Opposition to population bill is communal

On the World Population Day on 11 July, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath endorsed a draft population policy to control one of the fastest growing populations in the country and sought suggestions for improvement. The brouhaha witnessed in the Opposition camp over this has forced one to ask: Is there something wrong with the pseudo-secular parties?

The draft bill is amenable to constructive suggestions till 19 July. This is the most democratic way any government can function. Two days back (9 July) the state’s Law Commission had announced the draft population policy. Yogi’s endorsement has demonstrated that if you have the will and the determination and you are guided by public welfare, you have nothing to worry about.

Termed “The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021”, this would come into effect one year from the date of its publication in the gazette. The critics should have utilised the time to give feedback and suggestions rather than use their lung power to try to polarise people on communal lines.

Why is the UP population bill being criticised? There are similar provisions in other states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Assam. In absence of an omnibus Central legislation on population control, the states are well within their rights to frame such a law.

Should the UP CM be denied this right because he wears saffron robe? Or, has his decision to have a population policy unearthed a big scam going on in the state in the name of vote-bank politics. Why are certain sections of the maulanas and the Muslim leadership and also pseudo-secular parties speaking in the same voice. Has Yogi called their bluff?

Without mincing words, the Bill says that attempts shall be made to achieve demographic balance between various communities. Focused awareness campaigns would be launched in such communities, groups or geographical locations where there is a higher population growth, it says. The target is to bring the gross fertility rate in the state from 2.7 per cent at present to 2.1 per cent in 2026 and to 1.9 per cent in 2030. Empowering women to make informed personal choices is a key ingredient of the policy.

UP had a population of close to 20 crore when the census was carried out last time in 2011. Its contribution to the nation’s population was 16.5 per cent and it had a growth of 20.23 per cent over the state’s population in 2001. The national decadal growth was 17.7 per cent. As of now the population of the state is somewhere around 22 crore.

If the state decides to come closer to the national average, why should one grudge this? Critics often say the same should be realised through creating awareness. But the state and the Central governments have left no stone unturned to create awareness. But those rooted to religious and social beliefs won’t listen to the lullabies unless the scheme is backed by incentives and disincentives to achieve the state’s objectives. Economic empowerment leads to automatic birth control or smaller families lead to economic empowerment has been debated long enough. There is no harm in adding and experimenting with this new dimension.

People with more than two children would be debarred from benefits of government welfare schemes and would be ineligible for government jobs or to participate in local elections. They would not get promotion in government jobs and the ration card would be limited to four members only. They would also get additional increments, subsidies in purchase of plots or houses, rebates on utility charges and a 3 per cent increase in EPF.

Those not in government jobs but following the two-child norm would get benefits such as rebates on water and power bills, house tax and home loans. There are some liberal provisions in case of children being disabled, twins or triplets or girl children. There are incentives for those in the productive age group undergoing vasectomy.

Some people have argued that it would increase sufferings of poor people who may not be aware of the family planning needs and taking subsidy away from them would be gross injustice. But government policy is going to be backed by schemes to decrease infant mortality and increasing awareness about the need for family planning. Law is neutral for everyone and those who violate it would suffer. Poor people may actually realise the benefits of a better future for their children which they would not be able to give if they do not adhere to the two-child norm.

Some have argued: Why should the child born suffer due to fault of parents? This is ridiculous since all the rights of the child are being protected. The bill intends to disincentivise the violators. And it is the same as saying that a person committing a crime should not be punished because his family would suffer. If we go by that logic the whole edifice or crime and punishment would fall flat.

Some have argued that China has realised the fault of its one-child policy that was adopted in 1979 to check population growth. The Chinese policy was aimed at easing pressure on natural resources and environment and emanated from its understanding that population growth should not outpace economic development. It is estimated that China has prevented the birth of some 400 million people.

The country scrapped this policy in 2015 after realising that it had achieved negative population growth and also its ageing population had become huge. This had created a strange family structure of 4:2:1 where four people produced two children and they in turn produced one. So, this one child would need to support his or her two parents and also four grandparents from both sides.

But the policies adopted by various Indian states are far different than the Chinese model. First, no state is insisting on one child. Two-child norm would gradually help stabilise population. Also, the Indian model has insisted on providing incentives and disincentives and is based on voluntary acceptance.

Some critics have argued that it targets Muslims since members of the community are allowed polygamy and many guided by religious practices do not believe in using artificial methods to control birth. If birth is the gift from God, how can it be stopped? They need to understand that every religion predates discovery of methods of population control. Mahatma Gandhi opposed using artificial birth control methods. Yet, the government went ahead with the policy of family planning. How to check population growth was a concern of Indian leaders even during the struggle for Independence. Family planning was the first priority of the independent government.

Why are some Muslim leaders so scared even when the policy does not talk of any religious community or group? What applies to them applies to Hindus as well. Is it then true that the Yogi government has called off their bluff? Is it true that there is a sinister design that while Muslims should grow unfettered, other communities should adopt the two-child norm? In that case the head count is important for them and not the quality of life? Can any government ignore this phenomenon despite knowing that demographic balance is an important factor for stable democracy? What havoc such change can bring on indigenous populations and their culture has been witnessed in other countries that lost its basic character.

If there is no sinister design, everyone irrespective of caste or religion should accept any attempt made to control the population. We must not lose sight of the fact that resources are limited and the benefits of growth and development would be lost in absence of stabilisation of population growth. India is the second largest populated country in the world and is likely to overtake China and become the largest. But compared to many countries its resources are limited. The pressure on land is immense and disproportionate.

A valid question has been put by critics who say why debar candidates from contesting panchayat elections and other local elections when they can contest legislative Assembly elections and parliamentary elections. But one must know that the states have their own limitations. For the agenda to be taken to Assembly and parliamentary levels, there has to be an omnibus legislation by the Centre.

Already the Assam government has requested the Centre to legislate on this. A private member bill moved by a BJP parliamentarian is pending consideration of Parliament. It is expected that the Central government would take up the issue in the right earnest. But for this to happen, the Centre would need to have an all-India population policy assimilating features from the states that have enacted this. It is time consuming but worth the effort.

As explained to the Supreme Court in December 2020, the Central government said that the country was already on the verge of achieving the target of TFR of 2.1 by 2025 which was set out in the National Population Policy of 2000. The government had clarified that it had achieved this target based on various voluntary birth control measures. It rejected any suggestion of adopting coercive measures on the pattern of China.

The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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