Bharat, with a population of 1.39 billion and a density of 464 persons per square kilometre, is the most densely populated country in the world. The country is also grappling with the problem of illegal immigration mainly from Bangladesh. There are said to be at least 5 crore illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the country and additionally there continues to be constant inflow of Rohingya illegal immigrants as well.
A nation-wide population policy has been the demand of many citizens and activists and private-member population-control bills have been tabled in the past as was done last year and another one was to be introduced this year in the monsoon session as well.
While awaiting a national-level population-control policy, two states that have taken the initiative independently to formulate state-level population policies are Assam followed by Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Some other states have earlier put in rules in place for curtailing family size. For example, in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Telangana, and AP, persons with more than two children are disqualified from contesting local elections
According to the 2011 census, the population of Assam is 3.12 crore as against 2.66 crore in the 2001 census which indicates a very high decadal growth. Its population density is 398 as per the 2011 census as against 340 in 2001. It is the most populated state in the north east although it is the second largest in terms of area after Arunachal Pradesh. Over 61% of the population are Hindus, over 34% are Muslims, and about 4% are Christians.
According the Ministry of Labour and Employment, GoI, Unemployment Rates of 2015-16, Assam’s unemployment rate is 61 per 1000 as against the national average of 50 per 1000.
In 2017, Assam drew up the Women Empowerment and Population Policy which is the basis of the recently announced population-control policy in Assam. The new incentive-based policy is a two-child one and recommends cutting benefits in state-government funded schemes for those flouting norms. Some groups like SCs, STs, and tea-garden communities are excluded from these norms. The scheme has been set into operation and is to be applied prospectively and not retrospectively.
Incentives/Disincentives for following the two-child norm
Those flouting the two-child norm will be barred from:
- being nominated to Panchayat and other local body elections
- obtaining government jobs
- availing of benefits of state-government funded schemes although availing of central government schemes will be allowed
- availing of loan waivers
The Assam CM clarified that these population policy norms will be applied henceforth and that the population policy has started.
Following this lead, the UP Law Commission too has come up with a similar if not identical incentive-based population policy which is currently in draft form.
UP is the most populated state in the country with a current population of 21 crore. In 2001, its population was 16.62 crore and in 2011 it was less close to 20 crore.
UP has a very high population density of 828 per square kilometre and the population is composed of around 80% Hindus, 19% Muslims, and around 1% of Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists.
The unemployment rate in the state has declined significantly. It was 17.5% in 2017 when the Yogi government took charge. Per a June 2021 CMIE report, the unemployment rate has now fallen to 6.9% which is a significant achievement.
But due to its high population density, backwardness of certain regions within the state, and poverty that affects certain parts of the state, it was felt necessary to implement a population-control policy to help prevent further pressure on scarce resources. Its fertility rate is 2.7% and the aim is to bring this down to 2.1%.
Like in Assam, the population-control policy uses the incentives and disincentives approach.
Incentives for following the two-child norm and one-child norm
- Those who aren’t government servants will get rebate on electricity bills, home loans, tax on houses etc.
- Government employees will get soft loans for home construction at minimal rates
- Government employs will receive rebates on home loans and electricity bills
- Government employees will get two additional increments during their service period
- Government employees will receive subsidies from the housing board on purchasing land, building, or a house
- Government employees will receive free health care
- Government employees will receive insurance coverage for the spouse
- Female government employees will receive 12 months maternity leave with full salary
- Government employees will receive a 3% surge in the Employer Fund Contribution
- BPL couples with one child where the man or his spouse undergoes a voluntary sterilization surgery will receive a lump sum of Rs 80,000 if their child is a boy and Rs 1,00,000 if their child is a girl.
- The ration card limit would be four members for all families.
- Those not following the norm will not be eligible to apply for state government jobs.
- Those already in government jobs will be ineligible to get promotions.
How will these bills treat polygamous families?
Details on how the bill would treat cases of polygamy are not clear for Assam but in the case of UP, the draft bill document specifies the following: ‘The personal law governing A allows polygamy. A has three wives B, C and D. A and B, A and C, and A and D shall be counted as three distinct married couples so far as the status of B, C and D is concerned but as far as the status of A is concerned, it shall be counted as one married couple for the purpose of calculation of the cumulative number of children.’ In other words, if A has more than two children from his multiple marriages, all rules that apply for flouting the two-child norm will apply to him. The rules would however not apply to B, C, or D if each of them individually get two children or less.
However, applying the law in this manner for polygamous families can make it less effective. It would rather have been better to treat all families including polygamous ones in the same manner so that rules of flouting the two-child norm would apply to all the parents in the family unit.
Efficacy of various incentives/disincentives
Typically, those communities which are more highly educated seek government jobs and would be the ones affected by the government job related disincentives.
Ineligibility to participate in various local body elections is likely to affect all demographic groups. For example, one study on participation in Gram Panchayats found that neither the wealth status, nor belonging to specific social or religious groups had a significant impact on participation in local bodies. However, gender as well as education and access to information were significantly associated with participation.
It appears that the disincentives related to obtaining government jobs are likely to affect the majority community far more than the minority community while participation in local body elections may affect all demographics.
Mandatory versus incentive based
The advantage of having incentive-based policies is that scarce government resources can be saved by penalizing those who add to the population pressure and rewarding those who are disciplined enough to not burden the already densely populated land with a large number of children. Some decades ago, China too had introduced population-control policies that included both mandatory rules as well as incentives.
Another factor is that incentive-based policies do not require law enforcement involvement for implementation. With Bharat already reeling under the burden of a broken and weak law-and-order system in several states and a slow-moving judicial system, a policy needing law enforcement and judicial systems for its implementation would never work. In any case, for an issue such as family size, criminalizing having more children and mandating the number would not be legally tenable either.
Individual states attempting incentive-based policies will be a learning experience for a similar bill to be brought in at the national level. It may also pave the way for formulating an effective policy for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) although the UCC cannot be an incentive-based policy and would need inputs from law enforcement and the judicial systems in order to be enforced. The UCC would only be enforceable when effective and strong law-enforcement and judicial systems are put into place but a nation-wide population-control policy based on incentives may be a good option.
(Featured image source: overpopulation.weebly.com)
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