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UP Population Bill: Positive Step or Punitive Measure?

The Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission on July 11, 2021, proposed a policy for population control under the Control, Stabilization and Welfare Bill. The Bill will cover the entire population of the state but its impacts are supposed to be mostly borne by government employees and its officials. The state is looking to manage its population effectively for optimum utilization of resources for growth and development, an idea seen to be motivated by China’s meteoric rise as an economic superpower after its one-child policy. Uttar Pradesh is incidentally also the most populous state in the country and has among the highest rates of unemployment. As various schemes to alleviate poverty and catalyse an economic boom have never met expectations, the efforts to reduce the load on the state’s reserves are being seen as a way to move forward. 


China’s implementation of the one child-policy in 1979 resulted in a steep decline in the total fertility rate of the country from 2.745 to around 1.696 in 2019. While the policy helped reduce population growth from 11.6% in 1979 to 5.9% in 2005, it has also left behind some negative impacts like a skewed sex ratio and an ageing population. Ever since China introduced its one-child policy, journalists and writers have expressed their concerns over the skewed sex ratio in the country. Though these criticisms have garnered acceptance even from the researchers and experts, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the preference for sons in the country is a bigger cause for skewed sex ratios than the one-child policy itself. However, it certainly encourages this preference since for the families to have a female child becomes a trade-off against having a son. Like many other regions across India, a similar preference for sons prevails in UP and we should perhaps expect results similar to that in China.  


As of 2017, thirteen states among the twenty-two bigger states have achieved the target of bringing down TFR below 2.1 which is the replacement rate for India. However, as Uttar Pradesh continues to sustain a Total Fertility Rate of 2.7% with a population of over 22 crores, the state continues to add large numbers of people and also puts a great impact on the national rates. The government is working to minimize the time it would take to achieve replacement TFR which is certainly possible with the enactment of this policy. According to the NFHS-4 (2015-16), the total fertility rate in Uttar Pradesh was 2.7 down from 3.8 a decade ago. Uttar Pradesh is still holding a TFR of 2.7 but as a matter of relief, the urban areas have already achieved a replacement rate of 2.1, the report says. S.Y. Quraishi, former chief election commissioner of India and the author of The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, shown high confidence in UP’s performance in bringing down the TFR and expect it to achieve a replacement rate by 2025 with no extra measures in place. However, the policy draft projects to bring down the fertility rate down to 1.9, which implies that a strong family planning system is needed to ensure the timely achievement of targets.


A closely monitored population stabilisation policy can be helpful to the policymakers to determine resource allocation in the state. Relatively smaller growth in population will require fewer jobs to be created over time, making it easier for the government which is already struggling to offer employment to people given the rising rate of automation in industries. Investments in the education, training and health of the citizens which is currently spread thin, could be allocated over a smaller population, thereby having a more tangible impact on a per-capita basis.


In China, the three factors, sex selected abortions, unreported female births and female infanticide were the primary reasons behind population disorientation. As per reports, more than 16000 children were brought to the civil affairs department in the Hunan province alone between 1986 to 1990. Adding to the misery, the increase in sex selection was aggravated by the limited number of children which can be borne by a couple. Battling similar highly skewed ratios, this threat is inevitable for UP as well. In addition to the sex selection and control measures by the public, there are huge inequalities between the birth rates of urban and rural areas. China faced a situation in the 1990s where its fertility rate fell to 1.2-1.3, much below its replacement level causing rapid ageing of the population and reduced growth over the years. China saw 18 million births annually for the last decade which falls far short of the 25-30 million births it saw in its peak years. This has been seen as a threat to China’s massive workforce which could possibly encounter a shortage of workers in the future. While the one child policy might not be solely responsible for China’s changing social landscape, it certainly points towards a greater deviation from their traditional values. As both men and women gain greater economic independence in an increasingly modernising country, they are freed from the erstwhile requirement of large, agrarian families. This freedom, like in many other countries, has percolated into larger divorce rates. Since the 1980s, China has seen an increase in divorce rates from 5% in 1979 to 15.3% in 2001. Thus, there has clearly been irrevocable change (at least in the short run) that the Government could not have predicted while instating the policy.


The UP Population bill aims to punish couples producing more than two children (in some cases, three, which are specially mentioned in the document regarding differently-abled children or women already pregnant with the third child at the time of enactment of the bill among others) through some financial sanctions by the state government. Measures like barring those parents from the state-sponsored welfare schemes, limiting the quantity of ration through PDS (Public Distribution System), limited participation of the state in the healthcare of the newborn child are under consideration as per the draft. State government employees will have to bear with no promotions in jobs if they have more than two children while those with only one will be incentivized with two additional promotions during their tenure. While these practices might be able to force some to adhere to the guidelines, the brunt of their force will be felt mainly by the poor. People in remote areas, tribals etc are still unaware or lack access to contraceptives and birth-control measures. Further, awareness regarding contraceptives is mostly skewed greatly against women. Social trends reveal that sterilization is mostly forced onto female partners while it can be done by both. This requires a great deal of attention on part of the system. Unless access to information or family planning resources is granted equally to all citizens, the disadvantaged sections might end up losing their aid from the government due to failures of the administration. 


The difference between the population policies of China and UP is that the former followed a one-child policy while the latter is aiming to follow a two-child norm. This can certainly go in favour of the state as it might reduce some of the adverse effects of forced population control in the case of China. Nevertheless, the state needs to do some reforms in its draft for population control. Authorities should increase the award money for single girl children and gradually increase the award money for single boy children, taking it to a level equal to a girl in some years. This might prompt the economically weaker sections (even others) to not alienate their girl child when they are born. The massive penetration of contraceptives to the grassroots levels of volunteers and workers is mandatory to fulfil the purpose of the bill.




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