India’s population is projected by the United Nations to surpass China’s by mid-July this year; that is if it hasn’t done so already. To become the world’s most populous nation again after three centuries is no badge of distinction. It is much more of a challenge despite the obvious demographic dividends seen in the distribution of population age-wise with India a nation of younger people who should make for an efficient workforce driving the wheels of an expanding economy.
The challenge is enormous considering the number not only of youth for whom India would have to generate gainful employment and sustain living standards of by creating at least nine crore jobs a year. Given the levels of unemployment and underemployment of today in a population of around 140 crore people, the frightful difficulties to be experienced can easily be imagined.
India will continue to face enormous challenges in having to manage education for the young while looking after their health and nutrition, provide healthcare for the ageing segment, invest in skilling to raise the existing low levels of employability in youth, all this while creating meaningful jobs in a changing global economic environment from the march of technology.
The inequality of India, arising as much from the lack of quality governance as the inherited inertia from centuries of low economic growth, stretches well beyond the obvious urban-rural divide, even if it is granted that the crippling poverty of the lowest segment has been alleviated to an extent in the last four decades. As China pointed out in its somewhat wounded tone, as is its wont, it has a trained and committed workforce of around 90 crore people, still an advantage, which it had exploited after it opened its economy in the 1980s.
The inequality in India also stretches to low levels of employment of women in the formal sectors which must be corrected if the country is to reap the demographic dividend that is much spoken of. While China tended to its infrastructure first before scaling up the economy, India has been playing catch-up despite marked progress in roads and other infra like ports and railways. A growing services segment of the economy is keeping the country going as the world’s fastest growing economy. Is that growth sufficient to meet head on the challenges of rising population?