Address at the Special Convocation of the University of Bombay held to confer on J.R.D. Tata, the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), April 10, 1981.
et us try to visualise through the eyes and hopes of the young men and women of today what the India of 2030 will or might be.
Politically, we may, I think, assume and must firmly intend, that India will adhere to the democratic form of government and ideals it adopted from the start, even though the continuous deterioration taking place in our political life may raise doubts in the minds of some of us. On the economic front, however, there is clearly more than one road ahead, and what we shall find at the end of our journey will depend on the road we choose to take. If it is substantially the same as the one along which successive governments have led the nation in the past thirty years of planned development, we need only project the rates of economic and population growth and current trends actually experienced to see at the end of that road an India of about one and a half billion people who will earn, at best, twice what they earn today, and will still be amongst the poorest in the world. Perhaps the poorest, because, by then other developing countries will have climbed to still higher levels.
Can we believe that our people will patiently accept such a prospect of doom? I, for one, am convinced that they will not, for the time has long gone when they were ignorant of the conditions of life elsewhere to compare with their own. Thanks to the many media of today, they are well aware of the immensely higher standards enjoyed by their counterparts in other countries and by a minority of their own countrymen in India.
There is surely a limit to the endurance and patience that can be expected from them and is it not reasonable to fear that their frustration and anger would explode and lead to chaos? I submit, therefore, that we cannot possibly follow that same road and must imperatively choose one which will lead us more quickly to higher levels of economic life.
It is often argued that economic progress and the achievement of material well-being should not be the main objective of growth, that in the affluent countries of the West excessive concentration on personal consumption has led to overindulgent, spiritually barren and unhappy societies. That may well be true, but surely in a country like ours, where the bulk of the people still live in deep poverty and a perpetual struggle for a better life, fear of moral decay due to over affluence would be a cruel excuse for perpetuating their misery.
If we accept then that the quickest possible climb to higher levels of employment and income is an absolute prerequisite of a better and happier life, what are the possibilities of a rate of growth faster than the miserable 1.4% per capita achieved during the past thirty years? Our low per capita income is clearly due to our producing too little for too many. It is therefore equally clear that to increase our per capita income, we must not only accelerate economic growth but also decelerate the birth rate, which is still about thirty-six per thousand, as against the twenty-five per thousand which twelve years ago the Planning Commission had targeted for 1980. Here then lies the problem of our time. And yet, believe it or not, the total allocation to family planning in the Plan outlay was actually reduced from 1.8% during the Fourth Plan to 0.9% in 1979-80, while the provision in the Sixth Plan is still a mere 1%!
It is to me a matter of dismay and despair to find that this grievous threat to our very survival as a nation is still largely ignored in our country and that most people, including perhaps many of those present in this hall, seem to be reconciled to the inevitability of the continued excessive growth of our population in the belief that there is no practical way to reduce it. Such pessimism is in my view, totally uncalled for.
To start with, the birth rate in the seventies did show a reduction from forty-one per thousand in the sixties to thirty-six in the seventies. If despite that, the total population still rose at practically the same rate as in the sixties, it was because of a corresponding decline in the death rate.
Secondly, there is growing evidence that the women of India, even the poorest and most uneducated amongst them, have begun to see the benefit of smaller families to themselves and their kin, and are becoming increasingly responsive to family planning when the necessary means and facilities are made available to them.
Thirdly, recent spectacular and accelerating developments in the fields of molecular and microbiology, biochemicals, genetics and allied sciences have opened up promising new avenues of successful research in the field of fertility control. I therefore urge the Government to launch in India a massive programme of concentrated scientific research in that field and call upon foreign science and industry to participate in it.
Fourthly, I believe that a breakthrough could be achieved by exploiting to a much greater extent than up to now the potential of monetary incentives. Sadly, but factually, experience has proved that because of the widespread poverty of our people, such incentives are indeed a potent means of motivating people to submit to the minor surgery involved. Up to now, even such small sums as Rs.200 have produced appreciable results. A much larger figure might well produce spectacular ones. The present capital cost to the nation of providing to every additional citizen the required minimum of food, goods, services and other necessities has been estimated to be over Rs.7,000 even at the low levels of present consumption. The cost would be significantly higher in practice in later years.
As the average number of children born per couple in India is known to be at least four, the prevention of one birth today would save at least five more births during the next two generations or so and therefore save a capital expenditure of Rs.42,000 in today's rupees. An offer of, say, Rs.2,000, or even Rs.5,000 per vasectomy or tubectomy would give a very high return indeed.
If in response to such enhanced monetary incentives fifty million births could be prevented in the next five years, our population could be reduced by this means along by about 300 million by the year 2030. These are obviously tentative figures but they surely justify, I suggest, urgent consideration by the Government of the possibility of introducing without delay a major scheme of incentives. The possible inflationary consequences in the short term of such a programme, if it proved exceptionally successful, would in practice be more than offset by the drastically reduced demand in later years.
Better Management for Higher GNP
If we continue at the present rate of our GNP growth at 3.5%, the per capita income of our people in fifty years will be only twice the current Rs. 1,800 per year.
Considering that the average rate of annual GNP growth in the three decades between 1950 and 1980 was well over 8% in Japan and nearly 8% in South Korea, and the economic base already built in India, it would be, I submit, within our power and capacity, with better management and a lower capital-output ratio, to achieve an average growth rate of 6% during the next fifty years.
Such a rate of growth would require India to open its doors more widely to foreign investment, which as we all know, our successive governments have been reluctant to do, backed by many of our own entrepreneurs, basking happily in a protected market.
There would be little risk and much to gain in allowing foreign capital to contribute to this great adventure of ours. The process would be throughout under the control of our own Government; all the assets and jobs created by it would be Indian; the improved technologies brought by the foreigners would automatically advance our own, and, last but not least, it would release a larger proportion of our own resources for employment-intensive development, particularly in agriculture and agro-based activities essential to the rapid development of our rural areas.
Even after fifty years of industrialisation, India will remain a country in which the land, the forest, the rivers, the sea and the sun will provide a large part of the national income. In fact, if in these fifty years we take full advantage of our tremendous agricultural potential, we could, apart from feeding ourselves, become a major supplier of food to the world, earning enormous foreign exchange in the process.
To sum up, India has come a long way and has achieved much in the past fifty years; Independence was won in a magnificent and unique struggle; the tragic problems of Partition were resolved; the country was united; democracy was established and staunchly preserved in contrast with many newly-freed countries now under dictatorship.
But despite immense efforts and resources spent on economic development, our people have remained amongst the most deprived in the world owing in large measure to the galloping growth of our population, but also to the restrictive and poorly implemented economic policies followed by our successive governments. If we cannot do better in the years to come, the future will be bleak indeed. We must do better; we must curtail our birth rate, come what may. We must stimulate the growth of our GNP by all possible means and be prepared to shed in the process the preconceived ideas, prejudices and holy cows which have up to now severely restricted growth and initiative at enormous cost to the country
If we achieve an annual GNP growth of 6% and hold our population down to no more than a billion, both of which I firmly believe we can with determination and the right policies, we could ensure to our people by the year 2030 an annual per capita income of over Rs.22,000 at present prices, or twelve and a half times what it is today. This, though still only about half of that enjoyed by the people of Europe today, will meet all the necessities of a decent and fruitful life, free at last from want and squalor.
Only then will the youth of today be able to look into the future and see a rainbow in the sky instead of the dark cloud they see today, and at the end of that rainbow not the proverbial pot of gold but a life for themselves and their children in which the tears and poverty which are the lot of most of them today are replaced by happiness and growing prosperity.