UP’s population policy push is unwarranted
When one of the BJP’s star Hindutva crowd-pullers — the saffron-clad chief minister (CM) of Uttar Pradesh (UP) Yogi Adityanath — announces a controversial, drastic draft policy on family planning, many are bound to ask: What is he up to?
There doesn’t seem to be an urgent need for a new two-child policy. Many commentators have argued that the population growth is not unstable. They point out that the number of babies born to Indian women is now close to the net replacement rate. UP, along with the other five laggards in development indicators — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — has not yet reached that stage. But in UP, the birth rate has been declining steadily.
Some suggestions, which are a subset of the larger population policy, are welcome, for their impact on the state’s health and education services. For instance, there will be maternity centres in all primary health centres. These centres will distribute contraceptive pills and other means of contraception. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are to collaborate in this distribution. This is an overdue acknowledgement of the potential of NGOs by a government which, like the Centre, has often been hostile to civil society.
Another provision promised in the policy is the establishment of health clubs in schools to make children aware of the need to stabilise the population. These are measures designed to encourage family planning.
The measures designed to make parents afraid of having more than two children include some which would rob them of their legally guaranteed rights. Parents of large families in UP will be robbed of their right to contest in local elections. They will not be able to compete for government jobs, and large families will only be given four ration cards. They will not be able to avail government subsidies.
There is the likelihood that taking these and other strict preventive measures will go wrong in the short-term and have disastrous long-term consequences. Because of the preference for boys, it can lead to female foeticide and infanticide. This will further increase the imbalance between men and women in the population. In UP, the ratio is more unbalanced than the national average, at 908 women to 1,000 men. There is also the possibility that the policy could be too successful, that the birth rate could fall too steeply, and that UP could lose the advantage of having a young population. The immediate consequence of this policy could be vigilantism and heavy-handed police intrusion into people’s private lives.
So, we come back to ask why the CM has chosen this time to suggest such a potentially dangerous population control policy? Some commentators suggest that he will highlight the policy during next year’s state election campaign to broaden his appeal and escape from his hardline Hindutva straitjacket. He will then be able to present himself as a leader whose top priority is the development of his state and is willing to take radical measures to achieve that.
There is another interpretation of Adityanath’s intention. One of the purposes of the draft policy is “to maintain the demographic balance in all the communities”. Hindutva politics has consistently (and unjustifiably) blamed Muslims for India’s population growth. So, couldn’t those words be a coded message that the CM will ensure that the Muslim population does not grow disproportionately? If that’s the way the message is read, the policy will become a Hindu-Muslim issue in the election campaign.
Inefficiency, maladministration, and corruption are the prime causes of UP’s comparative backwardness and it is on these that Adityanath should focus his attention.
The views expressed are personal