UP population policy will help boost growth, reduce pressure on resources
-Sidharth Nath Singh
Any change in the population policy of the country’s most populous state is bound to be a big deal, but it is not a surprising one. With 240 million people, Uttar Pradesh has 16% of India’s total population and is home to every sixth Indian. If it was a separate country, it would be the fifth largest in the world by population, just behind China, India, US and Indonesia, and bigger than Pakistan and Brazil.
We, as a country, have already been warned of a ‘population explosion’ and it is deemed that the continuous increase in the state’s population will result in a dystopian future as population growth tends to outpace and stifle economic growth. Therefore, an essential part of the solution to this predicament is to have a small family.
The new UP Population policy will inevitably ensure sustainable development with reduced inequality in income distribution and is in line with the vision of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to power the state to a $1 trillion economy. The population policy will also improve health and wealth by allowing planned population movement.
Equity is another issue. Let us say we can feed everyone, but still, some will be far better fed than others. We can’t say population growth is sustainable when many people are alive but still not getting enough. Therefore, a population policy becomes essential.
The policy hopes to create a demographic dividend by removing imbalances in 75 districts. Different demographics have different development levels, creating social problems. Thus the government aims to create balance in all the communities. In the current economic structure, the imbalance is creating stress on resources and therefore, this needs to be rectified.
Those arguing against this policy and giving it a political twist that this is against parental rights must understand that killing of a foetus is illegal in India.
The policy is already in place in other states like Rajasthan where those having more than two children are not eligible for appointments in government jobs. In Maharashtra, too, candidates are disqualified from contesting local body elections (from gram panchayats to municipal corporations) for having more than two children. The Maharashtra civil services rules also bar a person with more than two children from holding a post in the state government. Women with more than two children are not allowed to benefit from the public distribution system.
The UP Population Policy aims to bring down the total fertility rate (TFR) among women to 2.1 by 2026 and to 1.9 by 2030, from the current rate of 2.7. Even if TFR of 2 or 2.1 is achieved, due to population momentum, growth will continue beyond because of the high concentration of women of childbearing age. As a state, we need to continuously focus on indicators that have a critical impact on stabilising population — increasing age at marriage, reducing unmet need for family planning and increasing modern contraceptive prevalence rates.
Efforts will be made to increase the accessibility of contraceptive measures issued under the Family Planning Programme and provide a proper system for safe abortion.
Consumption is the bedrock of an economy and in the current context, the demand has overtaken the supply of both natural and man-made resources. A decrease in population would not only reduce the strain on natural resources but would present the government with better policy choices over the economy.
Already, access to technology in the remotest of areas is driving an attitude shift amongst rural people.
Moreover, a lot changes when people migrate from villages to the cities. Firstly, the child goes from another pair of hands to work in the fields to an additional mouth to feed. A woman is more aware when in the city as she has greater access to media, to schools, and to other women. She demands greater autonomy and often decides to have fewer children.
The policy further ensures easy availability of advanced health facilities, and aims to bring down maternal and child mortality rates to the minimum level through proper nutrition. Health clubs will be established in schools to increase awareness around population stabilisation. A system for the digital tracking of infants, adolescents, and elderly people to bolster the Digital Health Mission will be in place. A National Program for Healthcare for the Elderly (NPHCE) will also be implemented.
This policy has the potential to impact the lives of 24 crore people which includes more than 4.9 crore adolescents and more than 4.4 crore youth in the state. It has set both medium-term and long-term aims to achieve milestones by the year 2030 and align with the targets and timeline set by the state to achieve its sustainable development goals.
The writer is a UP cabinet minister and spokesperson and vice chairman InvestUP
Coercion does not work. China is an example of what India must not do
– Poonam Muttreja
On July 9, the UP Law Commission announced its draft Population Bill, The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021. The first draft of this controversial bill proposes stringent measures for population control, calling for incentives for those who have two children or less and disincentives for nonadherence. Though we welcome the fact that the draft bill has been put in the public domain for feedback, it will have potentially disastrous consequences for UP, leading to increased gender inequality, a more skewed sex-ratio, worse malnutrition and an inevitable rise in unsafe abortions.
There is no national or global evidence to show that population control measures work. Instead, they have been known to lead to an increase in sex-selective practices and unsafe abortions, especially given the already strong son-preference in India. China is a perfect example of the proven inefficiency of coercive policies and is an illustration of what India must not do — it enforced a strict one-child and two-child policy, and had to abandon both because of a demographic disaster and an abnormally high male to female sex ratio.
As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), the sex ratio at birth in UP is only 903 females per 1000 males. For a state already struggling with high levels of son preference and social norms which encourage sex selective abortions, this bill will likely make things worse. Further, with over 63% of children under five suffering from anaemia in the state, and 46% from stunting, a bill that proposes limiting subsidised rations to only two children will impact the nutritional status of the most vulnerable. With limited rations, it is likely that the nutrition of girls will be compromised further.
The proposed bill is a bad solution to a non-existent problem. According to NFHS 4, UP has a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.7, which is well above the national average and replacement level of TFR. However, due to the efforts of subsequent state governments, health outcomes have improved since 2015 and are expected to continue to improve. This will eventually have a positive impact on TFR. The Technical Group on Population Projections for the period of 2011-2036, constituted by the National Commission on Population (NCP) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in July 2020, has projected that UP will achieve the replacement level of TFR by 2025 without a need for coercive policies.
The UP Population Bill will only disproportionately impact the most deprived and vulnerable, as they are the ones most dependent on government rations, subsidies and schemes. With Covid-19 already exacerbating inequities, the actions proposed in the draft bill will only put women and children at further risk.
Instead, advancing girls’ education, access to contraceptives, preventing child marriages and focusing on overall health and development are far more efficient measures to achieve fertility decline and reduce population growth.
In contrast to the draft bill, the UP government has also unveiled a population policy based on a voluntary and choice-based approach, without incentives and disincentives. This has laid out clear objectives to increase access to quality family planning and abortion services, address maternal mortality and morbidity, end preventable child and infant mortality, improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health and nutrition and improve the health and well-being of the elderly. The cornerstone of the policy is that every child is wanted, healthy and educated with a focus on assuring gender equality. It is deeply disappointing that despite unveiling this policy, the draft Bill has been proposed — in essence a parallel process to the population policy. If the proposed bill was to become a law, it would contradict and completely derail the policy, rendering it ineffective and doing the opposite of what it prescribes.
India is a signatory to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which calls for a target-free approach that promotes women’s empowerment and education and encourages community participation and improved services. It is an approach that is echoed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which stated in an affidavit to the Supreme Court in December 2020 “that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counterproductive and leads to demographic distortions.” The proposed Population Control Bill would overturn the positive health and development outcomes that UP has achieved in the last few decades.
UP is India’s largest state and what its government does and what its people do have an impact on India as a whole. We are hopeful that the principles of effective public health management and the holistic approach to well-being proposed in the policy will prevail, and citizens will offer compelling reasons to set aside the Bill.
The writer is executive director of the Population Foundation of India