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Population seen beneficial to Indian goals

By APARAJIT CHAKRABORTY in NEW DELHI | China Daily | Updated: 2023-04-27 07:17

Commuters throng a railway station in India's state of Uttar Pradesh on Monday. [Photo/ARUN SANKAR/AFP]

As the world's new most populous country, India is expected to transform benefits of its demographic dividend into actions in achieving Sustainable Development Goals, experts said.

By the end of April, India's population is expected to amount to 1,425,775,850, becoming the most populous country in the world, said the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on Monday in a news release. There has been no official reaction from the Indian government to the data.

A healthy and competitive workforce is needed to maximize the gains a large population can bring. Federal and local governments should invest adequately and urgently in health and education, suggested Biswajit Dhar, a professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

India may be able to reap the benefits of its enormous population if the Indian government can implement successful economic, social, and educational strategies to deal with the growing population, Indian economist Abhirup Sarkar said.

"The Indian survey findings suggest population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public," said Andrea Wojnar, United Nations Population Fund's India representative. "Yet, population numbers should not trigger anxiety or create alarm. Instead, they should be seen as a symbol of progress, development, and aspirations if individual rights and choices are being upheld."

But these numbers could become a liability if policymakers do not create a trained workforce and enough jobs, experts warned.

The report shows 25 percent of India's population is aged 0-14, 26 percent is 10-24, 68 percent is 15-64, and 7 percent is over the age of 65.

Higher life expectancy

Conversely, 17 percent of China's population are aged 0-14, 18 percent are 10-24, 69 percent are 15-64, and 14 percent are over 65.Life expectancy is also higher, at 82 for women in China and 76 for men, while for India they are 74 and 71, respectively.

India's capital New Delhi is the most populated city, with 30 million inhabitants in and around the National Capital Region followed by Mumbai with 20 million, Kolkata with 15 million and Bengaluru with 12 million.

"Young people have great potential to contribute to the economy," said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India. "But for them to do that requires the country to make investments in not just education but health, nutrition and skilling for employability."

India has made significant progress in many SDGs and per capita income has increased, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Feb 1. She also said the Indian economy has increased in size, from the 10th largest to the fifth in the last nine years.

But these opportunities cannot be seized if the Indian government fails to create sufficient job opportunities or make progress on training its labor force, said professor Manmohan Agarwal, the Reserve Bank of India chair at the Centre for Development Studies.

Progress is possible with labor-intensive investment, but at present the country's investments are largely driven by capital, which has failed to utilize a large chunk of the workforce, Visva-Bharati University professor Sudipta Bhattacharyya said.

Equity is also a question the country must solve. "Poverty eradication is no longer just a slogan. Now my government is working toward empowering the poor by providing a permanent address to their concerns," Indian President Droupadi Murmu said on Jan 31 during a joint session of India's Parliament.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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