NEW DELHI: The proposed `Population Regulation Bill, 2019’, introduced in Rajya Sabha last week that calls for punitive action against people with more than two living children and making them devoid of all government services, may impact the poor in various ways, public health experts have said.
The private members bill introduced by the Member of Parliament Rakesh Sinha proposed disqualification from being an elected representative, denial of financial benefits and reduction in benefits under the Public Distribution System (PDS) for people having more than two children. The bill also suggests that government employees should give an undertaking that they will not procreate more than two children.
“Disincentives through denial of benefits under anti-poverty schemes such as subsidized food grains through the PDS will impact the poorest and most marginalized sections of the population and worsen their impoverishment," said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India (PFI), calling the Bill “misguided" and a misreading of India’s demographic trajectory.
The Economic Survey of 2018 points out that ‘son meta preference’ – the desire to have a male child – has resulted in 21 million “unwanted girls" in India. “Imposing a two child norm will add to the burden on women, by way of sex selective practices and forced sterilisations. This could result in a setback to population stabilisation efforts, as it happened during the emergency period in mid-1970s. The policy makers, MPs and the government should reaffirm India’s commitment towards a rights based approach to family planning. The government should raise budgetary allocations in order to ensure expanded contraceptive choices for delaying and spacing births and better access and quality of health care for young people," said Muttreja.
“This will not only lead to improved health, but will also visibly improve educational outcomes, raise productivity and workforce participation, and in turn result in increased household incomes and economic growth for the country," she said.
Estimates and statistics of population in India have been showing a slightly positive picture though the country’s population remains a concern for social and economic reasons. While India’s population is projected to overtake China’s in less than a decade as per the UN `World Population Prospects 2019’ report released in June this year, the new projections for India are the lowest since the United Nations began these forecasts. The reason is the sharp decline in India’s population growth rates over 10 years from 2001 to 2011. According to Census 2011, the growth rate of population has declined from 21.5% during 1991-2001 to 17.7% during 2001-2011, across all religious groups.
“We are on course to achieving population stabilisation with a national Total Fertility Rate (TFR – the total number of children born or likely to be born to a woman in her lifetime) of 2.2, close to the replacement level fertility of 2.1. In addition, the Desired Fertility Rate is 1.8, which indicates that women in India prefer to have no more than two children," said Muttreja.
“24 of the Indian states and union territories have already reached the replacement level TFR of 2.1 by empowering women and providing better education and health care facilities. This has been achieved through the government’s actions based on the National Population Policy (NPP) of 2000, which sought to fulfill the unmet need for contraceptives and services by advocating a small family norm without adopting any coercive measures," she said.
Some public health experts have seen the Bill as positive change that may help in curbing the population but the only section that will be at the receiving end will be the poor. ''In a country like India, population is growing at an ever-increasing rate. So far, we have seen that all the family planning regulations are for common man but nothing has been drafted for the politicians or law-makers," said Ajoy Khandheria, Founder, Gramin Healthcare, a primary healthcare provider in rural areas.