Misguided policy with communal tinge

Misguided policy with communal tinge

There is no need for India to enforce a population policy centred around a coercive two-child norm

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Credit: PTI File Photo

The proposals being pursued by two state governments to deny the benefits of welfare schemes to people with more than two children are wrong and unjust. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said his government will gradually implement a two-child policy, linking it to welfare schemes. He also specifically mentioned Muslims in the context of the state’s policy. The Uttar Pradesh Law Commission is preparing a law that will limit welfare benefits to those with only two children. Both are BJP-ruled states. Assam has already implemented a wrong policy in the case of government jobs, by denying them to people with more than two children. Some states have made the two-child norm a condition for contesting elections to local bodies. Such linkages are based on a wrong understanding of population growth and amount to a denial of the civic and political rights of people. They also have a communal dimension.

There is no need for India to enforce a population policy centred around a coercive two-child norm. Population growth is no longer a matter of serious concern as it was in the last century. India’s population is likely to peak around 2050 and then to start declining. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has declined from 3.4 in 1992-93 to 2.2 in 2015-16, according to data from the National Family and Health Survey. The trend has been seen among all communities, including Hindus and Muslims. The decline is steeper for Muslims than for Hindus. In some states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, the TFR among Muslims is at or below the replacement level of 2.1, and in many other states it is close to that. Wherever the TFR level of Muslims is high, it is because of socio-economic reasons like poverty, low literacy and poor health facilities. The narrative of a runaway Muslim population outgrowing or disadvantaging the country’s Hindus is therefore wrong.

Even in times of high population growth, using the stick to control population is bad policy, with undesirable consequences. China relaxed its strict one-child policy five years ago and is now allowing three children in a family. The denial of jobs, welfare benefits and democratic rights with an intention to curb population growth is flawed policy and can harm the country. Such a policy will hit the poor, marginalised and less educated people who need these rights and benefits more than others. Improving the socio-economic conditions of the poor and backward sections of the population by investing in human capital, health and education is the best family welfare policy. The plans now being made by the two state governments are more about politics than about population.

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