India's total fertility rate has dropped below the replacement level for the first time, according to data released by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).
The rate has fallen to two in the latest survey, below the level at which a generation is producing enough children to replace itself.
Given the United Nations sets the replacement fertility rate at 2.1, India's situation indicates that the country's population is now on the decline, with deaths outpacing births.
Out of India's 28 states and eight union territories, only five states have a fertility rate above two, raising serious concerns about the population's future.
The decline in India's fertility rate could be linked to the significant increase in contraceptive use that was identified in the same survey. Across India, the use of modern methods of contraceptives shot up from 54% in 2015-16 to 67% in 2019-21.
Despite the concern about India's population levels, care for newborn babies has improved in the country, with immunization drives for children rising from 62% to 76% in some parts, and even up to 90% in others. Similarly, family planning services improved in India, with unmet needs declining from 13% to just 9% throughout the country.
India is currently the second most populated country in the world, with more than 1.34 billion citizens, just trailing China's 1.39 billion residents.
"The country has been aiming for a TFR of 2.1. A fall to 2 means we have achieved our goal of population stabilisation. This means we will possibly still become the most populous country in the world - it was expected somewhere between 2024-2028 - but it will now be delayed. It essentially means that we need not worry about a very large population being a challenge to our development," Reddy told the Indian Express.
The NFHS is a nationwide study across India that explores a number of changing factors, including fertility, infant and child mortality, family planning, reproductive health and more. The data is provided to India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to provide the government with information on health and family welfare issues.