Population policy chorus grows in BJP-ruled states
Karnataka may emulate Uttar Pradesh and Assam, two other states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, by bringing in a population control law, and two BJP MPs Ravi Kishan and Rakesh Sinha are expected to move private member’s bills on the same subject in the coming session of Parliament as more states and lawmakers warm up to the concept of such a law.
“It is high time Karnataka brings in a new population policy on the lines of Assam and Uttar Pradesh to control its growing population,” the BJP’s general secretary CT Ravi, who is also a lawmaker from Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru, said in a tweet. “With the limited natural resources, it will be difficult to meet the needs of every citizen if there is a population explosion.”
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has announced a draft population control bill built around incentivising those with up to two children (and penalising those with more) through preference in government jobs and extra benefits (such as ration from the public distribution system). Assam, too, is considering a two-child policy with similar incentives.
Amid allegations that such laws target Muslims, both states have been at pains to clarify that the idea is not to target any community but to address a larger issue (population). Still, such a law has been a longstanding demand of the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and feeds off the perception that the Muslim population is increasing at a much faster rate than the Hindu population. While India’s population growth rate peaked a long time ago — it has been declining since the 1970s — it will take another four decades before the absolute population starts declining. There are differences in the fertility rate among Indian women. Poverty and poor educational status of women are the most important drivers of desiring or having more children. The preference for a son is another important reason why couples tend to have more children. While it is true that fertility rates among Muslim women are higher, Muslims account for only 13% of couples with more than two children India. Also, the total fertility rate has been falling for both Hindus and Muslims overtime.
A bigger challenge, as far as India’s demographic burden (actually dividend) is considered, analysts say, is to provide gainful employment to half of population which is less than 30 years old.
In Bihar, differences have appeared between the BJP and Janata Dal (United), partners in the National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar, on the issue.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar told reporters on Sunday: “I clearly believe that it is not possible to ensure population control with a law” and it can happen only “when women are aware and educated”.
However, the junior Union home minister, Nityanand Rai, who is from Bihar, said the state should consider the population control policy as benefits of welfare measures have not resulted in desired economic results due to the population explosion.
The policies (and the proposed ones) have triggered outrage from sections of civil society and the opposition.
Congress leader Salman Khurshid said: “Politicians should declare how many children they have. I will also declare how many I have and then it should be discussed.”
Samajwadi Party MP Shaqfiqur Rahman Barq termed it “election propaganda” before next year’s assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.
In Karnataka, state law minister, Basavaraj Bommai said a decision will be taken after discussion and deliberation. “We would look at the UP policy,” he said.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in December 2020, the Centre said it was “unequivocally against coercion in family planning” and data showed that “couples, on average, do not want more than two children”.