Message should go to people that if they think in the interest of the state, the state will take care of them as well
Population should be understood considering the country’s resources and its growth. The relationship between these two is determined by three factors.
First, each individual must be assured a minimum standard of living. If 40 per cent of the population suffers while 60 per cent lives a luxurious life, it clearly means our resources are not equally distributed.
Second, the state has limitations while implementing developmental works. Be it a communist state, a capitalist state or a welfare state, it cannot exploit all the resources for the present generation; future generations have equal right over these.
The third is the stability factor. When there's development while the population grows, it consumes the futuristic vision. Despite the construction of roads and flyovers, traffic congestions are a constant in cities. Visit a village or district after a five-year gap, one will find arable lands occupied by shops or residential houses.
Given situations like climate change, the question that arises is how much extra population we can add every year. Some aggressive optimists say development is required to sustain society. I think it is important to discuss everything in a democratic country. This is the reason I introduced the Population Regulation Bill.
The population discourse is suffering because of two deficits. First, in the 1970s, the then government encouraged family planning with the slogan “Hum Do, Hamaare Do”. The government realised that population explosion was imminent and for the first time the country had a discussion on population. But in 1976, Sanjay Gandhi hegemonised the state and used coercion to achieve certain goals. The coercion is still vivid in people’s minds, and successive Congress governments realised the mistake.
The realisation was reflected in 1992 when the National Development Council set up a committee on population control led by the then Kerala Chief Minister K Karunakaran. It suggested the two-child norm and recommended that those who breached it would not be allowed to contest the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha or any other elections.
But it put the committee report in cold storage. Its understanding did not reflect in its debates or policies. People interpreted the problem in their own different ways. Ultimately, the debate became a victim of communal discourse. This was the second deficit.
Communal discourse has worked as a deterrent for futuristic and scientific debate on population stabilisation. Some opinion-makers justify India’s population and say the country will achieve 2.1 Total Fertility Rate (TFR). They forget that given India’s high population, the addition of even 0.01 TFR would equal a few Indian states’ total population. Every addition to the optimum population is a burden on the state, its taxpayers and its resources.
The Bill gives benefits to women, the biggest victims in a health crisis. It says that every primary health centre must have a maternity centre and every woman must get a health card. All women must get free health check-ups and compulsory routine counselling. The Bill also gives benefits to those who follow the two-child norm, since they do not add to the population but replace themselves. They should get more interest on bank deposits, priority in admissions, promotions, etc.
The message should go to people that if they think in the interest of the state, the state will take care of them as well.
The author is Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. He indroduced the Population Regulation Bill in Parliament
This was first published in Down To Earth's print edition (dated 1-15 february, 2020)
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