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India’s Modi warns of ‘unchecked population explosion’

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech to the nation during a ceremony to celebrate country’s 73rd Independence Day, which marks the of the end of British colonial rule, at the Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 2019. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Thursday of the risks of an “unchecked population explosion” in the nation of 1.3 billion people, the first time he has raised the issue, and called for family planning measures.

India is the world’s second-most populous country behind China with 1.4 billion, and its population is set to surpass its East Asian neighbour by 2024, according to the United Nations.

“It is time to accept the challenges upfront… population explosion. It will bring a lot of challenges for the future generations of this country,” Modi said in an Independence Day speech in the capital New Delhi.

“We have to think if we can do justice to the aspirations of our children. There is a need to have greater discussion and awareness on population explosion.”

The prime minister hailed an “informed section” of Indians who were already having smaller families as “playing a big role in doing good for the country”.

India introduced forced sterilisations for men in the 1970s to limit its population growth but was forced to abandon them due to widespread anger.

The government stopped setting official targets for sterilisations in 1996, but rights activists say the practice persists at a local level.

More than 1.9 million people, mostly women, were sterilised across India in 2017 and 2018, according to the government’s National Health Mission.

Even as India battles stuttering growth and high unemployment, Modi said the “fundamentals of our economy are strong” and he was confident the South Asian giant would become a $5 trillion economy in five years.

“Today, the government in India is stable, the policy regime is predictable… the world is eager to explore trade with India. We are working to keep prices under check and increase development,” he added.

“It took us 70 years to become a $2 trillion economy. From 2014 to 2019, we became a $3 trillion economy. We added $1 trillion in just five years. Now we are looking forward to making the nation a $5 trillion economy.”

He pledged to spend $1.4 trillion on infrastructure and $49 billion on a massive project to provide potable water to millions of Indians who lack access.

“India doesn’t want just incremental progress,” the Indian leader added.

“A high jump is needed, our thought process has to be expanded. We have to keep in mind global best practices and build good systems.”

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