(New Delhi) India is set to become the most populous country on the planet ahead of China by the middle of 2023, according to the latest UN estimates released on Wednesday. A position the South Asian giant is likely to maintain for centuries.

AFP takes stock of the causes and effects of this development.

According to UN estimates, India will have a population of 1.429 billion by the middle of this year, surpassing China by almost three million, which will reach 1.426 billion.

According to data from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics released in January, China had 1.412 billion people at the end of 2022. It showed its first decline since 1960-1961 when a famine killed tens of millions at the end of 2022. following the errors of the economic policy of the “Great Leap Forward”.

Unlike China, which publishes this data every year, India has not counted its population since 2011. It then stood at 1.21 billion.

Birth certificates only became compulsory in India in 1969, and the decennial census scheduled for 2021 was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic before bogged down in logistical problems.

It is an exercise involving an army of enumerators who go door to door to collect information including religion, mother tongue and literacy level.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has been accused by critics of deliberately delaying the census so as not to release data on sensitive issues like unemployment ahead of next year’s national elections.

China took decisive steps to curb its population growth in the 1980s, imposing a sometimes brutally enforced one-child policy on its population. Since 2021, Chinese people can have up to three children.

In the 1970s, India mounted its own sterilization and family planning campaigns, including a notoriously unpopular attempt targeting men.

Female sterilization is therefore by far the most popular method of contraception in India, despite the associated health risks.

But its fertility rates have always been higher than those of its northern neighbor, explaining its much younger and now larger population: some 650 million Indians are under the age of 25.

New Delhi and Beijing compete for influence in Asia and on the international stage, so status as the “world’s most populous” country could cement India as a rising power that the West is courting for. counterbalance the influence of its Chinese neighbour.

This demographic dominance could also serve New Delhi’s case for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council that India has long coveted.

India alone has more inhabitants than the four permanent members of the Security Council combined (the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom) sitting alongside China.

But meeting the needs of such a large population poses major challenges, particularly in terms of the environment and infrastructure.

On the other hand, a large and young workforce also has economic advantages: India is the fastest growing major economy in the world and has already dislodged former colonial power Britain to fifth place in the world ranking of richest countries in terms of GDP.