|Indian Population Nears 1 Billion
NEW DELHI, India (AP) - Buzzing scooters, banana carts and rickshaws jostle with the beggars and children for a pinch of space in
the overstuffed alleys of Delhi's old city. India's population is about to hit 1 billion, and the crammed country looks ready to burst.
Soup vendor Muhammed Afzal sat on a throne-like stall above the honking, howling chaos of Old Delhi, and peered down at a mass
of jobless men thrusting twig-thin arms upward for a ladle of his fatty purple slop. ``Too many population,'' he said sternly.
Roughly one in six people on Earth is Indian. There are about 72,000 Indians born every day, and the population grows by about 16
million a year - almost the equivalent of adding the whole population of Australia every 12 months.
Exactly when the population will reach 1 billion is not entirely certain. The U.N. Population Division announced that the billionth
baby would be born on Sunday - India's Independence Day. But the country's census commission sticks with a projected date of
May 11, 2000.
The projected figures are extrapolations from India's census, which is conducted once a decade and was last carried out in 1991.
Whenever the mark is passed, it won't be a moment of national pride.
In the half-century since India became independent, its population has tripled, and the ravages of poverty, ignorance and malnutrition
have grown harder to tackle, while efforts to rein in growth have borne little fruit.
Farmland is divided into smaller and smaller parcels as generations multiply, water tables are dropping rapidly, forests are shrinking.
And when agricultural land becomes scarce, thousands of people gush into the cities, forming sprawling, filthy shantytowns where
only flies outnumber people.
``To get an idea of India's population, you would have to take the entire U.S. population and squeeze it east of the Mississippi and
then multiply by four,'' said Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute, an environmental and social research organization in Washington.
``India is only 40 percent as big as the United States and has four times as many people.''
The only country in the world to reach 1 billion people so far is China, which hit the mark in 1980 and now has 1.27 billion citizens.
But China instituted tough birth control policies, and sharply curbed its growth rate. India's growth rate has shrunk too, but it still
outpaces China, and its population is projected to exceed China's by 2040.
Although three out of four Indians live in rural areas, there are 23 cities with populations larger than 1 million people, including three -
Calcutta, Bombay and New Delhi - with more people than New York City, which has a population of more than 7 million. Just
counting everybody is itself a massive undertaking, requiring 2 million people for the last census in 1991.
Despite their efforts, the exact number of people will never really be pinned down - even in the time it typically takes to read this
article, roughly 150 more Indians will be born.
Anjali Nayar of the Population Council, a nongovernmental research organization, said government attempts to control growth have
been a failure.
For years, the focus was on attaining birth targets rather than education, she said. There were cash payments to poor people who
agreed to be sterilized, but little instruction.
Perhaps the most disastrous approach took place in the mid-1970s when Sanjay Gandhi, son of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,
led a program that encouraged doctors to sterilize as many people as possible. Some Indians were forced to undergo operations or
were sterilized without their knowledge.
In recent years, Indian authorities have taken a different approach in trying to curb family size. Programs attempt to educate young
people, and offer a wide array of services including contraception.
The growth rate went as high as 2.2 percent in the 1970s and has fallen considerably in the 1990, now hovering around 1.7 percent.
Even so, the population base is so vast that the numbers keep ticking higher.
In the shadow of the Jama Masjid, the great mosque of Old Delhi, computer programmer Vivek Mathur surveyed the chaos and
summed up what the billionth baby means in terms of living in this nation.
``Air pollution, noise pollution, unemployment, poverty,'' he said. ``A child is born, it affects the whole country.''
Original source: By TOM RACHMAN Associated Press Writer
Submit by CEIN News on 8/23/1999