The draft Population Control Bill under discussion on public forums in states of Uttar Pradesh and Assam have evoked sharp responses from the Opposition parties.
The bills propose that those having more than two children will be debarred from contesting local bodies elections, applying for government jobs or receiving any subsidy.
Assam Chief Minister recently said, “An important announcement pertaining to population policy, including voluntary sterilisation, would be made in the state Budget. The Budget Session of the state Assembly would begin on July 12.”
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the tea garden workers are likely to be excluded from the bill in Assam.
On , Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said: “Across the world, from time to time, concerns have been expressed that increasing population can be a hurdle in development, and for the past four decades discussions on it are going on. Population growth is also related to poverty."
The Congress has described the proposed bill in UP as ‘political agenda’ ahead of the Assembly elections next year, while the Samajwadi Party said the move amounted to ‘murder of democracy’.
Twelve states —Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and a few others — already have the two-child rule, barring people with more children from contesting in local body elections.
A UN report forecasts that India will surpass China as the most populous country by 2027, while Chinese experts have said that this could happen as early as 2024.
Two-thirds of our population is under 35 years of age and despite a declining fertility rate, we could see a jump in numbers in the coming years. India’s population is expected to peak at around 164 crore by 2050 as per the UN.
Notably, on August 15, 2019, Prime Minister Modi had expressed in his speech concern over the population explosion taking place in the country.
Modi had said, "India was the first country in the world to adopt family planning, a programme for which was formed in 1949. The first family planning programme was launched in 1952. In 1977, the government had formed a new population policy. People were given the option to accept it voluntarily.”
Now we are seeing that by 2024-25, India will leave China behind in terms of population. India's population is 135 crore, while that of China is 142 crore. In terms of population, India will leave China behind in just a few years," he added.
This policy in UP and Assam is expected to discourage couples from having more than two children thus reducing the stress on our limited resources.
China had a one-child policy as a state law for 35 years in 1979 until it was lifted in 2016. According to the government, around 40 crore births were prevented due to this policy.
China’s population would have been 180 crore versus current 140 crore, had it not been introduced. China’s per capita income would have been 20% lower at $8,000 levels had the policy not been introduced.
Would China be an economic superpower had it not controlled its burgeoning population? Definitely not. Several attempts have been made in the past to bring such a law into effect at the national level.
In July 2019, Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha had introduced the proposed Population Control Bill, 2019, in the Upper House of Parliament. The proposed bill was signed by 125 Members of Parliament but has yet to become an act of law.
On February 7, 2020, the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Anil Desai, a Shiv Sena MP. Desai proposed to amend Article 47A of the Constitution of India to introduce a two-child policy per couple.
The 2020 bill also aims to incentivise its adoption through various measures such as educational benefits, taxation cuts, home loans, free healthcare, and better employment opportunities.
The Opposition, however, alleges that the Bharatiya Janata Party is proposing this policy to deny benefits to the minorities of the country who do not support the party. There is no minister from the Muslim community in 15 of the 28 states in India.
However, it must be noted that the representation of minorities in government jobs, local bodies, state and central governments is already lower and this is despite there being a no two-child policy in existence.
In my opinion, the law should also be applicable to people contesting state and general elections: why should it be only for local bodies and government jobs?
Further, it shouldn’t be a permanent feature as the experience in China shows: we need to actively monitor the birth and fertility rates, and take decisions based on the findings.
To sum up, the bill is a step in the right direction to control population growth and stay well below the numbers projected for India by 2050.