New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has flagged in his Independence Day speech a new priority for his administration’s second term in office—controlling the explosive growth in population—a trend that, if left unchecked, could go against efforts to bring millions of people out of poverty and undo the benefits of higher welfare spending for the poor.

This is the first time the government is acknowledging the need for a discussion on the need for checking the population growth rate in recent history. The first United Progressive Government (UPA) government under Manmohan Singh had taken the view that family planning should be voluntary and that the state should offer neither incentives nor disincentives to control population.

A report from the United Nations had said in June that around 2027, India will overtake China as the world’s most populous country. The country now has a population of about 1.37 billion people.

“There is one issue I want to highlight today: population explosion. We have to think, can we do justice to the aspirations of our children? There is a need to have greater discussion and awareness on population explosion," Modi said in his first Independence Day speech in his second term in office.

Modi also said that those who follow the policy of small family also contribute to the development of the nation and that it was also a form of patriotism.

The Modi administration has felt the need for controlling population growth as it has a bearing on delivery of public goods and services to the poor, a priority for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime that has been taking steps to make sure that every household gets clean cooking fuel, toilets, electricity, houses, clean drinking water and healthcare.

A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that population growth is a problem mostly in north Indian states while southern states have achieved the replacement ratio.

Modi has already outlined his goal of l India’s gross domestic product (GDP) reaching $5 trillion over the next few years, which the government expects will also improve living standards.

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