A coercive population control law violates the fundamental rights of citizens

Jul 22 2021 06:56 AM
A coercive population control law violates the fundamental rights of citizens

By Jacob Peenikaparambil: The population policies or bills proposed by Uttar Pradesh and Assam governments are at variance with the policy that has been followed by India since 1952. India was among the foremost countries to introduce family planning measures right from the initial years after independence. Initially the focus was on family planning to control the number of children; later a more comprehensive approach, focusing on family welfare was adopted.

The policies pursued by the governments, irrespective of the party in power, have resulted in realizing the goals to a great extent. Today, India is not facing any danger of a population explosion.  According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and the Census data, in most states of India the total fertility rate (TFR) has already reached replacement levels (2.1). On a national level, TFR has declined from 3.4 in 1994 to 2.2 in 2015. The bills proposed by UP and Assam are not all in tune with the population policy so far followed by India and found to be effective and successful.

The Assam policy stipulates that those having more than two children will be barred from contesting local elections and will not be considered for promotions in Government jobs. The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) bill 2021 appears to be more stringent than the Assam bill.

The UP bill has provisions for debarring couples having more than two children from receiving government benefits, including denial of government jobs and even promotions, thus violating labour laws. A specific sub-clause states that subsidized rations will be given to only four units. This is in clear violation of the Food Security Act that has no such conditions. As Brinda Karat has pointed out, “To circumvent this and other similar issues, the Bill has an obnoxious clause that it "overrides any other law in force."

The Southern states have been successful in containing population growth because of their focus on economic growth, education, health care and women empowerment. Kerala succeeded in population control because it invested considerably in health and education while allowing people to choose the family size. Kerala has reached Below-replacement fertility,  which is defined as a combination of fertility and mortality levels that leads to negative growth rate, hence a declining population size.

Population policymakers, especially our political leaders, have to learn from the experience of different states of India and also from the experience of other countries before they resort to coercive measures. China imposed on its population one child norm for more than 30 years and in 2016 it adopted a two-child policy. Recently it adopted a policy of encouraging couples to have three children, as it is facing the problem of an aging population.

Imposing coercive methods of population control will adversely affect the poor, especially women. The Population Foundation of India has pointed out that a strict limit on the number of children, like the two-child norm, will unleash a rapid increase in divorce and of sex-specific abortions, which would be highly detrimental to the future of the nation. Instead of opting for coercive measures the state governments have to invest heavily in human capital, health and education and it will automatically result in population control as happened in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

In a democracy, giving coercive powers to the state to decide what the citizens should speak, what they should eat, whom they should marry and how many children they should have etc. can make the state a leviathan. A coercive population control law will increase the power of the State to meddle with the fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution of India.- jacobpt48@gmail.com

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