The Population Pinch: UP’s proposed law may help, but need to avoid China’s mistakes

Other than that, care must be taken to ensure the burden of contraception/sterilisation on women doesn’t get heavier than it already is.

Uttar Pradesh’s proposed population control law, if enacted, will mean—prospectively—that parents who have more than two children will not be eligible to contest local-body elections or apply for a government job. Further, if they already hold a government post, they will not be entitled to promotions or any government subsidy. The move holds promise, if it is not merely a ploy to engage in communal politics. The proposed law, along with serious disincentives, has a raft of incentives to encourage couples to have one child, or two children at the most.

Upon voluntary sterilisation of self or spouse after the second child, a government servant can receive two additional increments during the period of service (four in the case of voluntary sterilisation after a single child), subsidy on property purchase from government bodies, housing loans at softer terms, rebates on utility charges, maternity/paternity leave of 12 months, 3% additional contribution from government (as employer) to NPS. For sterilisation post one-child, there is free healthcare and insurance for the child, free education up to graduation, scholarship if the child is a girl, etc.

If the parent isn’t a government servant, adoption of two-child policy will beget utility rebates and one-year maternity/paternity leave, and adoption of one-child policy will mean free healthcare and insurance for the child, free education up to the graduation level, higher education scholarship for a single girl child, etc. BPL couples adopting the one-child policy will get lumpsum money from the government. The incentives would likely be more effective than the penalties in nudging people towards population control.

Though the results for UP were not available, interim findings of the NFHS-5 (2019-2020), released December last year, show India’s total fertility rate (TFR) is likely to have come down from the NFHS-4 (2015-16) level of 2.2 given the TFR had fallen in 21 of 22 states. For 19 states, the TFR was below the replacement rate of 2.1. UP had recorded a higher TFR, at 2.7, than the national one in NFHS-4, but the fact is the state has seen a steady decline in TFR.

In NFHS-1 (1992-93) and NFHS-2 (1998-99), the TFR was 4.82 and 3.99, respectively. In NFHS-3 (2005-06), the state reported a TFR of 3.8, which fell to 2.7 by NFHS-4. The unmet needs for family planning and spacing have fallen from 23.1 to 18.1 and 9 to 6.8, respectively, between NFHS-3 and NFHS-4. As such, a policy to control the population may accelerate the achievement of replacement fertility by the state; this is currently projected to happen by 2025, as per the National Commission on Population.

However, the state needs to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of China—where coercive population control policies were in effect for decades. China’s policy precipitated a TFR crash of such proportions that it now has the government anxious—relaxations don’t seem to have yielded any encouraging results so far. Also, the one-child policy led to a male preference in the country—since India already has a sex selection problem, penalty-measures carry the risk of exacerbating this. Other than that, care must be taken to ensure the burden of contraception/sterilisation on women doesn’t get heavier than it already is.

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