Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s unveiling of the state’s population policy last Sunday coinciding with World Population Day (11 July 2021) came as the state’s ‘population bomb’. Though parts of the document were released days earlier as the state’s law commission report and a draft, it is making its impact as the days roll by. The pot is stirring in right earnest.
Spreading its ambit over ten years and billed as ‘The Uttar Pradesh Population Policy 2021-2030,’ it dangles a carrot-and-stick regime to bring the state’s population from the current 220 million or 22 crore to about 256 million by 2030 and 288 million by 2050. In terms of total fertility rate (TFR) or the number of children a woman gives birth to over a lifetime, the TFR is expected to touch 2.1 by 2026 and 1.9 by 2030. The top aim is to have a two-child family as the norm. “Ham do, Hamare do – We two as a couple with our two children.”
In global context, India’s population will overtake China’s by 2027, with the state’s population stabilising by 2062, according to Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh. Other demographic reports suggest India overtaking China population by 2025 or even earlier.
All laudable estimates and targets, the proof of the pudding lies in eating or how to achieve it. The list of carrots and sticks in Yogi’s policy is quite long and they come in rather different shapes and sizes. Nothing is straight and some may look heavy and with crook handles. The list of disincentives is pretty formidable.
Top of the list is the loud and clear message which flags: “No Government job for any one with more than two children.” Added to this is another rule which bars any promotion or salary increment for those with more than two children during the period of service. The job rule looks harsh though in fact it doesn’t mean much as there are extremely few jobs in this sector. Indian economy is vastly informal, with regular jobs, private or government, making up less than ten per cent. Jobs in government could be less than three or four percent of the total formal market. Just a few crumbs… But as a symbol, it is quite a frightener and a terrific ploy.
Yogi’s second big stick would hit those with more than two children by prohibiting them from contesting local body elections or receiving any kind of subsidy and benefits of as many as 77 schemes available to others.
The use of the punishment stick is already being questioned by Yogi’s BJP allies and opponents. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has categorically stated that education and awareness, not compulsion by legislation, is the right approach to control the population. His party colleague and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi has asked allies not to make contradictory statements and suggested that allies thrash out a common approach.
Some of the Congress opponents from Rajasthan have gone further by suggesting that the time has come to propose a one-child policy with the slogan “Ham do, Hamara ek – We two, our one child”. The idea has been floated by Rajasthan Health Minister Raghu Sharma and apparently backed by state Youth Congress President and MLA Ganesh Goghra who said the Centre should bring in a population control law. Lots of straws in the wind!
The Uttar Pradesh population Bill is attracting flack on many counts. But in the main, it is under attack on its opportunist timing. Why now when the state elections are only a few months away, ask its critics. The BJP seems to have run out of real issues like health and vaccination shortage in pandemic times that concern people right now, they allege. The undercounting of Coronavirus death toll and incidents of half-burnt bodies floating in the holy Ganges are issues that still need answers. The sudden elevation of population bogey is being talked about as a rabbit out of a magician or madari’s hat. As of now the success or failure of the rabbit trick remains in the air.
At stake is the much more important issue of fighting poverty in Uttar Pradesh which carries the badge of the nation’s most populous ‘Bimaru’ state. Tackling the myriad ailments like abysmal poverty, lack of adequate medicare, hospital infrastructure, and the condition of Dalits and downtrodden sections of the society are the questions that need answers now rather than the population issue which requires long-term strategic planning. Population issue should have been taken up at the start of the party government’s five-year term rather than at the fag end.
By and large India’s population control policy has been well in hand, especially since the year 2,000. Twenty-four out of our 29 states have already achieved a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.1 which is regarded as the replacement level, meaning no real population growth. Even the remaining states, including Bimaru Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, are making steady, though slow, progress. The two states will continue to be a drag on the rest of the country for quite some time but there is no need to panic or to resort to a plethora of heavy stick disincentives a la Yogi-style.
Population control by persuasion rather than punishment is the right course for the nation where vast sections of the population suffer from abysmal poverty. The backlog of poverty in the country is going to dog us till the end of this century before we begin to have some modicum of prosperity. No milk and honey or the so-called demographic dividend in the immediate future. But we must soldier on steadily without resorting to the Yogi-style heavy stick policy or going the Chinese way.
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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi