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What Demographic Dividend?

The false hope of a demographic dividend must be dashed, as it is doing nothing but fooling people with a political narrative that has no grounding in economics

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Despite India’s buoyant growth story with some hiccups during the global Covid-19 pandemic, uncontrolled population growth has not only become the biggest impediment for growth on certain parameters, causing security threats with unabated infiltration from Bangladesh and Myanmar to India but also plaguing future prospects of the country. Voices are being raised from various quarters including Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) when the organisation recently shared its view on the matter in Prayagraj in its Akhil Bharatiya Karyakarini Mandal meeting urging the government of the day to come up with a population policy. There is pressure from cross sections on the government to come up with a policy on population. Apparently for the first time, Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat and then the executive head of the RSS or sarkaryawah (general secretary) Dattatreya Hosabale officially made an announcement that demographic imbalance had become a matter of concern and the government of the day must come up with a policy to deal with the problem.

The most important concern shown by the RSS is that these demographic imbalances had already once led to the partition of India and the threat still persists as unabated population explosion and infiltration are continuing. Now the general opinion of people about population explosion has become that demographic dividend has turned into a bane. Because it is difficult to provide skills to such a huge number of population in a developing country like India which has limited resources with a growing burden. It is also leading to demographic change.

Due to this, there have been reports when certain areas were termed as areas belonging to a particular community and others were asked to behave in a particular way not freely as one is allowed to behave in a secular democracy. The court had to intervene to allow the procession of the Hindu community in Tamil Nadu. Can this even be justified in a secular country that there are certain pockets claimed by any particular community that they belong to them alone? But this is becoming a reality and turning a blind eye on this would be tantamount to behaving like an ostrich. The reason for this uneven population growth is obvious. Besides the high birth rate, two other reasons have been outlined — conversion and infiltration.

The demography of three bordering states — Uttarakhand, Assam and West Bengal — is changing very fast. For these states, infiltration from Bangladesh and using Nepal as a transit route is the sole reason that is causing many other criminal activities across the country including terror acts. The union government has extended the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) to deal with such outlaws. Bangladesh is surrounded by five Indian states — West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura – on three sides and infiltration is happening everywhere.

Rajya Sabha on 16 November 2016 was informed that there were around 2 crore Bangladeshi immigrants staying illegally in India. The estimated number of illegal Bangladeshi citizens in India was 1.2 crore in 2004 as per the then UPA government which withdrew this soon for obvious reasons of its Muslim appeasement policy. These numbers are official numbers, the actual number is mind-boggling and you can find Bangladeshi in every nook and cranny of the country including in protected areas like forests and banks of rivers, government land etc. The number must have gone beyond 2 crore since 20016. The menace is so widespread that recently the Tamil Nadu government initiated a crackdown on them for them being a big law and order issue in the state. They were mostly found in Coimbatore, Erode, Tiruppur and Cuddalore districts, where they were working in various industries.

The rising number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants is such that the number has almost crossed over to the entire population of Australia way back in 2016. Numerous cases have been reported about Bangladeshi nationals entering India without any valid documents. Since the entry of such Bangladeshi nationals into India is clandestine and surreptitious, it is not possible to have accurate data on such Bangladeshi nationals living in various parts of the country. The 2 crore estimate far surpasses the figure of 1.2 crore cited by the then Union minister of state for home Sriprakash Jaiswal in 2004 in the Rajya Sabha. Assam alone accounted for over 50 lakh Bangladeshi squatters, while their number in West Bengal was estimated to be the highest at 57 lakh. Besides Assam and West Bengal, their presence in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu is sizable. There have been several cases of their involvement in terrorism, dacoity, loot, trafficking, and rape in the country.

There are Public Interest Litigations in this regard in the courts by Amber Zaidi, Firoz Bakht Ahmed and Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. Upadhyay is of the opinion that Population explosion is the root cause of most of the problems in India due to resource crunch including shortage of drinking water, decreasing forest cover, the density of population on land, food scarcity, cloth shortage, housing, poverty, unemployment, hunger, malnutrition, clean air and sound pollution. Amber has her views that the population by high birth rate is not only a burden on resources but a threat to the security of the country as demographic imbalance is helping such things to happen unhindered. She also finds it a big health hazard for women who are bearing more children and threatening their lives. Upadhyay too echoed the same view as far as the security of the country is concerned, planned demographic imbalance is also being executed especially in the border areas. Due to this, intelligence agencies have recommended increasing the jurisdiction range of Border Security Forces (BSF) to 100 KM, owing to the unexpected demographic change in the border areas.

Uttar Pradesh and Assam police have sent separate reports to the Union Home Ministry depicting the change in demographics in the last ten years in the border areas of Nepal and Bangladesh. As per the reports, the population of Muslims in border districts has increased by around 32% since 2011. On the contrary, the population change across the country has been somewhere between 10% and 15%. The change in demography is not just about the increase in population. It could be a new design of infiltration in India. This is happening in a planned way by the forces wanting to destabilise India. Change in demography allowed terrorists to flourish in Jammu and Kashmir and Hindus were chased away from there. There are eight out of 29 states in India — Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh where Hindus are a minority now and the overall Hindu population has come down to 79. 8% from 84.1% in 1951 while the population of Muslims from 9.8% to 14.2%. Christians at 2.3% remain the same while the numbers of Sikhs and Jains have come down.

The false hope of a demographic dividend must be called out as it is doing nothing but fooling people. It has become more of a political narrative than anything else. With such a huge population, no government will have enough resources to train these people with some skills and provide jobs. The number is piling up by the day so we must accept the reality that the burden of the population is becoming a bane for the country which is under severe duress of growing population, demographic change and scarcity of resources.

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