Stabilizing population growth, generating employment opportunities and alleviating poverty pose a formidable challenge to India and other developing countries.
India has been relentlessly striving to control its population, but almost all of the policies that have been adopted have proved ineffective.
According to the United States population reference bureau, population growth in India has assumed alarming proportions and if the present trend continues, India's population would virtually double in the next 37 years, reaching around 2 billion.
The bureau points out the family planning project that promoted an average of two children per family has achieved miserable results. At present each woman gives birth to 3.4 children on average, and there is little indication of a coming decline.
The world's population is also increasing at tremendous speed about 100 million a year and it is estimated 10 billion people will live on earth by 2050.
The picture in Pakistan is even more worrying. The average number of children per woman is 5.6.
The situation prevailing in neighbouring Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is also far from satisfactory.
According to the UN Commission on Population and Development, India, Pakistan and China are among five countries along with Indonesia and Nigeria that account for half of the annual growth in the world's population.
However, it must be acknowledged that China has launched some commendable family planning programmes.
India and other developing countries are lagging far behind as far as implementation of effective family planning programmes is concerned.
Obviously India's population will overhaul China's within the first quarter of this century, if it is not controlled. Some demographers predict India will have the pride of being the most populous nation in the world by 2040.
The United States, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Japan all have a population growth rate ranging from 0.2 per cent to 1 per cent, and Thailand has a rate of 1.5 per cent.
This indicates the population of developed regions will remain steady at about 1.2 billion, while that of developing poor regions is likely to grow from 4.8 to 7.8 billion.
India's family planning programme started in 1951. But all of its efforts have been disappointing. The equivalent of the entire population of Australia is added every year.
Illegal migration of millions of people from neighbouring countries has further complicated the problem. India's population was 363 million in 1951-52 with an estimated food production of 52 million tons. Individual calorific consumption per day was about 1,580.
From 1985-86, India had a population of 725 million. Food production should have increased to 165 million tons for an individual consumption of 2,500 calories.
The estimated enhanced food production was not achieved. The green revolution will not be able to feed the populous country because of top soil erosion, amongst other factors. The idea of a food surplus is an illusion when population growth is considered.
For the first time since the green revolution, grain output growth has failed to match the population increase.
Developing countries, particularly the Third World's economically underdeveloped nations, are succumbing to a vicious cycle of poverty, population explosion and environmental degradation.
If the population explosion remains uncontrolled and strategic action is not taken immediately, how will India foster its public health programme, manage water resources, universalize primary education and implement overall development programmes?
What will happen to India's plans for industrialization?
It is argued that for rapid industrial growth, poor countries need to take three steps.
The first is to stabilize the population. The second is related to the fact that, because of improvements in public health and medical science, the death rate is lower and the birth rate is increasing rapidly.
The third step is to ensure that both birth and death rates decline so as to ensure social security and economic freedom.
Unfortunately, it transpires that many poor countries, including India, are not in a position to create the environment for reaching the third step. India has remained stuck on the second step, which is impeding its development programmes.
The high levels of population growth over the past two decades have resulted in phenomenal growth in the employable population, and this is a matter of grave concern.
The links between health, nutrition and family planning are strong. The driving force behind improved mother and infant health and nutrition may be small families.
Poor nutrition may be the major cause of death. The urban poor, particularly in slum areas, have larger families. They have limited access to education, family planning, health and other social services. Higher levels of education minimize the fertility rate.
Therefore, family planning programmes would definitely yield better results if they were reinforced with proper educational programmes.
The value of breastfeeding, a balanced diet and uncontaminated food, clean water and maintenance of environmental sanitation can only be benefited from by imparting information through formal or informal systems of education.
Education should be regarded as a powerful weapon to combat an increase in the fertility rate, poverty and unemployment.
Population control does not rest entirely in the hands of the government or NGOs. Its success depends on public participation in the family planning programme and the spread of basic education.
Educating women and underprivileged sections of society would help curb the fertility rate.
The Planning Commission of India has formed a steering committee on population stabilization, reproductive health and family welfare.
It has been observed that in Kerala, India, where the literacy rate is extraordinarily high, there has been a simultaneous decline in the population growth rate.
Inculcating a scientific attitude among the masses helps reduce fertility rate considerably.
The Kerala Shastriya Sahitya Parishad, an organization devoted to instilling scientific views among the masses, deserves special mention.
It is deplorable that political parties are not willing to take the matter seriously. It is true that death rates can be controlled with the use of modern medicine and public health initiatives.
But birth rates are not so easily affected. Having children is simply the manifestation of a personal choice in response to social, economic and cultural factors.
A shift in gear in contraceptive application is also necessary that is, contraceptive research and its long-term effects should focus on men rather than women.
Population pressures need to be controlled in order to strengthen human resources. This is important because man himself is an endangered species.