India is projected to become the most populous country in the world. India's population has grown by a billion in the past 70 years
India's fertility rate has dropped from an average of six children per woman in 1964 to 2.1 children per woman in 2020, according to UN data. That's marginally below the replacement rate of 2.2 — i.e., the required number of births per woman to maintain a population. Improvements in health care and increasing life expectancy are likely to continue the momentum of population rise for a few more decades, according to experts.
It is predicted that India's population will slowly grow to 1.7 billion by 2064 but then fall drastically. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has predicted that India's population could fall back to around 1 billion by the end of the century.
Indian developmental economist Jean Dreze told DW, "What I'm saying is that I don't see a population crisis. India has been a large country all this time and nevertheless, the economy is growing, and it is able to improve people's living conditions, albeit slowly. And population growth is not going to continue much longer."
The economist pointed out that the dependency ratio of children and elderly who don't earn on those who do, had dropped drastically over the past decades.
"Having a large population is one thing but for that to be advantageous, we need to focus on the quality of the population," Dreze said.
However, the majority of India's population growth comes from rural and underprivileged areas around the Ganges basin, while the rise in income comes from the urban population. Inequality is on the rise. Moreover, a significant chunk of India is malnourished, unskilled and marginalized — and hence unable to meaningfully contribute to the nation's development. The employment rate has been steadily declining since 2005. Per capita income — while rising — is still among the lowest in all of G20 countries.
Over 70% of India's population cannot afford a healthy diet as of 2020 despite the fact that the cost of food remains relatively low by comparison to other countries.