New Delhi — Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi today named population control as his top development priority and said India has been put on “‘a war footing’ to bring down the rate of population growth.

The statement was the strongest he has made since coming to power in October on population growth a politically sensitive issue that helped bring the temporary political defeat of his mother in 1977.

“Our population growth needs rapid declaration and we are looking at this very, very seriously,” Gandhi said in a speech to a group of senior Indian and foreign businessmen.

Asked to list his government’s development priorities, Gandhi said, ““The first must be population because anything we do gets diluted by our population growth.

“We have tackled population control on a war footing,’ he said. “Our growth rate for the first time is below 2 percent and we hope to continue this trend to reduce our population growth and make it manageable in the coming years.”

 Gandhi did not say what methods his government would use to slow the growth of India’s 750 million populations.

His mother, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her youngest son, Sanjay, pushed population control aggressively in the 1970s.

Critics claimed sterilization was forced on millions of people and Mrs. Gandhi’s defeat in the 1977 elections was attributed to a public backlash against the program.

In his speech to the businessmen, Rajiv Gandhi said his second priority was to eliminate poverty and the third was to encourage industrial growth.

India’s economic plans must place a heavy emphasis on agriculture, which provides 70 percent of its people with their living, Gandhi said. He also cited the need for improvements in energy production, communications and transportation.

He said India offered foreign investors a huge market, a large supply of trained manpower, a broad industrial base, consistent industrial policies and political stability.

But he cautioned foreign businessmen not to expect a completely open door to foreign investment.

“At this stage of our development it is not feasible to open up our industries to free competition from all industries abroad,” he said. But, “We realize that too much protection can be damaging.”

Article extracted from this publication >>  April 19, 1985