Population experts Monday criticized India's birth-control policy for its focus on sterilization and said the country's mushrooming population may become the world's largest in the 21st century.
India was one of the first Third World countries to understand the need to check its growth and has had a family planning program since 1951.But stifling government bureaucracy and central planning has hampered implementation, said a study released Monday by the Washington-based Population Crisis Committee.
India's estimated population of 883 million is growing about 2 percent annually, compared with the U.S. growth rate of 0.8 percent and 1.5 percent in China, which has about 1.2 billion people.
At those rates, the report said, India's population will surpass China's in the early decades of the next century.
Although the average number of births for Indian women has fallen from six to four, the committee said India's goal of reaching two births per woman by the end of the century was unrealistic.
The current average is 2.5 in China and two in the United States.
India has stressed female sterilization because it is easier to monitor than temporary contraception methods. Also, many rural Indian women do not understand how to use birth control devices.
Beginning 17 years ago, the government broadened its sterilization program, offering compensation to women who underwent the operation and bonuses to state officials for meeting targets.
Widespread resentment eventually led to demonstrations and riots against family planning. It was one reason for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's fall from power in 1977. Many politicians responded by playing down the importance of contraception.
In recent years, the policy shifted toward other contraception methods, says the 60-page report.
Comparing population growth in India, China and the United States:
INDIA CHINA UNITED STATES
POPULATION 882,600,000 1,165,800,000 255,600,000
1,000 people 30 21 16
Annual growth rate 2.1% 1.5% 0.8%
Births per woman 4 2.5 2
contraception 45% 72% 74%
Infant deaths per
1,000 births 91 34 9
Years to double
population 34 53 89
SOURCE: Population Crisis Committee