When India overtakes China: India is set to overtake its neighbour as the world’s most populous country by 2025, perhaps sooner, but the real test is how it equips its citizens.
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China’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, adding 72 million people in the past decade, according to the country’s census data released on Tuesday. This means that India is set to overtake its neighbour as the world’s most populous country by 2025, perhaps sooner. While India’s challenges are often attributed to its large population and the pressure it creates on resources, population growth can be an asset, if harnessed properly. India’s challenge has been visible since 2018, when the country’s working-age population (people between 15 and 64 years) grew larger than the dependent population (children aged 14 or below as well as people above 65 years). This bulge in the working-age population is going to last till 2055. Many countries — including China (which entered this stage in 1994) — have used this window to attain their developmental goals. This transition happens because of a decrease in the total fertility rate (number of births per woman) after the increase in life expectancy is stabilised.
When India overtakes China:
However, a young population structure, on its own, does not guarantee economic growth. This is intrinsically linked with other factors such as ensuring access to basic education, health and skilling, which can make the young population healthy and productive. A key feature of India’s population story is its regional disparity, which may be sharpened by the pandemic and its impact on the economy and state finances. According to UNFPA, the young bulge in the population will occur in the most under-developed and under-resourced parts of the country: Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. These five states will account for more than half the growth in the labour force in India.
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While these states will need universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health information and services, and provisioning of education, life and vocational skills to young people, demographically advanced states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab will need to strengthen social and health security for their ageing population. The regional disparity in demography and economic development also means that there will be large-scale migration. The Centre and states must focus on issues of housing, health care, education and skills, and states must provide portability of identity proof and entitlements. India will soon race ahead of China in terms of size, but its real test is how it equips all its citizens.