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Stabilizing India’s population

By The Assam Tribune
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Bhaskar Phukan

The Department of Human Resource and Family Welfare has to work in coordination to remove superstitions etched in the mind of the illiterate and uneducated in the matter of birth of children and has to change the belief that birth control measures are not in consonance with religious tenets.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare aimed at a two-child policy in regard to population control way back in 1952 and it initiated a vigorous drive of educating people about use of contraceptives and allaying fears about female sterilization. The measures thus taken up met with some positive results but in no way could reach the desired goal. Reasons like illiteracy, superstitions and religious misconceptions stood in the way of the success of the mission. At the inception of birth control measures in 1952, the rate of growth of population was 1.68% and by 1961, it rose to 2.02%. In 1981 it rose higher to 2.35%; only from 1985 onwards the growth rate showed signs of stabilization with a rate of 2.1% in 1988. India today, according to available data, has a population growth rate at 0.99% as in 2020 and the projected rate is 0.97% for 2021.

This downward index has a lot to do with spread of education, change of mindset and also economic compulsions. However, this dip in population increase has little to make the situation a comfortable one because India at present has a hefty 137 crores plus as its population and with one-third of the land area as that of China, our country is going to overtake the population of the neighbour by 2024 unless, of course, some magic formula can be arrived at which is most unlikely in such a short span of time. And considering the time it took to lower down the graph of population growth rate from 2.35% to 0.99%, it looks totally impossible.

A question arises here as to the reasons of success of population control measures taken up by China in 1979 which is nearly 20 years later than it was taken up by our country. To answer the question in a nutshell, it can be conveniently said that China followed a carrot and stick policy in the matter of population control. Their adherence to one-child norm was strict. They paid in cash or in kind to those who followed the government policy and taxed those who did not. Strictness of the policy can be well-understood by the fact that those adhering to the policy of one child were rewarded with cash or with job benefits and those having more than one child were to pay 50% of their income as tax. In certain cases the offenders were made to lose even their employment.

Looking at the nature of a democratically-formed government like we have, sociological circumstances prevalent in the country and also the religious obligations, India cannot afford to resort to such strictness in pursuing a policy on population control. In India possible measures to curb this rise could be a) educating the populace, mostly those belonging to the villages and to the weaker economic sections, about the benefits of a small family; b) enhancing budgetary provisions for the purpose; c) bringing in a legislation by pushing up the age of marriage for females from 18 to 20; d) incentives offered to couples who adhere to one- or two-child norm and paying more attention to male sterilization instead of putting stress on female sterilization alone. Coercive methods are going only to have a detrimental result as experienced by the country during the days of the Emergency when there were forcible sterilizations.

There is no gainsaying that the undeterred growth of population will add to the Herculean nature of the job of creation of avenues for employment, fulfilling of the obligation of education and food for all and other obligations of the state as detailed in the welfare state manual but the methods of tackling the issue must not be harsh.

One placating aspect of this issue is the percentage of the young among this whopping number as population. Statistics put the percentage of population in the age group between 15 and 64 at 67% and more encouragingly 50% of the population is either 25 years of age or only a little older. The young and energetic population no doubt is a great asset to the country but the onus of moulding them into a truly productive asset and providing them with opportunities enough for a push upwards lies more on the government.

It is rather interesting to find that it took Prime Minister Narendra Modi to realize the severity of the issue of spurt in population only after more than four years of his taking over the reins of power. It was only during his Independence Day speech in August 2019 that he expressed his mind on the subject. He cautioned the people and also termed it to be a part of patriotism to contribute to the cause of sustainable population stabilization.

But coming down to the reality of it, the Central Government spends a paltry sum towards family planning compared to the need. With half of its population within the reproductive age group and 68.84% of its population living in villages, it is rather a challenging job to educate the people about birth control measures. The family planning measures have to make do with just 4% of the national health budget.

Several States including Assam have started imposing regulatory restrictions to control population and to establish a two-child policy in a limited way covering only a small cross-section of population comprising government servants and persons seeking a career in politics. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the Population Control Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2019 awaiting the approval of the House. The Bill has provisions, among others, of imposing penalties for couples not adhering to the two-child policy such as debarment from contesting in election and ineligibility for government jobs.

The Department of Human Resource and Family Welfare has to work in coordination to remove superstitions etched in the mind of the illiterate and uneducated in the matter of birth of children and has to change the belief that birth control measures are not in consonance with religious tenets. Monetary incentives to parents and a package of incentives in the field of education to the offspring of couples who adhere to the policy will add to the success of the policy of population control.

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