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A political chorus has started on population policy and it’s getting louder day by day. This is an issue that has demolished the boundaries of political parties. On the one hand, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is not ready to accept the new population bill proposed by the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh; on the other, the health minister of Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Raghu Sharma, finds the population policy a necessity for the country. He even goes further and says that the days of two children are over; now, there should be a policy of only one child. After this announcement, similar echoes were heard from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

We should remember that Himanta Biswa Sarma, who joined the BJP from the Congress and became the chief minister of Assam, was the first to start this chant. In June itself, he had announced plans to implement the ‘two-child policy’ in his state in a phased manner. Let me tell you that the minimum educational qualification, running a toilet in the house and not having more than two children have been mandatory for participating in panchayat elections in Assam since 2018. What Sarma said went into the cold storage, but when Adityanath proposed a population policy for Uttar Pradesh on 11 July, a ruckus broke out.

It is necessary to understand the provisions of this policy before delving deeper into its political consequences. According to the announcement made by Yogi, government employees adopting the policy of two children will get two additional increments in their service time, 12 months leave with full salary and a 3% increase in the employer’s contribution to the National Pension System. If a couple gets a vasectomy after one child, then a lump sum financial assistance of 80,000 will be given for the son and 1 lakh for the daughter. At the same time, people with more than two children will be deprived of government jobs, subsidies, participation in panchayat and local body elections, and other facilities by the state can also be withdrawn. Government ration will also be available to a maximum of four members per family.

This idea may seem beneficial to many people, but there may be a lot between the announcement and implementation of this policy. This is why the Centre told the Supreme Court last year: “The government is unequivocally against forcing people to have a certain number of children." No wonder some people are saying that these announcements are politically motivated. But if the politicians will not do politics, what would they do? So, Adityanath got some sort of success in his objective. The same thing happened in the case of the Kanwar Yatra. After the remarks of the apex court that the religious event should not be held, it was withdrawn but the state government has made its intention clear. Such tricks have their own importance in an election year.

Some people smell communalism in this entire discourse, while statistics show that the fertility rate among minorities is already declining. According to the National Family Health Survey, the fertility rate in Muslim society was 4.4 in 1992-93, which dropped to 2.6 in 2015-16.

Last year, medical journal Lancet claimed that India’s population would be reduced to 1 billion by the end of this century. Despite this, India will be the most populous country in the world. It will be followed by Nigeria, China, the US and Pakistan. In the same report, it predicted that the population of our country will be at its peak by 2047. This will be the point from where the pace of population will start declining to get balanced by itself.

At the same time, officials of the Population Foundation of India said the fertility rate is falling rapidly in most states, and in the coming days, it would keep declining in most of the states except for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha. The rate is going to be negative soon. Older age marriage, the gap between two children and the increased urge to educate children in the low-income group has increased awareness. The notion of ‘big family, more earning hands’ has now changed. This is the reason why Adityanath wants to reduce Uttar Pradesh’s current 2.7% childbirth rate to 1.9%.

The balance of the population is important for the country and also for an economically backward state like Uttar Pradesh. Scholars believe that India and China will regain their economic glory in the first half of this century, which was taken away from us by foreign invaders two centuries ago. For those who don’t know, let me tell you that by the beginning of the 18th century, the share of China and India in the GDP of the whole world was about 50%.

When it comes to population control, it can’t be achieved without the cooperation of society and the government. Around 1960, three children were considered the norm. For the next decade, the government came up with the slogan Hum Do Hamare Do. At that time, society was changing, so many people adopted it. Today, if you ask the youth of the ‘996 Generation’, they will say that we cannot afford to raise more than one child. Let me explain what the ‘996 Generation’ is. These are couples who work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

Needless to say that the policy of population is a part of social policy. Indian youth have understood and learned a lot by keeping pace with the world. They also want a ‘nutrition policy’ along with the population policy, so that every child born on Indian soil can get the right to sufficient nutrition.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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