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Should the state stop focusing on population control?


According to the recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5, India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which is the number of children a woman would have in the course of her life, is 2, a decrease from 2.2 in NFHS-4. This raises the question of whether governments should stop focusing on population control.


GS-I: Indian Society (Population and associated issues), GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Issues Related to Women, Governance and Government Policies, Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Distribution and Density of Population
  2. Determinants of Population Change:
  3. Two-Child Policy in Indian States
  4. Criticisms related to two- child policy
  5. Pointers from the NFHS-5 regarding population control

Distribution and Density of Population

  • Patterns of population distribution and density help us to understand the demographic characteristics of any area.
  • The term ‘Population Distribution’ refers to the manner in which people are spaced over the earth’s surface and the term ’population density’ refers to the number of people living in each unit of area (such as a square mile).
  • India has a total population of 121 crores (or 1.21 billion) according to Census, 2011. Further, India’s population currently stands at 1.37 billion (2019, United Nations Population Division.), which accounts for approx. 17% of the world’s population.
  • These 1.37 billion people are unevenly distributed over our country’s vast area of 3.28 million square km, which accounts for 2.4 per cent of the world’s area. India’s population density therefore stands at 382 persons per square km.
    • The eastern region had the highest density of population of 625 persons per square km.
    • However, the North East had the lowest density at 176 persons per sq km. The eastern region was followed by the central Indian region in terms of density (417).
    • The southern Region had a population density of 397, while the western region, 344 and the Northern Region, 267. In terms of increase, the population densities of the regions of Central India, Northern India and Eastern India grew at a higher pace than the Western, North Eastern and Southern region.

Determinants of Population Change:

  • Fertility: The fertility rate refers to the number of live births per 1000 women in the child-bearing age group, usually taken to be 15 to 49 years.
  • Total Fertility Rate: It refers to the total number of live births that a woman would have if she lived through the reproductive age group and had the average number of babies in each segment of this age group as determined by the age-specific fertility rates for that area.
  • “Replacement level fertility” is the total fertility rate—the average number of children born per woman—at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next, without migration. This rate is roughly 2.1 children per woman for most countries, although it may modestly vary with mortality rates.
  • Determinants of High Fertility: As per data given by the Niti Aayog for the year 2016, the TFR for Indian women stood at 2.3. This is high and several factors contribute to the same:
    • Religious Ideologies
    • Universality of the institution of marriage.
    • Early marriage and early child-bearing.
    • Preference for sons ingrained in the Indian culture.
    • Lack of right of self-determination with reference to reproduction.
    • High infant and child mortality rates – (unsatisfactory health, low nutritional status and poverty) also contribute to a large family size.
    • Economic, social, cultural as well as religious value of children in the Indian society.
    • Absence of adoption of methods of conception control.

Two-Child Policy in Indian States

  • Maharashtra: Maharashtra is one of the few states in the country that have a ‘two children’ policy for appointment in government jobs or even for the elections of some local government bodies. The Maharashtra Zilla Parishads And Panchayat Samitis Act disqualifies people who have more than two children from contesting local body elections (gram panchayats to municipal corporations). The Maharashtra Civil Services (Declaration of Small Family) Rules, 2005 states that a person having more than two children is disqualified from holding a post in the state government. Women with more than two children are also not allowed to benefit from the Public Distribution System.
  • Rajasthan: For government jobs, candidates who have more than two children are not eligible for appointment. The Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act 1994 says that if a person has more than two children, he will be disqualified from contesting election as a panch or a member. However, the previous BJP government relaxed the two-child norm in case of a disabled child.
  • Madhya Pradesh: The state follows the two-child norm since 2001. Under Madhya Pradesh Civil Services (General Condition of Services) Rules, if the third child was born on or after January 26, 2001, one becomes ineligible for government service. The rule also applies to higher judicial services.
  • Telangana and Andhra Pradesh: Under Telangana Panchayat Raj Act, 1994, a person with more than two children shall be disqualified from contesting election. However, if a person had more than two children before May 30, 1994, he or she will not be disqualified.
  • Gujarat: In 2005, the government amended the Gujarat Local Authorities Act. The amendment disqualifies anyone with more than two children from contesting elections for bodies of local self-governance — panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations.
  • Uttarakhand: The state government had decided to bar people with more than two children from contesting panchayat elections and had passed a Bill in Vidhan Sabha in this regard. But the decision was challenged in the High Court by those preparing for village pradhan and gram panchayat ward member elections, and they got relief from the court. Hence, the condition of two-child norm was applied to only those who contested the elections of zila panchayat and blocks development committee membership.
  • Odisha: The Odisha Zilla Parishad Act bars those individuals with more than two children from contesting.
  • Assam: The Assam government announced in 2019 that people who have more than two children will not be eligible for government jobs, with effect from 1 January 2021. The Assam Chief Minister also said that barring the tea plantation workers, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, people with more than two children would gradually not be able to avail benefits under specific schemes funded by the State. This will be in addition to the amendment made in 2018 to the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994, which requires a two-child norm along with minimum educational qualifications and functional sanitary toilets for contesting the rural polls.

States with draft bills or plans as of 2021

Uttar Pradesh: The policy proposes five key targets: population control; ending curable maternal mortality and illnesses; ending curable infant mortality and ensuring betterment in their nutrition status; betterment of sexual and reproductive health-related information and facilities among the youth; and care of elders. The U.P. government’s law commission has also prepared a population control bill, under which a two-child norm will be implemented and promoted. As per the draft, violation of the policy is penalised with measures such as barring for elections and abidance is rewarded with measures such as promotion in jobs, subsidy etc.

Karnataka: The Karnataka (Gram Swaraj and Panchayat Raj) Act, 1993 does NOT bar individuals with more than two children from contesting elections to local bodies like the gram panchayat. The law, however, says that a person is ineligible to contest “if he does not have a sanitary latrine for the use of the members of his family”.

Criticisms related to two- child policy

  • Critics argue that the population growth of India will slow down naturally as the country grows richer and becomes more educated.
  • There are already well-documented problems with China’s one-child policy, namely the gender imbalance resulting from a strong preference for boys and millions of undocumented children who were born to parents that already had their one child.
  • By interfering with the birth rate, India faces a future with severe negative population growth, a serious problem that most developed countries are trying to reverse. With negative population growth, the number of old people receiving social services is larger than the young tax base that is paying for the social services.
  • The law related may also be anti-women. Human rights activists argue that the law discriminate against women right from birth (through abortion or infanticide of female fetuses and babies).
  • A legal restriction to two children could force couples to go for sex-selective abortions as there are only two ‘attempts’.

Pointers from the NFHS-5 regarding population control

  • The latest data from the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) provides evidences of:
    • An uptake in the use of modern contraceptives in rural and urban areas
    • An improvement in family planning demands being met
    • A decline in the average number of children borne by a woman
  • The analysis of the data by the international non-profit Population Council (PC) shows that the Total Fertility Rate (number of children born per woman) has decreased across 14 out of 17 States and is either at 2.1 children per woman or less.
  • This also implies that most States have attained replacement level fertility, i.e., the average number of children born per woman at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next.
  • While during NFHS-3 and NFHS-4, conducted between 2005 and 2016, there was a decline in the use of modern methods of contraception (oral pills, condoms, intra-uterine device) across 12 of 22 States and UTs, in NFHS-5 as many as 11 out of 12 States where there was a slump have witnessed an increase in their use.
  • The indicator to gauge the demand met for contraception has also increased — only five States had more than 75% demand being met in NFHS-4, but now 10 States are able to cater to the demand for family planning by up to 75%.
  • The top performers here are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023