The country’s tryst with family planning, explained

If Union Minister Prahlad Singh Patel is to be believed, India will soon introduce a legislation for controlling its exploding population. Since 1947, laws on a two-child policy have been proposed in Parliament more than 35 times but have never been passed

Union Minister Prahlad Singh Patel on Tuesday said that India will soon have a law for population control soon.

When asked by reporters about a law on the population at an event in Raipur, the food processing industries minister said, “It will be brought soon, don’t worry. When such strong and big decisions have been taken then the rest too [will be taken].”

He had introduced a private bill on population control in 2016.

India is the world’s second-most populous country with more than 1.4 billion people based on projections of the latest United Nations data.

Interestingly, the population growth has slowed down over the last few years. Yet, it is growing faster than China and is expected to surpass the neighbouring nation by 2026, when both will have about 1.46 billion people. By 2030, India is expected to become the most populous country in the world, according to World Population Review.

The talk of population control has been a part of politics for decades. We take a look at attempts made to curb the growing numbers in the country.

A possible population control law

Over the years, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been pushing for laws on population control.

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha introduced the Population Regulation Bill, 2019 in July that year. It proposed several benefits such as housing subsidies, income tax rebates, travel subsidies, health insurance benefits and others for those families with two children where either spouse has undergone sterilisation. It also sought to enforce a two-child rule with penal provisions for violation.

Sinha had said while he didn’t use the words Hindu or Muslim in his bill, one should not hesitate to use “facts” while discussing an issue. “Using the words Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi don’t make it unconstitutional,” he had said. “Between 1901 and 2011, the Hindu population has reduced by 13.8 per cent, while the Muslim population has increased by 9.8 per cent. This is a fact. I don’t want to comment on whether this increase is good or bad, but you can’t turn away from facts,” he had said.

Many leaders from the ruling party have in the past expressed similar views. However, data from the National Family Health Survey shows a drop in the fertility rate in the country, the sharpest decline is among Muslims. However, the community’s fertility rate, however, remains the highest among all religious communities in the country followed by Hindus.

By 2030, India is expected to become the most populous country in the world, AFP

The private Bill was withdrawn in April 2022 after Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya opposed the compulsory two-child rule proposed, saying that instead of using force, the government had successfully used awareness and health campaigns to achieve population control.

Withdrawing his bill, Sinha expressed confidence that “we will be able to control our population, rising above caste, religion, language and district”, on account of serious efforts being undertaken by the government in this regard. “Our (government’s) efforts are being undertaken in a constitutional manner. We do not want to repeat the Emergency,” he said.

However, Sinha is not the first leader to propose a law to check India’s growing population.

Prahlad Singh Patel’s 2016 bill had proposed that the permission of the government should be made mandatory if anyone wanted to have a third child. He also recommended that welfare benefits be denied to those with a third child.

There have been heated debates in Parliament for years over India’s population problem. The two-child policy has been tabled over 35 times since Independence but has failed to become a law.

Measures by states

Public health in India remains a state subject and some state governments have introduced measures for population control.

Several states, including Assam, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have some form of the two-child norm in place for those running for elected government posts or government jobs, according to a report in India Spend.

In September 2017, the Assam Assembly passed the “Population and Women Empowerment Policy of Assam’’, which specified that candidates with two children would only be eligible for government employment and the existing government employees were directed to follow the two-children family norm.

From January 2021, the state policy that made government jobs out of bounds for people with more than two children in Assam came into force.

In July 2021, Uttar Pradesh’s law commission came up with a proposal where any person having more than two children will be barred from getting government subsidies. The draft bill has been submitted to the Yogi Adityanath government.

India to get a population law says Union Minister A look at the countrys tryst with family planning

Several states in India like Assam, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have some version of a two-children policy in place. AFP

Taking the matter to court

In December 2020, the Centre told the Supreme Court that India is unequivocally against forcing family planning on its people and that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter-productive and leads to demographic distortions.

The submission was made in response to a PIL filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay challenging a Delhi High Court order that dismissed a plea seeking certain steps, including a two-children norm for population control.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court had dismissed a plea for issuing directions to the Centre to make the two-child policy mandatory across the country for ensuring strict population control.

The public interest litigation said that the government should promote family planning and adopt all such measures to motivate people to follow the two-child policy.

The petitions, filed by advocates Anuj Saxena, Prithvi Raj Chauhan and Priya Sharma, said the population explosion, over a period of time, can lead to a “civil war-like situation” and thus needs to be curbed.

The first population policy

Even before the BJP, the population explosion was a concern for the Congress..

Much before the Emergency, the US government began to pressure Indira Gandhi to implement an aggressive policy to country India’s growing population, which Washington saw as a threat to “trade and national security,” according to a report in Quartz.

India was already the first in the world to attempt to control its citizens’ fertility on a large scale, and early efforts focused on women, in sync with the international birth control movement. By the 1960s, however, the government had already started to redirect its family planning efforts toward men, the report said.

Then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the slogan “hum do humare do” to the nation and started a nationwide awareness drive.

However, during the Emergency things went too far. In 1976, when the Indian Constitution was suspended, mass sterilisation drives were held throughout the country. The campaign was helmed by Sanjay Gandhi, the son of Indira Gandhi, where men were sterilised without their consent. Police reportedly cordoned off villages and virtually dragged men for surgeries.

In 1976, the government sterilised 6.2 million men. Around 2,000 men died from botched operations, according to a BBC report.

We’ve come a long way since.

India’s total fertility rate (TFR) has declined from 2.2 in 2015-16 to 2.0 in 2019-21, indicating the significant progress of population control measures, revealed the report of the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey.

The TFR is the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime. The Centre set targets for TFR for controlling the population. TFR of 2.1 is considered the replacement level fertility rate at which population stability is achieved.

With inputs from agencies

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