In this article…
The first step to solve any problem is admitting the problem in the first place. Indeed, the population has been one of the serious concerns around the world. The government, NGOs, civil society, and international organization has been working, and in fact, successful at some extend in this field. On World Population Day, UP CM Yogi Adityanath unveiled the new population policy for 2021-2030 which aims to bring the gross fertility rate in the State down from the existing 2.7% to 2.1% by 2026.
Mean is equally important
It is true that population is a social problem and state intervention holds utmost importance in this process of rationalizing the population. History suggests that only authoritarian powers have made punishable provisions in population laws. Giving incentives attracts people for limiting the population voluntarily. In a new population policy of UP, the government has also made such provisions. For example, “If a couple living having BPL status, has only one child, and undergoes voluntary sterilization shall be eligible for payment of a one-time ₹80,000 if the single child is a boy and ₹1 lakh if it is a girl.”
But punishing for controlling is neither advisable nor justifiable. Means for meeting the desired objective are equally important. Otherwise, If punishment alone could deter the population, then, massacres would have been the easiest way to control the population. However, Adolf Hitler, used a similar means to holocaust Jews so that he could dream of a country of “pure race.” That’s why, the Cairo Consensus called for “the promotion of reproductive rights, empowering women, universal education, maternal and infant health to untangle the knotty issue of poverty and high fertility.”
Is the population policy of UP, just and fair?
According to the new population draft bill of UP – “After the law comes into force, a person with more than two children will be debarred from several benefits such as government-sponsored welfare schemes and from contesting elections to the local authority or anybody of the local self-government. A person contravening the law will also become ineligible to apply for State government jobs and be barred from promotion in government services and any kind of subsidy.”
First of all, it is also not clear whether it will be applicable to the existing population or to those who will be born after the implementation of the law. If it is implemented on the existing population, then this policy would be questioned on the basis of ‘informed choice.’ How can it be implemented on those who have already produced more than two children? It would be a bad idea if incentives under this policy are used in retrospective mode, and the worst idea is if it punishes in retrospective mode.
Second, India should learn from China’s one-child policy. It could be linked to the aggressive character of China to their one-child policy. Shivashankar Menon, in his recent book, “India and Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present” claims that China is aggressive because of a limited “strategic window” between 2020 and 2050. Thus, there is a very limited time to achieve an ambitious plan to make China developed by 2050. After 2050, China would not be as young as India. Credit goes for this demographic disaster to the ‘One-Child policy’ of China.
Third, Excluding people from leadership on the basis of ‘education qualification‘ or ‘number of children is also not a good idea. Qualities of leadership are free from the number of children and education qualifications. Probably, there would be no reliable study that claims that the people with more children are bad in politics. It would reduce the denominator of good leaders and comprise a democratic spirit.
Is the population policy of UP, feasible?
Draft population policy claims – “Public servants who adopt the two-child norm will get two additional increments during the entire service, maternity/paternity leave of 12 months, with full salary and allowances and 3% increase in the employer’s contribution fund under the national pension scheme. It provides a subsidy towards the purchase of plot or house site or building a house; rebate on charges for utilities such as water, electricity and house tax; and soft loan for construction or purchasing a house at nominal rates of interest.”
There are some questions that have not yet been answered – First When these benefits would be extended? Which would be the perfect age to claim it? According to scientists, a couple can produce a baby even at the age of 50 years. It will be very difficult to decide an age line for this policy. Second, It would be contradictory to the policy to give these incentives at an old age since it promises for increments and leaves, which are availed only during young life. So what if one gives birth to a child after availing of benefits?
Third, If sterilization is a determining line, can we also expect a ‘new corruption-led business’ where fake certificates would be used for availing these benefits in the nexus of doctors. Fourth, Let’s consider a possible situation where a couple lives below the poverty line produces one baby to avail benefits. At the age of 35 years, they go for sterilization to claim Rs 80,000 or Rs 1 lakh under the possible. What if, unfortunately, they lose their child in an accident? Who would take care of their future?
State becoming Leviathan
The role of the state has been debatable since the ages. Political theorists are seen in doldrum in this context. The welfare state claims that the state plays its role in almost all phases of life – “from the cradle to the grave.”
States have started defining their role at the micro-level. Pre-natal diagnostic test intervenes and influences the decisions of a couple in order to curb gender imbalances through legislation. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2021 goes one step further and even limit weeks of gestation for termination of pregnancy. There is a dilemma between the choice of the pregnant woman on the basis of her productive rights and the state’s obligation to protect the life and liberty of a new baby.
Such policy also creates doubt among people about the social contract, whether it would be considered inside the womb or outside the womb. Apart from this, the new policy also undermines social justice. Can the number of children of an individual be criteria for assessing promotion? First, it would be unjust to the profession one carries. Affirmative actions are justified on the basis of providing equal ground through equity. But in this case, population can’t be a condition for affirmative action.
Second, If promotion is given on the basis of the number of children, then, there would be a triangular clash between merit, affirmative action, and population. It will make the process more difficult and contradictory. Third, promotion and restricting participation on the basis of the number of children can be considered as the reverse process of affirmative action. The weaker section would be more vulnerable to the dilemma between getting two more hands to get food and restricting the number of children for availing benefits.
Why is it irrelevant?
Response of administrative bodies, judiciary, institutions, and surveys have not even been pleasant with respect to such moves. First, The Supreme court in Suchita Srivastava Case also found that a woman’s freedom to make reproductive decisions is an integral facet of the right to personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21. Second, Even the incentives/disincentives approach has been denounced in the past by the National Human Rights Commission when such measures were introduced in some states like Haryana, MP, and Rajasthan, etc in the 1990s and 2000s.
Third, The recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS – 5) and Census data show total fertility rate (TFR) has been declining since NFHS-4 in almost all the Phase-1 States and UTs, and in most of the states, the TFR has already reached replacement levels (2.1). Only three states viz. Manipur (2.2), Meghalaya (2.9), and Bihar (3.0) have TFR above replacement levels as surveyed in phase I of NFHS-5.
Fourth, The report of Sample Registration System, 2018, suggests the same that the TFR is already at the replacement level, both at the all-India level and in a majority of the states except 6 states which are slightly higher than the replacement level. Fifth, The Economic Survey, 2018-19, also points out that India is set to witness a sharp slowdown in population growth in the next two decades. Amid the voluntarily declining population, such policy is irrelevant.
Phase-1 survey of NFHS-5 also claims that “Overall Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) has increased substantially in most States/UTs and it is the highest in HP and WB (74%).” NFHS-5 also claims that in almost three-fourths of districts, 70% or more children aged 12-23 months are fully immunized against childhood diseases. It shows that various government is already doing well in this field. There are a lot of serious problems before us, which seek immediate action.
Thus, there is a need for the government to go back to the drawing board. India needs to adhere to the Cairo consensus which promises to promote reproductive rights, empowering women, universal education, maternal and infant health. A women-centric approach needs to be adopted to incentivize later marriages and childbirth, and promoting women’s labor force participation. Indeed population is a strength of India which we call “demographic dividend.” Thus, the population needs to be assessed as assets and not liabilities.
- Financial express | Around 22% of Indians live below the poverty line
- United Nations | Cario Consensus
- Amazon | India and Asian Geopolitics: The Past, Present
- Decoding Dream India | Changing global order and rise of China
- Press Information Bureau | The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2021
- Live Law | The UP Population Control, Stabilization, and Welfare Draft Bill 2021
- EPW | A Womb of One’s Own: Privacy and Reproductive Rights
- The Hindu | An unproductive idea: On U.P.’s new population policy
- Press information bureau | National Family Health Survey-5