India’s population reached an estimated 1.43 billion in 2023, according to a United Nations (UN) report.

As India surpasses its economic rival China to claim the throne of the world’s most populous nation, it is not quite the ‘bow to the king’ moment that one would anticipate.

While a growing population is not a major impediment to India’s economy, India’s population is also ageing. This could potentially impact the future direction of the nation.

India has the largest Gen Z population of any country, at approximately 405 million. According to GlobalData’s Generation Z in Tech, Media and Telecom report, Gen Z accounts for over 40% of India’s population. However, the proportion of those aged 60 years and above is estimated to make up 15% of the total population of India by 2036. This increase in the elderly will need to be supported by the young and working population. That will affect the income per capita of an emerging nation like India.

Overpopulation also leads to environmental issues, partly due to the overexploitation of natural reserves. Currently, the government’s policies in India are mainly driven by external funding and are ineffective in addressing the root cause of the population surge.

The population policy conundrum

Ever since the 1950s, Indian policymakers have implemented several cohesive policies to tackle the surging population growth in the nation. Despite concerted efforts to implement family planning and birth control initiatives, the government has failed to reduce the population growth.

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Existing policies need to adapt from placing the importance solely on women and introducing broader contraceptive methods to help alleviate the situation. According to an NHFS survey, in Jharkhand, a state in India, the current usage of contraception methods is only 35.7%, of which female sterilization is 23.4% and male sterilization is only 0.4%.

In the underprivileged, and the lower economic strata of India, factors like poor knowledge and alarming levels of misinformation on contraceptive methods are fuelling the increasing birthrates. A Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice (KAP) study, which is an independent survey conducted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), revealed that 56% of women had heard of Emergency Contraception (EC) pills but only 19.3% had ever used it.

Beyond birth control interventions—like the infamous sterilization camps that are now banned due to growing ethical concerns—India must introduce more effective campaigns to reduce population growth. The government needs to invest more in advertising and educating the Indian population about proper contraceptive methods and their safety.

Environmental concerns

The population surge has had significant effects on India’s rising pollution due to the overexploitation of forests for their natural resources. The vast population is severely impacting the overall forest canopy density in the nation. As per a study by Nature Journal, India has 35 billion trees spread across 2,261km². With a population of 1.43 billion, there are only 24 trees available per person, which is significantly impacting the Air Quality Index and the well-being of people.

Overfishing is another significant problem in India that is primarily attributed to the unmet demand from the growing population. A recent fish stock assessment by the Indian government found that 8.2% of the total stock is overfished and about 4.4% of the marine species tend to be overfished.

Among the overfished species, there are varieties of catfish, groupers, croakers, and lobsters. Overfishing negatively impacts the marine ecosystem and impacts sustainability in the long term. As environmental concerns rise with overpopulation, the Indian government could potentially counteract the negative impact of the population surge by emphasizing the extreme environmental impact, rather than solely concentrating on overpopulation itself as the main issue.