India to set up population fund, expert group

NEW DELHI, India - Seeking to curb India's high birth rate, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee pledged Saturday to set up a special fund to promote family planning programs across the world's second most populous nation.

The government also will set up a group to prepare programs for specific areas, particularly the northern states, which account for half of India's population, Vajpayee told the National Commission on Population in New Delhi.

India's 1 billion population is larger than any nation except China. Experts fear that if India's rate of population growth does not slow, it will become the world's most populated country in 45 years.

Vajpayee urged companies, voluntary agencies and individuals to contribute to the National Population Stabilization Fund, which would direct the money to family planning programs. He gave very few details of the programs, but said he hoped the population would stabilize within two decades.

''Achieving this is a challenge. But once we overcome the challenge, we can truly develop our national human resource into a formidable force ... for all-around prosperity,'' he said.

The state-run Planning Commission will provide $22.5 million for the fund, officials said.

He urged states to make good use of health, education and related development programs and provide better access to information on contraception and child care.

In 1952, India adopted a national family planning program, the first country in the world to do so. The aim was to ''reduce the birth rate to the extent necessary to stabilize the population at a level consistent with the requirement of the national economy.''

But many Indians, especially women, were without basic health care, or the literacy skills to understand family planning.

''A reality check ... reveals rather disturbing facts,'' Vajpayee said. Nearly one in 10 children dies before the age of five, he said. Half of the children under the age of four are undernourished; 30 percent of the newborns are underweight and 60 percent of women are anemic.

Vajpayee said India must reduce infant and maternal mortality and meet the demand for contraception. Condoms are available, but the condom campaign is aimed mostly at preventing sexually transmitted diseases. In a country where millions are at or below the poverty level and live in rural areas, spending money on condoms is not a consideration.

The National Commission on Population includes federal and state governments, voluntary agencies and individuals and aims at promoting better coordination among various agencies to curb population growth.


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