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May 18, 2000
A billion? So? Population not a problem, says Amartya Sen
Rifat Jawaid in Calcutta
Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen has said that the growth in India's population was not an impediment to economic development. He made this observation in an interactive session with school students of Calcutta early this week.
"Many people appear greatly concerned over the phenomenal increase in India's population. I feel there is nothing to panic about.... However, I agree with the common perception that India will not be able to produce the required food in keeping with her growing population.
"But what many people still remain ignorant about is the fact that food production worldwide has always been on the rise at a faster rate than the population growth worldwide. Moreover, the statistics of past 24 years show that the global food price has come down by 50 per cent. Only in India, we have not witnessed this downslide in the food prices," Sen said.
Sen argued that it was basically the inequal distribution of food among the people that had created a shortage-like situation in India. He felt that food should be distributed on the basis of some general rules, like sharing it equally.
"I do not think that there is contradiction between there being a lot of food in the country and some people not having access to it. All one needs to have is the means to buy the food," he added.
He maintained that the rapid growth in India's population indeed had its disadvantages, such as global warming and damage to the ozone layer. According to him, the only way to control the growing population was to encourage female education. He said that a majority of Indian women didn't know the significance of population control due to illiteracy.
"Thereby it automatically becomes the sole prerogative of their male counterparts to decide how many kids the women should produce. Lack of education among women often leads to a host of other problems. The power of women in decision-making has far-reaching consequences not just for women's welfare but also for the welfare of everyone.
"For example, it is statistically well established that larger literacy and greater level of education among women tend to reduce the mortality rate in general. It also tends to reduce fertility rate thereby reducing the rate of growth of population," he explained.
Sen further added that educating women would also make family's decision-making more democratic reducing gender bias, ''which plays a major part in economic change''.
On India's poor performance especially in social and economic sectors, Sen said that it was difficult to single out one particular reason. According to him, there were many handicaps that affected the country's growth in both these spheres. Poor interaction with trade and commerce, virtually collapsed educational system and continuous neglect of women were what Sen described as the major obstacles in the way of India's all round development.
"Therefore, it will not be wise to pay special thrust to any of these handicaps since each point needed to be addressed equally and seriously. We'll have to think of bringing reforms in social, political and economic arenas to see India outclass other Asian countries."
When a student asked him to comment on how will he prioritise things if offered the post of prime minister, Sen regaled the audience saying, ''The first thing I will do after assuming the PM's chair is that I will resign from the post.''
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