The Narendra Modi government has many promises to keep. Of them the most urgent is to address the threat of inhuman poverty with all its appalling and cruel manifestations, becoming more deadly, verging to almost fatal. It is time we understood that the most pernicious and potent cause of the malady is our uncontrolled population growth, which has to be halted without wasting a single day. It needs strong brakes and they need to be applied immediately with all our national might.
The Biblical injunction, "Go forth and multiply" lost its context long ago, and today can only land the planet in disaster. When Christianity was born, its founders, high or low, had good reason to want their flock to multiply. Every new faith calls for expansion through obtaining new adherents to be redeemed from sin and be promised a passport to the paradise of the other world. Islam followed suit, but there was no great harm to the delicate ecological balance of the planet at that time. After all, God's bounty of earth was plentiful, and sharers were few. There was more water than humans could consume, oceans teemed with edible fish, mother earth provided adequate food for all its children, and human fertility seemed to pose no threat to the quality of existence.
Unfortunately, the 20th century that we have lived through has obliterated whatever we took for granted as nature's bounty. Greed, extravagance and abuse of our natural resources — water, lakes, rivers, oil, natural gas, coal, forests, cultivable land — blinded us to the irrevocable destruction we were wreaking on our planet, and the fury we were evoking from mother nature. Rulers and policymakers have to take notice of this grim reality of the present.
We complacently believed that nature's bounty was infinite, and did not realise until recently that the earth has been seriously damaged and depleted by human abuse. Nature cannot absorb unlimited pollution. We have made our holy rivers filthy, we have made big holes in our ozone layer and made the polar caps melt. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to pollute the atmosphere. It is almost inconceivable but true that we have destroyed 90% of the edible fish in our vast oceans. The entire planet is in a process of unnatural warming, certainly as a punishment for our fetish for artificial warming and cooling. We are pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere and the planet's safety mechanisms that kept the planet healthy for millions of years are being destroyed. Goddess Gaia weeps in pain.
Let me illustrate how unsustainably we are behaving. Water is vital for our survival and for producing food. It takes about a thousand tonnes of water to produce one ton of grain that fed to cows produces only 18 pounds of meat. Today, mankind is using about 160 billion tonnes more water every year than nature is willing to replenish by rain. Every year we are destroying 44 million acres of forests which otherwise absorb carbon dioxide. Every year we are burning 100 million acres of farmland, destroying 24 billion tonnes of top soil, and creating 15 million acres of new deserts across the world. Global warming is a reality and has started showing its fearsome face. Climate control mechanisms of the Earth are getting progressively damaged, and hurricanes much worse than Katrina will hit the earth. The population of the world in 1950s was 2.5 billion. Today, this constitutes the population of India and China alone. Take it on high authority that over population will lead to political instability and social injustice. Unless we solve the population problem, and stabilise it, we shall not be able to solve any other problem.
India's birth rate has to be reduced without fail and loss of time. Increase in wealth must far exceed the increase in population so as to maintain a sustainable and good life for all its people. China provides an excellent example of timely response, which I concede may not have stood the test in a democratic polity. In 1979, after the "Great Leap Forward" that produced the massive famine and widespread poverty, it was compelled to adopt a one child policy. The policy had three main planks: delayed marriage and child bearing; fewer and healthier babies; and only one child per couple. It was not formally decreed, but was enforced by family planning committees at local and county levels, all under ruthless orders to achieve results.
In 20 years, China reduced its population by about 300 million. In 1999, the world's population was stabilised at 6 billion. Yes, the policy did involve cruelty, which the Chinese bravely denied. India can reduce the cruelty component, and work out its own strategy, and after a while, a happier existence will compensate for initial resentment. While this might bother the rich, the poor will ultimately benefit greatly. On the streets of China, it gladdens one's heart to see so many beautifully dressed joyous "only child" little girls, pampered and loved by their parents.
The government and the media must inform the people that almost all the population growth is happening in poor countries. The rich become richer and acquire more wealth, while the poor only acquire more babies. Starving populations somehow breed faster than well nourished populations, as the poor, expecting their children to die, produce more of them. Our slums, already infested with disease and crime will become hell on earth. India's population during the last hundred years has increased from 300 million to more than 1.2 billion. No wonder half the population has never used a decent lavatory.
This urgent population control measure will be opposed by those who do not understand what secularism is, who use and abuse the word with political motive. Most of them are obscurantists and fanatics who refuse to see contemporary reality and the need to adjust rules, rituals and beliefs of the last 2,000 years, to present day requirement for survival.
Yes, our Constitution gives every citizen the right to profess and practise his religion, but obscurantists and fanatics need to be educated that this right is subject to public health. Our country needs youth who are healthy in body and mind, and free in thought, and our population and economic policies must also reflect our genuine secularism. I hope our Ministries of Health, Human Resources, and Minorities will show harmony of thought and action, and bring out an enlightened rule of law that shall make the nation an enviable lesson and model for the entire comity of nations.
No doubt, we are unlocking formidable new capabilities to enrich our lives and our civilisation. But we are on an unsustainable course, a course that unless it is changed will lead to catastrophe of awesome consequences. This could be humanity's last decent century or it could be the century in which civilisation sets sail towards a more spectacular future. India is confident that Narendra Modi will steer it on the right track.