Why Uttar Pradesh’s Draft Population Control Bill 2021 Is A Disaster In Making
The draft bill is fraught with so many issues that a totally new exercise needs to be carried out.
One hopes that the Yogi Adityanath government will reject the current draft completely.
The State Law Commission of Uttar Pradesh which has been working for some time on framing a bill to control the population in India’s most populous state has published a draft and invited public suggestions till 19 July.
The proposed draft bill titled ‘The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021’ is the second such attempt at the state level after Assam‘s new government issued a new ‘Population and Women Empowerment’ policy document last month.
The UP draft bill is even more comprehensive than the Assam one. Rather than sticking to implementing the ’two child norm’, it goes further and is basically a bill which is striving to ape China’s infamous and failed ‘one child policy’. Moreover, the bill is so comprehensive that it provides ample opportunities for rent-seeking and corrupt behaviour at the lower levels of state machinery and the law-breakers can easily manipulate it as per their whims.
We will discuss details in a bit but it’s pertinent to lay down some basic facts which would make it clear that any bill intended to ‘control’ the population, even in Uttar Pradesh, is clearly not needed.
As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in UP was 2.7 children per woman, only slightly higher than the replacement rate of 2.1 (the rate at which a population is able to complete replace itself from one generation to next). And this TFR has come down significantly from more than 4 to the current level in just last 15 years.
In the last five years, it would’ve been reduced even further and is likely to reach 2.1 in a matter of few years without any specific push from the government.
In any case, the main issue is not overall TFR but certain TFRs - TFR of Muslim women (hence the TFR deficit between Hindu TFR and Muslim TFR is of particular concern to proponents of ‘population control bills’) and TFR in a select few poor, rural states (primarily in eastern India). Otherwise, TFR is 24 states in the country has slipped below the replacement levels (meaning their population will start falling in a few years).
Now, high TFR in rural areas is a secular problem and can be addressed with more economic growth, education, awareness programmes, targeted schemes, etc. It is the high TFR of Muslim community that should be ideally and specifically addressed by the government but that’s not the case with the UP draft bill.
The approaches entailed in the UP bill can be summed up in two categories - carrots and sticks. First involves giving incentives like preference for admission in education institutions, selection in government jobs, tax breaks, etc., and second one involves steps like barring law breakers from contesting elections, receiving government subsidies, etc.
These approaches tell us that the drafters of the bill believe that high TFR among Muslims is a secular problem. There is enough evidence to the contrary. In Kerala, higher literacy has done little to bring down TFR of Muslim community.
If the Muslim community is religiously motivated to produce more children so that it gains a demographic advantage in few decades then financial incentives or stopping subsidies is not going to have much effect.
The only section which will be badly hit will be poor Hindus. Rich Hindus don’t need financial incentives to not have children. They are not having them anyway. In fact, they need incentives to have more children, not less. This is where we come to actual solution. But that’s for another time.
As far as the UP draft bill is concerned, here are some of the biggest problems with it.
First, the bill focuses more on promoting the 'one child policy' than the two children norm. This should be enough to discard it. Maintaining TFR of 2.1 is perfectly fine and a population replacing itself generation after generation doesn’t put any burden on resources of a country which is continuously growing. If we don’t want to meet the fate of the Western world or countries like Japan, it’s critical that we avoid falling prey to false Malthusian notions on population. Whatever happened to reaping the demographic dividend!
Also, one wonders if the Sangh which has advocated for joint families for long is going to back this policy which is chiefly about limiting the size of the family to the minimum.
Incentives (b) to (f) are also applicable to the general public.
Second, to claim any incentive, couples will have to necessarily go for sterilisation operation. The incentives or punishment can be extended solely based on whether the couple is following the policy or is in contravention of it. There is no need for incentivising millions of people to go under the knife which will create its own problems.
Third, to specifically target the poorer sections, the bill is proposing a one-time cash reward of Rs 80,000 to 1 lakh for going under voluntary sterilisation operation if they have one-child. Again, the one-child obsession is strange but more importantly, this will worsen the Hindu-Muslim TFR gap in the coming years.
If the Hindu TFR in UP is so close to the Muslim TFR, it’s chiefly because of the high TFR of poorer Hindus (which are also the majority of the Hindu population). Now, they may lap the government reward up and their TFR would come crushing down but the TFR of Muslims, will reduce at its own pace.
Fourth, some of the incentives proposed are potentially unconstitutional and unworkable. For example, take incentive (c) under section 5 which talks about giving ‘preference to single child in admission in all education institutions, including but not limited to Indian Institute of Management, All India Institute of Medical Science etc.’ This is a state level law and to expect that IITs, IIMs etc., would give preference to a single-child from UP in admissions is bizarre. This shows how poorly thought out this draft bill is.
Fifth, some of the proposed scenarios in the draft bill are completely bizarre. See below.
Gods forbid, if a couple has one kid and he/she dies and they conceive two more kids in separate pregnancies, then they will be in violation of this act! If a couple has two kids and they both die, again gods forbid, they can only have one kid lest they be in contravention of this proposed act.
Sixth, the proposed bill, again in its bizarre pursuit of population control, has effectively put a cap on the number of children a couple can adopt. This may be even legal but no one would in their right mind would think of supporting a bill that disincentives couples from adopting.
Suffice to say that the draft bill being proposed is fraught with so many issues that a totally new exercise needs to be carried out, if at all, by a more sensible group of people than the ones who have drafted it. One hopes that the Yogi Adityanath government will reject it in toto and come up with a much nuanced and responsible piece of legislation.
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