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Celebration, introspection as India's billionth citizen is born
NEW DELHI, India -- A crush of photographers recorded the moment India's billionth citizen was introduced to the world Thursday, a day officials called a moment for reflection as the country absorbs the implications of a swelling population.
Television crews and journalists pressed around the 2-hour-old girl, Astha, and her parents as she was presented to the media at the state-run Safdarjang Hospital in the capital, New Delhi.
"This is a moment of introspection. But we have to welcome every new baby," Sumitra Mahajan, India's minister of state for child welfare, said.
Micheal Vlassoff, the United Nations Population Fund's representative in India, said the baby "represents the human being that brings India's population up to one billion."
"Thus this baby is very special and very unique," Vlassoff said.
He said baby Astha -- Hindi for "faith" -- is just one of the 42,000 babies born daily in India. And May 11 was just another day in this respect.
Astha's parents are poor. Her father, Ashok Arora, works in a car parts shop earning 2,200 rupees ($50) a month. Both he and wife Anjana were delighted with the birth of their child but hesitate to speculate as to her future, saying that will depend on how far she goes with her education.
The challenge of raising living standards
The rapid increase in population complicates the challenge of delivering basic services to people and raising living standards, officials say.
"With the increase in population, communicable diseases will also increase," said Jayanth Kumar, the registrar general and census commissioner. He anticipates that other diseases will also increase, fueled by shortages of clean water, food and housing.
Increasing literacy levels is key to lifting health and living standards, Kumar said. But the exploding population will also affect the ability of the government to provide education
India was among the first countries to launch a state-sponsored family planning program and has worked to curb its rapidly growing population since as far back as 1952.
Despite this, the population has since tripled from 360 million.
Movement to control population
The government projects that if India continues at its current rate of adding 15.5 million people a year, it could overtake China to become the world's most populous country by 2045.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is calling for a nationwide movement to curb population, centered on women's reproductive freedom.
"The success of family welfare depends on giving women complete freedom with their lives. The need of the hour is that people should plan their families as per their convenience and get the bare minimum health facilities," said Vajpayee.
He rejected coercive measures that would force people to limit the size of their family.
The country's annual population growth rate has slowed, declining from its peak of 2.22 percent between 1971 and 1981 to 1.91 percent. But that figure is still double that of China.
"The situation is grim but if we behave responsibly, we can overcome. But if we delay, things can go beyond control," the Hindu newspaper quoted Family Welfare Secretary A.R. Nanda as saying.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Populations outrunning water supplies
Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India
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