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The state of Uttar Pradesh is set to introduce a new policy that aims to control population growth in the state. Titled the ‘Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021’, the policy draws comparisons to China’s one-child policy which was recently abandoned after more than 30 years of existence.

The main difference between the two is the fact that in UP, the bill allows for a maximum of two children instead of one. However, like in China, those who cross the threshold will not receive benefits like government jobs and subsidies. There are also further incentives for those who do follow the new rules.

UP is a state that ranks pretty low on most metrics in comparison to other states here in India. It ranks 28th in GDP per capita and only 6 other states and union territories (out of 36) rank lower in terms of the literacy rate. It ranks 32nd when it comes to the Human Development Index (HDI) and it is also the most populous state in India with just under 200 million people.

These metrics give cause for concern. The situation is in dire need of improvement and the UP government, headed by Yogi Adityanath is of the belief that population control is once such avenue through which to move forward. UP is undoubtedly overpopulated, but is a two-child policy the best way to curtail the population growth? Evidence from China shows how the one-child policy led to various undesirable outcomes.

China's One Child Policy

The Chinese currently have an ageing population, a huge mismatch in the sex-ratio, and a declining fertility rate which are all attributable to the one-child policy introduced in 1980. At the time, China faced similar problems to what UP is coming up against today. Their GDP per capita was very low and officials were concerned that at the fertility rate which was observed at the time (5.8 children/women), China’s natural resources would deplete quickly and environmental damage would also speed up at unsustainable rates.

There was opposition to the policy from the outset. Different groups had different reasons and this forced China to make constant modifications over the years. By the mid-90s, the strictest version of the policy was only applied to urban couples holding a non-agricultural household registration.  Most rural Chinese were given exemptions under certain conditions. A couple wherein both individuals were only children were allowed to have two children of their own,  and special allowances were made for instances where the first child was born with a disability. Ethnic minorities were also exempt from the rules.

All these amendments were made after years of backlash from the Chinese people. By the later years of the first decade of the new century, it became apparent that the one-child policy had now left China with a new set of problems to tackle. Between 1970 and 1979, the fertility rate had actually been declining even before the policy was enacted. This was due to changing social norms which saw women getting married later and a sharper focus on education as the new capitalist economy needed a skilled workforce. Increased use of contraceptives also played a part.

Critics of the policy, both in China and from other parts of the world, have pointed out that an organic decline in the fertility rate brought about in the same way that was happening in 1970s China is a much preferred alternative to state mandated population control. This will be a better alternative in UP as well. The reason why UP has to go down this route is because of years of mismanagement. Even today, it would likely be better to focus on better education and healthcare which would by themselves bring about the kind of social changes needed to curb the population growth. This approach, however, would only see results after a decade or so and needs a focused effort from the authorities.

Population control is already on. Adityanath’s bill risks reversing UP’s improving trends | RAMI CHHABRA 13 July, 2021, The Print

Do the upcoming elections have a part to play?

The policy as it exists today focuses solely on government servants. The proportion of government employees to the state’s population is quite low, which begs the question, how effective can this policy really be? There already exist population control laws across the Hindi Belt, and it is clear that these laws do not really achieve their intended goals as this is the most populous region of the country.

It is also interesting that Yogi Adityanath, a man who is quite close to the Centre, is looking at population control when just one year ago the Central Government told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that,“Coercing people to have fewer children would be counterproductive, leading to demographic distortion.” The Centre seems to be well aware of the problems that forced population control measures can have on the demography of a country. Are there any other motivations that exist for Yogi to undertake such a policy, then? Many have pointed out that the UP elections are coming next year, and that this move seems to have been made largely by keeping in mind that very fact. One of the prevailing narratives in UP about the population growth is that it is the fault of the Muslims, who have a higher fertility rate than other communities in the state.

While that may be the case, the reason is because of their economic and social privilege, which is amongst the lowest in UP. Politicians have presented a case wherein the Muslims are deliberately reproducing at a higher rate in order to overtake the Hindus in terms of the population, and as such are trying to demonise the entire community. 

With the elections coming up, the new law may be viewed as an an attempt to curb the Muslim population more than anything else, and as such may win the BJP government a few extra votes.

It is now a well established fact that fertility rates are primarily linked to socio-economic factors such as poverty, health, literacy, and infant morality. The law as it is today will disproportionately impact the poorer and disadvantaged sections of UPs population. One narrative is that it is targeted at the Muslims, but there are other backward communities in the state who will also suffer as a result. When you consider that more than a quarter century ago at the International Conference on Population and Development it was declared that ‘Development is the best contraception’, and that only a few years later the Vajpayee-led BJP government itself had adopted this view, the decision taken by the UP government appears even more baffling.

There is little hope that the policy will actually achieve the stated goals. Evidence from China and even other parts of India show that forced population control usually doesn’t work, or even worse, it can backfire. If the motivations are purely political, then the outcome of such a law will be even worse, as it will only serve to further stoke religious divisions within the state. If Yogi is serious about population growth, then he will focus on the issues that matter, which will also lead to other positive outcomes. The idea itself is understandable, but everything that comes after it makes little to no sense.

For feedback, write to pavan@bclindia.in

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1 year ago

Largely for india it’s wise not to have any policy restricting number of births as the TFR have reduced more than expected. Should make policies encouraging for female child, as the female to male ratio is low which will be concerning in the longer run