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Population control in India – a violation of fundamental rights or a necessary step

October 01, 2021
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Population Regulation Bill, 2019

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This article is written by Shruti Yadav, from Jagran Lakecity, Bhopal. This article talks about population control in India, its constitutionality and its drawbacks. Also, the article deals with the possi+ble alternative measures India can take to regulate the population.

Introduction

According to statistics, India is currently the second most populated country. It is expected to topple China, the top-ranked, by 2027. The total estimated population of India is 1.38 billion people, which is about 17% of the total world’s population. As per the last census conducted in 2011, the growing population can be advantageous to India with a proper structure as India possesses one of the youngest global populations with an average national age of approximately 29 years, while 41 per cent of our population is below 18 years of age. This implies that most Indians have a preponderance of their working years ahead of them. This population can add to nation-building and economy if provided with the right skills, education and employment. However, population increase or explosion has many downsides too. It can hinder the overall growth of a country. So let us further analyse whether population control is needed in India or not. 

Need for population control

People are means as well as ends of economic development. They are an asset to any country, but as we all know, anything in excess is harmful. So is the case with population. Population outburst in India has proved to be a significant hindrance to economic planning and development progress. Population control in India is a dire need of the time because of the following points:

Capital formation

One of the most severe effects of the rapidly increasing population is its impact on saving, investment and capital formation. The composition of the population in India hampers the increase in capital formation. A high birth rate and low expectancy of life mean an increase in the number of dependents in the total population. In India, 35 per cent of the population is constituted of people less than 14 years of age. They are unproductive consumers. Such individuals are a drag on the economic growth of the country. They are mainly responsible for the low rate of saving, low investment rate, and low rate of capital formation since they are not employed and do not receive remuneration to invest, save or partake in capital formation.

Per capita income

The large size of the population in India and its rapid rate of growth result in low per capita availability of capital. From 1950-51 to 1980-81, India’s national income increased at an average annual rate of 3.6 per cent per annum. However, per capita income had risen around one per cent. It is because population growth has increased by 2.5 per cent. This sluggish growth rate of per capita income has resulted from a high population growth rate despite high national income in specific years.

Unemployment

With the brisk increase in population, the most daunting responsibility for India is to provide employment not only to the increasing labour force every year but also to decrease the accumulation of the unemployed from the past years. The massive size of the population results in a large multitude of the labour force. However, due to a deficiency of capital resources, it becomes challenging to present lucrative employment to the entire working population. Disguised unemployment in rural areas and open unemployment in urban areas are the standard hallmarks of a developing country like India. With the growth in the labour force at an average annual rate of 2.4 per cent, there is only a slight possibility of reducing unemployment for years to come.

Poverty

In the face of an ever-growing population, inequitable distribution of income and inequalities within the country broaden. The growing population is deepening poverty in India as there is a scarcity of resources which is also concentrated in the hands of a few. Also, people have to spend a large share of their resources for bringing up their dependents. 

Maternity welfare

In India, population explosion is the effect of a high birth rate. A high birth rate impacts the health and welfare of women. Recurrent pregnancy without an appropriate gap is perilous to the health of the mother and the child. This leads to a high death rate among women of procreative age due to early marriage. Hence to improve the welfare and stature of women in our society, we have to lessen the birth rate.

Environment

Population explosion results in environmental degradation. The growing population can lead to more pollution, the generation of more toxic waste and the destruction of the biosphere. Excessive deforestation and overgrazing by animals have led to land degeneration. A significant cause of biodiversity loss has been the depletion of vegetation to grow agriculture by the rapidly surging population. Industrialisation, urbanisation, increasing vehicular traffic have led to air pollution, and domestic sewage and industrial effluents have led to water pollution.

Scarcity of resources and services

The rapid rise in population puts a massive burden on infrastructures like health care, education, housing, water supply, sanitation, power, roads, and railways. Infant mortality is already relatively high. Malnourishment in children is widespread. Ample villages are devoid of any source of drinking water in India due to the scarcity of financial resources. India has not provided many essential services adequately due to a significant increase in population. India has the largest illiterate population in the world. There is mass illiteracy among women, especially in rural areas. The goal of the universalisation of education is far away. 

Inflation

Food production and distribution have not been able to catch up with the increasing population. Hence, the costs of production have increased. Inflation is a significant consequence of overpopulation.

Standard of living

Rapid population growth is to be blamed for India’s low standard of living. Even the bare necessities of life are not available adequately since resource distribution has been a major issue.

Social problems

Population explosion leads to a rise of several social problems. It causes the migration of people from rural areas to urban areas, causing the creation of slum areas. People live in the most unhygienic circumstances. Unemployment and poverty lead to frustration and resentment among the literate youth. This leads to robbery, prostitution and crimes. The terrorist movements that we find today in numerous sections of the country exhibit frustration amidst unemployed professional youth. Overcrowding, traffic congestion, frequent accidents and pollution in large cities are the immediate result of overpopulation.

Population Regulation Bill, 2019

The Population Regulation Bill, 2019 introduced by Member of Parliament Shri Rakesh Sinha in the Rajya Sabha on July 12, 2019, calls for penal action against people with more than two living children, including debarment from being an elected representative, dismissal of financial benefits and decrease in benefits under the public distribution system.

The bill also proposes that government employees should give an undertaking that they will not conceive more than two children.

There are limited ecological and economic resources at hand. Therefore, the justification of the bill held that it is imperative and critical that the provision of necessities of human life, including affordable food, safe drinking water, adequate housing, access to quality education, economic/livelihood opportunities, power/electricity for domestic consumption, and an unharmed living is accessible to all citizens.

The draft bill then insists that it is essential to control and uphold the state’s population to encourage sustainable development with more equitable distribution.

The criticism of the bill states that it will widen the gap between the poor and the rich. The poor will suffer if benefits under public distribution schemes or other government-funded schemes are taken away from them. Health care facilities and finance for contraceptives are also not available to the lower strata group. Also, without proper education and knowledge, the poor do not understand the importance of small families and further procreation as it implicates more financial burden on them.

Will a population control bill be under the ambit of fundamental rights or ultra vires

A few years back, the Prime Minister expressed concern over the prospect of a ‘population explosion’ in India in his address to the nation on Independence Day and said that keeping small families was patriotic. It has since sparked a keen interest and debate on population control policies. The two-child policy has been presented in the Parliament over 35 times since 1947. Key points of the debate on the population control bill are as follows:

Alternative measures to control the population in India

A population control policy is not only a coarse violation of fundamental human rights; most of its bearing will be on the people at the bottom-most level of socio-economic strata. It could have devastating, long-term, irreversible outcomes. In China, the population control policy failed. There needs to be a shift in standards that equip and empower the country’s youth and expand quality procreative health assistance. India must invest in sustainable methods that shield the rights and matters of its citizens with non-coercive family planning policies as the core. Access to family planning knowledge, adequate health care systems and counselling sessions require attention. Overpopulation is a deeply rooted social issue. Efforts should be made to eradicate it from its root. Steps taken can be:

Legal marriage age

As fertility depends on the age of marriage, the legal age to marry should be increased. In India, the legal age of marriage for men is 21, and for women, 18. Marriage at a young age devoids people of knowledge regarding family planning and sensitization towards the issue of population. A task force constituted last year by the Narendra Modi government to examine its proposal of increasing the age of marriage for women has submitted its report, recommending an increase in the age from 18 to 21. The task force consisted of secretaries of the Health and Family Welfare, Women & Child Development, Ministry of Education, and the Legislative Department of the Ministry of Law and Justice. Other members included Najma Akhtar, Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia; Vasudha Kamath, former Vice-Chancellor of SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai; and Gujarat-based gynaecologist Dr Dipti Shah.

Health care system

The problem with developing countries like ours is the mediocre health service system. There is also a vast urban and rural divide. Rural areas have hardly any adequate health services, and therefore infant mortality rate is high. This is also why people prefer to have several children in rural areas.

Standard of women

It is also vital that we raise the standard of women in our country. If they are educated, made aware of the importance of their health and are not seen as objects to bear and rear children, population growth would surely decrease. Women need to grow socially and economically for that to happen. 

Literacy

Illiteracy also plays a role in a population explosion. Literate people prefer to have small families, are aware of contraceptive methods and realize the consequences of a large family.

Contraceptives

Contraceptive methods should be made economical. Stigma related to it must be uprooted. People should also be made aware of contraceptive measures and their importance.

Spreading awareness

The benefits of family planning should be propagated through mass media. The population is also a cause for illiteracy, illnesses, and malnutrition and its adverse effects need to be preached to the general populace to develop their reasoning and understanding.

Population control during an emergency – violation of human rights

There has been much debate on population control in India, and many bills were proposed on the same. The lack of proper implementation and hesitance of India towards a population control law is due to a sort of post-trauma trigger of the population control policy during the emergency. Since then, population control policies in India have always been perceived with a negative connotation. During the emergency period of 1975, the Indira Gandhi led government began a gruesome campaign to sterilize men for population control. Laws for compulsory sterilization of men were against the notions of democracy. More often than not, it was done without the consent of the individual. People were coerced and dragged by policemen and government officials to surgery. Pressure on people was formed using not only force but manipulative methods. The government propagated that promotion and payments to employees would not be provided until they complied with the sterilization policy. Free medical treatment in hospitals was also stopped until a sterilization certificate was presented. Unfortunately, poor and illiterate people were picked up from railway stations or bus stops by government officials,  completely negligent of their age or marital status. 

A staggering 6.2 million men were sterilized in one year. India comes with its sordid history of state-sponsored population control methods. The poor and marginalized sections of the country mostly bore the brunt of it. There are ripple effects of those mass sterilizations seen even now. It is why India is always apprehensive of rigid population control policies. Therefore, we can conclude that the population control drive during the emergency was a grave violation of human rights.

Countries that have population control laws

Population control in the People’s Republic of China

One-child policy

China has the largest population on earth. Fearing that overpopulation would hinder their economic development, the Chinese government in 1979 implemented a one child per family policy. Per the policy, pregnant couples were required to file for a family planning service certificate. Then the government issued a birth permit through a complex procedure, making the task of having a baby more difficult. The government treated the applicant’s mother and father with intense scrutiny. The Chinese government uses an identification number to keep track of the wombs in China. If parents did not acquire the certificate before the child’s birth, the hospital would not circulate a birth certificate, and thus, there would be no legal document or record of the child’s birth. These methods discourage people in China from having more children. The Chinese government deems reproduction as a privilege it awards only upon the citizen’s accomplishment of their duties towards the state. Once a couple has been granted the right to have a child, they must use contraception to block further pregnancies. Because China’s society has deeply inherent patriarchal customs, the burden for contraception falls primarily on the woman. Officials typically granted certain types of contraception, namely intrauterine devices (IUDs) and tubal ligation. These methods are easily checked, lasting, and offer bureaucratic expediency. Ordinances urged women with one child to use IUDs and those with two children to undergo tubal ligation.

Two child policy

Then in 2016, China eradicated its decades-long one-child policy to combat an ageing society and narrowing workforce. Espoused couples could have two children and no longer had to appeal for a family planning service certificate. While the relaxation did result in some improvement in the proportion of young people in the country, the policy change was deemed insufficient in averting an impending demographic crisis.

Three child policy

A shrinking working-age population and a growing retired population would hamper China’s economic growth and strain social services. The one-child policy also led to selective sex-based abortions, causing a sex imbalance to form over time. Therefore from May 2021, couples in China will be allowed to have up to three children, as policymakers seek to address the country’s long-term demographic imbalances.

Population control in Indonesia

Indonesia has one of the most robust and most thriving national family planning initiatives in the world. With the aid of Muslim leaders, the country doubled its contraceptive ubiquity rate to nearly 60 per cent between 1976 and 2002. It halved its fertility rate from 5.6 to 2.6 children per woman. This unquestionably helped lay the foundation for Indonesia’s rapid and effective annual economic growth of at least 5 per cent since 1980. Among other things, the government authorized to:

Conclusion

The ever-growing population is a severe issue at hand which needs to be resolved. Coercion and manipulation of people to keep the family size bare minimum are repugnant and a breach of fundamental human rights. High birth rates create large numbers of children relative to the number of working adults, savings that might otherwise be invested in the country’s infrastructure and development instead must be diverted to meeting the immediate food, health care, housing and education needs of growing numbers of children and adolescents. This prevents countries and families from making the longer-term investments needed to help lift them out of poverty. India needs sensitized ways of population control like awareness on family planning, contraceptives, awareness on health adversities due to less gap between children and economic and social pressures of a large family. Essential means like education and health facilities also need to be provided adequately for the population to decrease. Population control which promotes the advantages of small families and spreads awareness of the ill-effects of large families so that people choose to have only one or two children is required to control the population without infringing people’s rights. Although the high court declared population control laws as unconstitutional and against people’s rights, a plea has been filed and trial is ongoing in the Supreme court on the basis that the high court failed to appreciate that the right to clean air, the right to drinking water, the right to health, the right to peaceful sleep, the right to shelter, the right to livelihood and the right to education guaranteed under Articles 21 and 21A of the Constitution could not be secured to all citizens without controlling the population explosion.

References


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