Population explosion must be next target

by January 8, 2020 0 comments

Prime Minister Modi should not only mobilise the support of other political parties but also of the chief ministers. If India wants to be a superpower, then addressing the population explosion is imperative

Will there be a move to contain the population explosion in the country? After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort that “keeping one’s family small is an act of patriotism” hinting at some measures to contain the population, there were expectations that a Bill might be introduced in this regard in the upcoming Budget Session.

Addressing the issue for the first time in his Independence Day speech, Modi expressed concern over the steep rise in India’s population and said that the Centre and States should look at measures to deal with it. “The time has now come that we should take such challenges head on,” he announced from the ramparts of the historic fort.

Currently, the population of India is at 1.37 billion and will overtake that of China, the world’s most populous country by 2027. However, millions still do not have access to clean water, food, healthcare and education, thanks to the unmanageable numbers. Plus, more mouths mean more strain on the resources.

However, now that there are pan-India protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), it is doubtful whether the Prime Minister would open up one more front. Just as the CAA and NRC are perceived to be targetting the Muslims in the country, this too will be seen as an attempt to target the biggest minority community in India. In any case, the “P-word” is a very sensitive subject and no politician wants to touch it after the forced sterilisation drives during the Emergency. It became an election issue and Indira Gandhi lost that election.

The Union Health Ministry even changed the name of the Family Planning Department to Family Welfare Department. Moreover when even China, known for its rigid family planning programmes has opted for an overhaul of its earlier one-child norm, why should India be pushing for family planning programmes?

Besides, the Economic Survey 2018-2019 says, “India is set to witness a sharp slowdown in population growth in the next two decades. Population in the 0-19 age bracket has already peaked due to a sharp decline in total fertility rates (TFR) across the country.” Nine States have already reached the replacement rate of 2.1 or below. All of India will have reached a TFR of 2.1 or below by 2021. Almost all major States, including even populous ones like Haryana and Bihar, are said to have experienced a significant deceleration in population growth. High fertility rates persist in 72 districts, a little over 11 per cent of the country’s 621 districts.  Although India’s population continues to grow, the pace of net addition is decreasing.

The southern States have genuine concern as they have sought a negative growth and are consequently at a disadvantage, as when delimitation takes place or when the Finance Commission allocates resources, one of the criteria is population. The five southern States even held a conclave to project their problems. So special incentives should be given to the States that adopt a negative population growth target.

Those who are against any harsh measures to contain population argue that the one billion plus population would yield a demographic dividend. For poor families, more hands mean more income. Also, it has brought in higher per capita entitlements. Second, the migration from the north and the eastern States has helped maintain growth in the South and the West, where fertility rates are low.

However, Rakesh Sinha, a nominated Rajya Sabha member has tabled a Private Member’s Bill called The Population Regulation Bill, 2019, in the Upper House, which he hopes might be taken up in the upcoming Budget Session. The Bill advocates penalties ranging from denial of financial benefits to ineligibility for elected offices and discontinuation of food subsidy and other such things. There are also incentives for those who undergo sterilisation after having two children. The financial memorandum of the Bill estimates Rs 10 crore as annual recurring expenditure.  Last year 125 parliamentarians submitted a petition to the President to implement a two-child norm. If the Bill gets support, then the Government could adopt it with some amendments. However, while the BJP might support the Bill, hoping that it will consolidate the Hindu votes, the secular parties would not go along with it because of their own vote bank politics, as they believe that the measure is to target Muslims. But in view of the brute majority of the BJP in the Lok Sabha this measure could be pushed through.

Containing the population explosion is imperative and every citizen has a stake in it. It is not enough just to provide contraceptives to women to enhance demographic transition; it should be accompanied by awareness, availability of food, employment and healthcare. Overpopulation is a huge problem that India is grappling with for long. Political compulsions and vote bank politics have so far deterred our Prime Ministers from taking up the issue. It is a good sign now that Modi is willing to change the narrative.

He should not only mobilise the support of other political parties but also of the chief ministers. If India wants to be a superpower, then addressing the population explosion is imperative.

(Writer: Kalyani Shankar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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