This article has been authored by Tamanna Gupta, a fourth-year student at RGNUL, Punjab.
India, a country with a population of more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, boasts a rich culture, diversity, linguistic as well as demographic characteristics. More than 17% of the global population resides in India. While a large demographic population lead to more manpower to fuel manual activities, which in turn has its economic benefits, a larger demographic population also has adverse socio-economic, political and health implications, with the country struggling to provide equitable and adequate access to all.
As per the latest United Nations Population Projections, India’s population will surpass that of China by the year of 2024, and India shall thus become the most populous country in the world. Predictions by the United Nations Population Projections state that India’s population shall surpass 1.6 billion by the year of 2050.
However, due to scarce economic and environmental resources to cater to all, the government faulters in providing equitable relief to every citizen of the country, especially to the rural demographic. Factors such as illiteracy, lack of awareness, and son-preference also exacerbate the worrying problem of population explosion. Considering these factors, the Population Regulation Bill, 2019, was introduced in the Parliament. This article aims to analyze the bill in the light of various contemporary developments and its features.
Backdrop and Attempts at Population Control
The need for the Population Regulation Bill, 2019, can be succinctly summarized in the observation of the Supreme Court in the case of Air India v Nergesh Meerza (1981), wherein the Court stated that-
“The Problem of population explosion is a national and global issue for which priority is in policy-oriented legislations, wherever needed, is necessary. Legislative means to check the menace of growing population has been held to be valid”.
While awareness campaigns and population control slogans have recently intensified by way of campaigning, awareness drives, etc., India’s attempts to control the population boom can be traced back to the 1970’s. After the imposition of the emergency in June 1975 by Erstwhile Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, India unleashed an aggressive mass sterilization programme, under which a huge population of about 8 million people, mostly men were sterilized. It has been stated by many that coercion, cajoling and bribery were commonplace in order to induce people to undergo sterilization. India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which means the average number of children born to one woman, dropped sharply, from 5.2 in the 1970’s, to 2.2, in the present decade. However, this sharp fall can be attributed to factors such as social and economic progress, as compared to mass sterilization programs.
Even the Court has supported government measures aimed at controlling population. In the case of Javed and Ors. v State of Haryana and Ors. (2003), the validity of Section 175(1)(q) and Section 177(1) of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 was challenged. These sections stated that persons having more than 2 living children were disqualified from contesting elections to the office of the sarpanch. The court stated that-
The classification based on the number of children is based on intelligible differentia and the classification has a valid objective, i.e. implementation of family planning and population control programs, as enumerated under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Disqualification on the right to contest elections based on the number of children does not contravene the fundamental rights of any person, nor does it exceed the limits of reasonableness. Rather, such disqualifications must exist in national interests.
The Constitution of India can restrict freedoms on the grounds of public order, morality and health, and Section 175(1)(q) and Section 177(1) under Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 are meant for social welfare and reform in general.
Furthermore, in the case of Sunil Kumar Rana v State of Haryana (2003), the Court stated that disqualifications based on number of living off springs seek to achieve a laudable purpose, that is of socio-economic welfare and health of the masses, and is consistent with the principles laid down in National Population Policy. Thus, it can be ascertained that the judiciary has supported legislative attempts to curb the population explosion happening in the Indian context.
Population Regulation Bill, 2019
The Population Regulation Bill, 2019, (Bill No. XVIII of 2019) aims to revive efforts towards “small family” norms and limiting the number of children in an average family to two, by ensuring healthy birth spacing, availability, affordability and quality of services, amongst other factors. The Bill, under Section 2(c) defines “small family” as a family that has up to two children. Furthermore, the Bill under Section 5 lays down incentives for couples that adopt the small family norm, stating that incentives include additional increment, subsidies, loans, rebate on income tax, travel allowances, amongst others. On the other hand, Section 7 of the Bill states dis-incentives for couples choosing not to adopt the small family norm. This Bill is a pioneering concept for ensuring the slowdown of population explosion in India.
Section 9 of the Bill further states that a person may face disqualification from being elected as a member of either house of parliament if the said person has more than two children, however, this section shall not be applied retrospectively. Section 11 of the Bill lays down the provisions for setting up Healthcare Centers, etc. It also lays down the mandate of the government to implement the revised National Population Policy.
Despite such formidable provisions, the Bill has not escaped the scrutiny of various sections of society, with concerns being raised over various aspects-
1. Exclusionist provisions such as Section 7 of the Bill which states that persons with more than 2 children will not be provided with reduced government aids, subsidies, loans, rebate on income tax, has been criticized as violating human and reproductive rights.
2. The act will infringe the right of the women who might have to undertake forced sterilizations, insertion of intra-uterine devices, etc.
However, if the roadblocks such as lack of implementation, insufficiency of checks and balances, accountability, transparency & adherence are resolved, the Bill can serve as a pioneer for ensuring population reduction in India.
The Road Ahead
"Reducing the population growth rate should be our first priority as no other programme, policy or initiative will produce results without managing the numbers."
Population explosion is a living reality in the Indian context. In the present scenario, it is imperative that a pragmatic and realistic policy for ensuring population control must be formulated. In the present scenario, implementing the “small family norm”, which means a family with up to 2 living off-springs, is appropriate to encourage both the rural and urban demographic to control the population. Not only will this have effects on population growth, but will lead to several benefits such as better health for women, better upbringing for the children due to chances of a better education, livelihood, etc. In the long term, this policy can also lead to reduction in the healthcare costs incurred by the state. It can be concluded that the Bill seeks to empower the Indian population by steering them towards a better quality of life, which shall lead India to the path of development, both in the short and long term.