People’s support must for population policies
Population “control” has become a political buzzword, cutting across party lines. Following the release of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) draft population control bill, which aims to restrict the number of children per family to two, the health minister of Rajasthan has gone a step further advocating a one-child policy. Similar sentiments on coercive measures to control family size have been expressed by politicians from Madhya Pradesh (MP), Bihar and Jharkhand.
It was Assam chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who set the ball rolling on the issue. In June, he announced the phased implementation of a two-child policy in the state. It got renewed attention when UP chief minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath announced the population policy on July 11.
It is necessary to understand the provisions of this policy before going deeper into its political consequences. According to Yogi Adityanath’s plan, government employees with only two children will get two additional increments in their service period, 12 months leave with full salary, and a 3% increase in the employer’s contribution to the National Pension Scheme.
If a couple opts for a vasectomy after one child, then a lump sum of ₹80,000 will be given for a male child and ₹100,000 for a girl. But, under this policy, people with more than two children would be denied government jobs, subsidies and participation in panchayat/local body elections. In addition, the government’s ration schemes would be available only for four members per family.
While the UP policy may sound attractive, there is many a slip between the announcement and its implementation. Last year, the Centre told the Supreme Court: “[The] government is unequivocally against forcing people to have a certain number of children”. So, these policies proposed by certain states don’t have the central government’s sanction. Some people feel that these population control-related announcements are politically motivated. But if politicians don’t do politics, what would they do? So, Yogi Adityanath got some success in his objective.
The same thing happened in the case of the Kanwar Yatra. After the Supreme Court remarked that this multi-state religious event should not be held due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UP government cancelled it. But the state government’s intention was clear. Such tricks have their importance in an election year.
Some people smell communalism in the population discourse, as statistics offer a different perspective. The National Family Health Survey shows that the total fertility rate (TFR) of Muslims fell from 4.4 in 1992-93 to 2.6 in 2015-16. Factors such as economic status, education and health care affect family size across all communities.
However, India will be the most populous country in the world by the turn of the century, followed by Nigeria, China, the United States and Pakistan. The good news is that, according to a report in the medical journal, The Lancet, India’s population will peak by 2047. This will be the point at which the population growth rate will start declining.
Experts from the Population Foundation of India, a non-governmental organisation, say that fertility rates are falling in several states, with UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and Odisha being notable exceptions. The reasons for the decline in fertility rates are many. Women are getting married later, couples are more aware of the need for spacing between children, lower-income families have realised the importance of education for their children and how their resources can go a longer way if they have fewer children. The concept of more children being equal to more earning members in a family no longer holds. This is the reason why Yogi Adityanath wants to reduce Uttar Pradesh’s TFR from 2.7 to 1.9 by 2030. The national average is 2.1.
No population policy can succeed unless it takes into account the people’s needs. We saw there was a backlash against the uniquely cruel, coercive policies enforced during the Emergency.
In the 1960s, three children per family were considered as acceptable. Over the next decade, the government came up with the Hum Do Hamare Do slogan. At that time, many people adopted this and two children per family were considered ideal. But if you ask people from a later generation, they will probably tell you that they preferred to have one child as more and more women entered the workforce, families had to pay for child care-givers, and couples wanted to focus on providing quality education, nutrition and other inputs for their children.
The balance of the population is important for the country. Scholars believe that India and China will regain their economic glory in the first half of this century, taken away from us by foreign invaders two centuries ago. At the beginning of the 18th century, the share of China and India in the GDP of the world was about 50%.
A population policy cannot be seen in isolation from the people it affects. It is, in fact, a social policy. Therefore, India should focus on health, nutrition, education and economic policies. If this is done, population will take care of itself.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief of Hindustan
The views expressed are personal