The governments were able to thrust small family norms on their people.

We in India obviously cannot go down the same road. Not that it was not tried here. During the emergency, it will be recalled, some similar modes were adopted with horrifying fall out giving a major set back to the movement.

What then is the alternative?

An obvious alternative to compulsion is information and persuasion. In this context, there is a need for a wider commitment to small family norm across all political parties. Unless we have rapid reductions in fertility in the large Hindi speaking States and their population growth is brought down within manageable limits quickly the inter-regional differences will be sharpened and the country’s overall development will be retarded. The people all over themselves want a small family size as demonstrated in a number of studies but the leaders and services are not fully helpful .

This need not dismay us since many windows of opportunity have opened up during the past decade which we should exploit to the full not only to achieve population stabilization but also several other development goals. Let me list them.

As is known major political, socio-economic and demographic changes have been ushered in since the early nineties that are progressing at an unprecedented and unexpected pace. These, in my view, will have far reaching effects on all developmental goals including population stabilization. In the political arena, a fundamental reform of democratic governance has been set in motion with the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. This has enabled multi level system of governance through the creation of a third tier and more of elected bodies of self governance: The Panchayats at a rural level and the Nagar Palikas at the urban level. By the constitutional allocation of responsibilities, basic health care services and family planning are to be transferred to these micro level elected bodies. The task of allocation of needed resources to these Panchayats and Nagar Palikas enabling them to implement these programmes effectively are with the State Governments. Here again I notice that the pace in this direction varies. Let me mention Bihar for instance where elections to the local bodies has been stalled for years now despite the financially punitive actions by the Planning Commission. In some states, where Panchayats have been installed there is hesitation on part of the State Governments to devolve authority and finance to them.

Fortunately in the social arena, there is a strong women's movement in the country, pursuing gender equity and equality in matters of employment, political power, income, reproductive rights and health. In the representation to Panchayats and Nagarpalikas one third of the seats are reserved for women and there are about a million women elected members of Panchayats contributing to the welfare and development of their communities. Women's movement are seeking similar representation in state legislatures and national parliament. Their increasing role in socio-economic development and in population reduction policies is bound to help.

On the economic front, the on-going process of economic reform and liberalization should enable India to move towards a faster rate of economic growth. Seven or even eight percent sustained growth of the economy now seems possible. This should enable us to allocate additional sources to primary education and social reforms.

The historical processes of political decentralization, women's empowerment, and economic reforms, appear to be irreversible processes of social and economic change and any population policies and programmes have to be conceived and implemented in this larger social context of India.

The Government of India has abolished all family planning acceptor targets since April 1995 in selected districts of the country and in the whole country from April 1996. Since October 1997 family planning programme is viewed rightly as an integral component of Reproductive and Child Health Programme (RCH). Contraceptive services are offered in this wider context of improving the health of mother and child rather than primarily as instrument of fertility reduction at the macro level. At the outset, it may appear that such an approach may not address squarely the population issue which continues to be serious with the country approaching a billion population, and adding annually 18 million people to the already huge population base. The need for rapid reductions in fertility levels of the population, especially in those large north Indian States, where fertility levels continue to remain high, can hardly be overemphasized. All the more in the context of a high proportion of our population living below the poverty line, shrinking natural resources especially water and forest cover, and very high levels of pollution in the cities.

A concerns is being expressed that RCH approach may deflect the much needed government efforts from its goal of population stabilization. However a closer analysis reveals that if we could implement this approach judiciously in the changing circumstances of political, social and economic scene in the country, we will be able to achieve the population stabilization goals quicker and in a more acceptable manner with large scale community participation.

Many studies have revealed that there is a considerable degree of unmet need for family planning both for spacing and limitation, among the couples even in those States where fertility remains high. Offer of good quality contraceptive services, with method choice and easy accessibility to the couples, could reduce the fertility levels in these States by 20 to 30%, even without the so called motivational efforts or offer of incentives and dis-incentives to couples.

The era of "motivating" couples for adoption of small family norm telling them of the advantages of lowered fertility levels of their own family did make an impact. Today we see most of the couples by themselves seem to opt for better spacing between births and limitation of family size to two or three children with a view to improve their own health, and the health, survival and well being of their children. But it is also visible that impact of the message ends when it confronts the stone wall of poverty. The very poor and destitutes are neither conscious nor do they care that their growing family size adds to their misery. This to my mind is a major challenge. It is like an egg and hen story.

Mr Chairman, Ladies & Gentlemen,

You will recall that the Cairo Conference on Population and Development had urged:

  • All countries should strive to achieve sustained economic growth in the context of sustainable development.
  • All countries should strive to achieve universal access to primary education by 2015; and to closing the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005.
  • All countries should strive to achieve gender equity and equality.
  • Countries should strive to effect significant reductions in maternal mortality by the year 2015 : a reduction in maternal mortality by one-half of the 1990 levels by the year 2000 and a further one-half by 2015. The realization of these goals will have different implications for countries with different 1990 levels of maternal mortality.
  • Countries should strive to reduce their infant and under-five mortality rates by one-third, or to 50 and 70 per 1000 live births, respectively, whichever is less, by the year 2000, with appropriate adaptation to the particular situation of each country.
  • All countries should strive to achieve by 2015 universal access to a full range of safe and reliable family planning and reproductive health services.

These goals may I say, call for focused attention and are achievable provided attention is given to - as I have already said, to provide flesh and blood to the local bodies and treating the empowerment of women not merely in political terms but as an essential part of the population management.

It is encouraging that the national literacy campaigns are gaining momentum though its pace is still slow in the states where urgency is all the more.

The processes of economic reforms needs to be viewed in terms of greater participation of the voluntary sectors where the people themselves play a direct role in development.

Since the domains of family planning, primary education and primary health care fall within the purview of Panchayat Raj institutions, by empowering them with adequate financial resources and training, it is possible to diffuse the population bomb. The self governance at the local levels alone can ensure the needed supervision to push ahead the programmes and check defaults.

I am sad to confess that despite fifty years of the Republic and substantial achievements in various spheres, India’s "poor" still remain our single largest majority. It is no surprise that poverty is more pronounced in States which contribute the most to the population growth. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa require urgent attention to demolish the road blocks impeding their development These obstacles, it would be noticed, arise from the realities of overwhelming power external to their lives. This power exercised by the upper and middle classes has the effect, even if unintended, of limiting the options of this poor majority to develop themselves in accordance with their own wishes and value systems.

While the disadvantaged people lack power, they do know their own interests and their own problems in a way which no one else can do - least of all those who possess greater power, and wield that power against their interests. Therefore, democracy is an essential part of people centered development. We need to ask ourselves if, after 50 years, we have allowed this silenced majority the freedom and the mechanisms through which they can express their wishes and views peacefully and without fear. Accordingly, the Government and its executive at all levels and even more at the local levels must be accountable to the people on whose behalf they claim to act.

The empowerment of women is a crucial factor that is a desirable goal by itself but it is also powerful means for achieving rapid declines in unwanted fertility and population stabilization. Women can be empowered through a number of programmes; by providing them with modern, secular education; by giving them better skills; by providing them with employment opportunities outside home; and securing them independent income. Also by enabling their proper representations in managerial, political and administrative positions of power and responsibility. And finally by recognizing them as equal and responsible partners in all our developmental and nation building efforts. In this context we need not only enlightened men but also social reformers and leaders to carry the message of gender equity and empowerment across the country.

In communities riddled with child marriage, violence against women, labour involving more girls than boys; prostitution, and preference for sons over daughters within and outside family, such empowerment is no easy task. No laws will overnight transform attitudes. In this context the role of enlightened leadership and the civil society is crucial.

There may be a few regions in our country where all children, boys and girls, are at school; where there is no child labour; no child marriages; no preference of boys over girls, drinking water is available, sanitation is good, health and family planning services are available. Every effort should be made to carry the messages from such parts across the country in the form of a social crusade. Laws can only help to some extent and it is the civil society who should carry the torch of empowerment of women and the disadvantaged. It is not as if someone is going to transfer power to women or to the disadvantaged overnight by a law or decree. Organized self help groups too may be formed in each village and strive towards such empowerment. Panchayati Raj system does offer such opportunities and only these have to be used with imagination and vigour. If about the one million women, who are already in elected positions in the panchayats are systematically organized trained, and mobilized for this task, the day is not far when women of this country will be equal, powerful partners of development and social change and build a strong and prosperous India.

Mr Chairman, Friends,

Drawing upon these lessons and opportunities, may I sum up the main elements of successful population policies and programmes as follows:

Strengthening of Panchayat Raj institutions with appropriate transfer of authority and resources without any further delay;

Empowerment of Panchayat Raj institutions by organizing training programmes for them in areas of their rights, roles and responsibilities;

Provision of basic education especially for the girl children as a fundamental right of children;

Primary health care, reduction in infant mortality, and good family planning services;

Basic household economic security, including group self employment.

Against this background, I wish to compliment the Population Foundation of India for initiating a large scale training programme for the elected members of the local panchayats in rural areas at the local level involving a number of non-governmental organizations. This initiative centering on health, population environment and family planning is highly useful. Such training activities, may I suggest, should be carried across the length and breadth of the country in an organized manner with good partnership between governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations. If the elected village leaders are handed out responsibility for management of primary education, primary health care and family planning there will be hardly any need for macro level population policies and programmes. The role of central and state governments will be confined to financially assist and technically support the programmes undertaken by the Panchayats.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies & Gentlemen,

May I emphasise the need to revamp the development methods and processes backed by powerful information technology. This technology must be effectively harnessed to benefit the village, to develop access of information and entertainment to the remotest parts, and to develop new skills amongst our talented people. Training of panchayat leaders, of school teachers, of farmers, of even software specialists can be achieved in the shortest and highly effective ways through modern satellite based information technology. Such a programme will be people's programme for skill development with governmental support. This, may I say, requires political will and involvement of the civil society.

I see the future of this country including realization of rapid demographic transition and development of the skills and capabilities of our people achievable through local self governance, empowerment of women and the disadvantaged, and an extensive net-work of good quality and easily affordable training, education, skill development of people, and access to contraceptive and reproductive health services across the length and breadth of the country.

"We the people of India" must therefore reassert our sovereign authority and coax, cajole, persuade and if necessary force the State and its various agencies to deal with the twin problems of demography and development in the shortest amount of time.

All of us in politics, administration, the civil society, and institutions like the Population Foundation should work together to make this possible so that the dreams of Mahatama Gandhi are realized within the shortest possible period. Our large population, which today is our main problem can become our greatest wealth. We must move to stabilize our population in the shortest possible time. As we have already experienced in some states this is possible.

Thanks for your attention.

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles