Two-child norm: Yogi re-inventing the wheel to draw attention away from poor governance
There is no need for coercive population control laws. Uttar Pradesh is backward not because of its population but because of poor governance
China, with a higher population than India, should have been less developed than India and by virtue of having the highest population in the world, it should have been the least developed country. That is the logic advanced by the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission and its chairman Justice A.N. Mittal (Rtd). Contrary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who never gets tired of speaking of India’s demographic dividend, the Commission and the honourable retired high court Justice are convinced that over-population is pulling Uttar Pradesh back.
Ironically China, which had first followed a one-child norm and thereafter a two-child norm, is now promoting the three-child norm. Indeed, the Law Commission’s perverse logic would have made more sense if less populous countries like Nepal and Bhutan had been far more prosperous countries than they are. That is however just one of the several obvious flaws in the argument.
What the Law Commission completely overlooks is that the Family Planning goal set in the 1960s have actually delivered and reduced TFR. The decline has been across the country, even in Uttar Pradesh, where the decline has been slower and there are other, multiple reasons for the state’s backwardness. One of them, glaringly so, is its misplaced priorities.
The government, asserted Justice Mittal (Rtd), cannot allow wasting taxpayer’s money on those who have more than two children. Resources, he declared, were limited and citizens should be aware of the importance of birth control.
His statement coincided with an advertisement blitzkrieg by the Yogi Government to promote Uttar Pradesh as the No. 1 state in the country! The national capital itself was plastered with oversized outdoor billboards advertising the ‘fact’ and adorned with the images of the PM and the CM. If UP is indeed ‘No. 1’, what is Justice Mittal worried about? And if he is concerned with wastage of taxpayers’ money, shouldn’t he be looking elsewhere? What is the state’s spend on health and education as compared to publicity and general administration is what Justice Mittal should be looking in to. But the 18-page draft [The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021] uploaded on its website cites no information or data to back its claim. It does not even have details of the number of children that the state’s ministers, legislators and government employees currently have. Such due diligence would at least have made the Bill a little more credible and justify its urgency.
As it is, the state Law Commission is treating the issue as a fait accompli. Having unleashed the Bill on an unsuspecting population one Sunday (July 11), it has solicited suggestions and objections, if any, from the public to reach it before next Sunday (July 18). And merrily assuming that the suggestions and objections will be of no consequence and will require no processing time, the Commission appears to have fixed July 19 as the day for drafting the final Bill for presentation to the UP Assembly.
Such a tearing hurry just seven months before the next Assembly election can only have a political purpose. The familiar BJP ‘toolkit’ to divert and divide public attention has clearly come to play. It does not matter if the Bill is criticised by experts. It matters even less if the Bill faces legal challenges and is eventually stayed. The political purpose of the Bill would have been served.
Moreover, if there is genuine concern over ‘wastage’ of taxpayers’ money, why stop at the common man and why stop at politicians contesting in local body elections? Why not extend the disincentives to the elite, the police, the IAS officers, ministers and the MLAs?
With half of India’s population below the age of 25, it is not rocket science to predict that India is all set to witness a baby boom. As this staggering young population enter the reproductive age, get married and have children, there will be greater demands on resources. As there was in the period between 1951 and 2011, when the population increased from 36 Crore to 120 Crore.
And although the effects of the pandemic on marriage and reproduction are too early to be known, it was already projected that India would be adding 273 million (27 Crore) people to its population between 2019 and 2050. That is the year when India’s population is expected to stabilise. The Government needs to prepare for it, not shirk responsibility and pass the buck to the people.
The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in India in 1971 was 5.2, which meant that on an average every woman was giving birth to more than five children. In 2011 the TFR came down to 2.7 and in 2015-16 the NFHS data put the TFR at 2.2. So much so that in 2020 the Union Government in an affidavit to the Supreme Court claimed that India was on the verge of reducing TFR to 2.1. Indeed, the decadal growth rate between 2001 and 2011 was the lowest in the last 100 years.
That Indians in the last century, both Hindus and Muslims, had large families is backed by anecdotal evidence. While text books explained that large families were because the poor needed extra hands and did not take chances in view of high child mortality, even the relatively better off families tended to be large.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and even the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had five siblings according to available information. Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had eight children and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav nine.
A report in The Times of India, quoting UP Assembly records, shows that 50% of the present BJP MLAs, all of them Hindus, have three or more children. One of them has eight children, eight of the MLAs have six children each and 15 BJP MLAs have five children each. The picture is not very different when it comes to Union Ministers. Most of them seem to have more than two children and If the proposed law had been applicable to them, they would not have been able to contest the election or enjoy any government benefit.
Former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi effectively debunked the myth that population growth among Muslims has been uniformly higher. Muslims in South India have smaller families than in the North and the fertility rate in 100 pecent Muslim populated areas of Lakshadweep, Kerala and Srinagar, was 1.4 percent when in Uttar Pradesh the fertility rate was higher at 2.4. Justice Mittal, it seems, has some homework to do.
While the draft Bill blatantly discriminates between politicians contesting local body elections and others contesting for the Assembly and Parliament, there is no such distinction in the case of government employees. At least on paper an IAS officer or a policeman with more than two children are also liable to disincentives if they have more than two children and are required to give an undertaking that they will stop having more children.
But the Draft Bill exempts the existing employees and elected local body functionaries who may have more than two children. The badly drafted Bill however adds that they would have to give the undertaking that they would not contravene the law in future.
But while the Union Government parrots the ‘international experience’ that any coercion to have a fixed number of children is counter-productive and leads to ‘demographic distortions’, BJP lawmakers have merrily lent their voice to the babble. Even the BJP MP from Gorakhpur, Ravi Kishan ,who has four children of his own, is all set to present another Private Member’s Bill to legalise the two-child norm. It does not matter that no Private Member’s Bill has been passed by Parliament in the last 50 years. The party and the politician’s purpose would be served. The Bill however diverts and divides public attention. It also shifts the focus from the Government’s responsibility for ensuring good governance and to reduce poverty and inequality.
In the process, the government disowns responsibility for better education, health and employment. It is election time and people must be blamed for its failures.