This post is pursuant to the discussion on population stabilization being held in Parliament currently. India is the second most populous country in the world, sustaining 16.7% of the world's population on 2.4% of the world's surface area. The population of the country has increased from 238 million in 1901 to 1,029 million in 2001. Even now, India continues to add about 26 million people per year. This is because more than 50% of the population is in the reproductive age group. India launched a family planning programme in 1952. Though the birth rate started decreasing, it was accompanied by a sharp decrease in death rate, leading to an overall increase in population. In 1976, the first National Population Policy was formulated and tabled in Parliament.  However, the statement was neither discussed nor adopted. The National Health Policy was then designed in 1983.  It stressed the need for ‘securing the small family norm, through voluntary efforts and moving towards the goal of population stabilization’.  While adopting the Health Policy, Parliament emphasized the need for a separate National Population Policy. This was followed by the National Population Policy in 2000. The immediate objective of the policy was to address the unmet needs for contraception, health care infrastructure and personnel, and to provide integrated service delivery for basic reproductive and child health care. The medium-term objective was to bring TFR (Total Fertility Rate - the average number of children a woman bears over her lifetime) to replacement levels by 2010. In the long term, it targeted a stable population by 2045, ‘at a level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.’ (See Total Fertility Rate India’s TFR was around 6.1 in 1961.  This meant that an average woman bore over 6 children during her lifetime.  Over the years, there has been a noticeable decrease in this figure.  The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS III, 2005-06) puts it at 2.7.  TFR is almost one child higher in rural areas (3.0) than in urban areas (2.1). TFR also varies widely across states.  The states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu have reached a TFR of 2.1 or less.  However, several other states like UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where over 40% of the population lives, TFR is still high.  (See Factors that affect population growth The overarching factor that affects population growth is low socio-economic development. For example, Uttar Pradesh has a literacy rate of 56%; only 14% of the women receive complete antenatal care. Uttar Pradesh records an average of four children per couple. In contrast, in Kerala almost every person is literate and almost every woman receives antenatal care. Kerala records an average of two children per couple. Infant mortality In 1961, the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), deaths of infants per 1000 live births, was 115. The current all India average is much lower at 57. However, in most developed countries this figure is less than 5. IMR is the lowest at 15 in Kerala and the highest at 73 in Uttar Pradesh. Empirical correlations suggest that high IMR leads to greater desire for children. Early marriage Nationwide almost 43% of married women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18. This figure is as high as 68% in Bihar. Not only does early marriage increase the likelihood of more children, it also puts the woman's health at risk. Level of education Fertility usually declines with increase in education levels of women. Use of contraceptives According to NFHS III (2005-06), only 56% of currently married women use some method of family planning in India. A majority of them (37%) have adopted permanent methods like sterilization. Other socio-economic factors The desire for larger families particularly preference for a male child also leads to higher birth rates. It is estimated that preference for a male child and high infant mortality together account for 20% of the total births in the country. Government initiatives The National Population Policy 2000 gave a focused approach to the problem of population stabilization. Following the policy, the government also enacted the Constitution (84th Amendment) Act, 2002. This Amendment extended the freeze on the state-wise allocation of seats in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to 2026. It was expected that this would serve ‘as a motivational measure, in order to enable state governments to fearlessly and effectively pursue the agenda for population stabilization contained in the National Population Policy, 2000’. The National Commission on Population was formed in the year 2000. The Commission, chaired by the Prime Minister, has the mandate to review, monitor and give directions for implementation of the National Population Policy. The Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (National Population Stabilization Fund) was setup as an autonomous society of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2005. Its broad mandate is to undertake activities aimed at achieving population stabilization. Programmes like the National Rural Health Mission, Janani Suraksha Yojana, ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) etc. have also been launched by the government to tackle the healthcare needs of people. This is also expected to contribute to population stabilization. Free contraceptives are also being provided. In addition, monetary incentives are given to couples undertaking permanent family planning methods like vasectomy and tubectomy. Nutritional and educational problems are being targeted through programs like the mid-day meal scheme and the recently enacted Right to Education. ---------------- For more details on the issue, see the website of the National Population Stabilization Fund ( Sources: Registrar General, India National Population Stabilization Fund National Commission on Population National Family Health Survey III (2005-06)

The Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed by Parliament on August 4, 2021.  It amends the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008.  This Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha during the budget session this year in March 2021.  Subsequently, it was referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture, which submitted its report on July 22, 2021.

Typically, cities have one civilian airport which provides all aeronautical services in that area.  These services include air traffic management, landing and parking of aircraft, and ground handling services.  This makes airports natural monopolies in the area.  To ensure that private airport operators do not misuse their monopoly, the need for an independent tariff regulator in the airport sector was felt.  Hence, the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) was established as an independent body under the 2008 Act to regulate tariffs and other charges (development fee and passenger service fee) for aeronautical services at major airports.  

For the remaining airports, these tariffs are determined by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which is a body under the Ministry of Civil Aviation.  In addition, AAI leases out airports under the public-private partnership (PPP) model for operation, management, and development.  Before AERA was set up, AAI determined and fixed the aeronautical charges for all airports.  It also prescribed performance standards for all airports and monitored them.  Various committees had noted that AAI performed the role of airport operator as well as the regulator, which resulted in a conflict of interest.

The 2008 Act designates an airport as a major airport if it has an annual passenger traffic of at least 35 lakh.  The central government may also designate any airport as a major airport through a notification.  The Bill adds that the central government may group airports and notify the group as a major airport.  Thus, when a small airport will be clubbed in a group and the group is notified as a major airport, its tariff will be determined by AERA instead of AAI.  Note that AERA will not determine the tariff if such tariff or tariff structures or the amount of development fees has been incorporated in the bidding document, which is the basis for the award of operatorship of that airport.

The amendments under the Bill raise some concerns regarding the grouping of airports and the capacity of the regulator.

  • Grouping of airports: The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that government will club together profit-making and loss-making airports and offer them as a package in PPP mode to the prospective bidders.  This may be a policy decision to revive loss-making airports.  With the passage of the Bill, AERA will treat a group of airports as one entity.  One of the ways in which tariffs may be structured for the grouped entity would be through cross-subsidies.  This would involve compensating loss-making airports with the revenue generated from the profit-making airports.  If such a model is used, it may increase the cost of services to the end-consumers of profit-making airports or could reduce the profitability of such airports.  The experiences from other sectors such as electricity show that cross-subsidisation may lead to pricing problems in long term. 
  • Capacity of the regulator: AERA was created to provide a level playing field in the aviation sector and resolve the conflict of interest that arises with AAI both operating and regulating tariffs at airports.  During the examination of the AERA Bill, 2007 by the Standing Committee, the Ministry of Civil Aviation informed the Committee that AERA should regulate tariff and monitor performance standards only at major airports.  Depending upon future developments in the sector, and as the regulator built its capacity, other functions could be subsequently assigned to the regulator.

As of 2020, there are 125 operational airports in India (includes international airports, customs airports, and civil enclaves).  The number of airports under the purview of AERA increased from 11 in 2007 to 24 in 2019.  For the remaining airports, tariffs are still determined by AAI.  In the last five years (2014 to 2019), air passenger traffic increased from 11.3 crore to 34.9 crore (which is an annual growth rate of 10%).  Till 2030-31, air traffic in the country is expected to continue growing at an average annual rate of 10-11%

Before 2019, an airport with annual passenger traffic of at least 15 lakh was considered a major airport.  In 2019, the AERA Act was amended to increase this threshold to 35 lakh.  The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 2019 Bill stated that the exponential growth of the aviation sector has put tremendous pressure on AERA, while its resources are limited.  Therefore, if too many airports come under the purview of AERA, it will not be able to perform its functions efficiently.  Consequently, in 2019, the number of airports under the purview of AERA was reduced.  Now, with the passage of the 2021 Bill, AERA will have to again regulate tariffs at more airports as and when notified by the central government.  Thus, the capacity of AERA may be needed to be enhanced for extending its scope to other airports.

Table 1: List of major airports in India (as of June 2019)

























Source: AERA website as accessed on August 2, 2021; PRS.