On World Population Day on Sunday, July 11, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath unveiled the new population policy for the state for 2021-2030. The overall idea of the bill is to control and stabilise the population of the state to promote "sustainable development with more equitable distribution." While introducing the bill, the CM noted "Across the world, from time to time, concerns have been expressed that increasing population can be a hurdle in development, and for the past four decades discussions on it are going on. Population growth is also related to poverty. Every community has been taken care of in Population Policy 2021-2030." The bill aims to bring down the total fertility rate (TFR) for the state down to 2.1 by 2026 and 1.9 by 2030. The current TFR is hovering around 2.7 for UP. The provisions and features of the bill are wide-ranging. There are provisions for increasing access to contraceptive measures issued under the Family Planning Programme and a system for safe abortion. The bill also calls upon the state government to introduce population control as a compulsory subject in all secondary schools in the state. The bill will also focus on reducing infant and maternal mortality rates in the state but that is not all. The state government has stated that the bill will provide for the care of the elderly and better management of health and education for those between the age of 11-19 in the state.
All this is, of course, significant and well worth discussing with much to appreciate in what has been announced. That said, the part of the bill that is garnering the most attention and controversy is predictably the two-child policy that is bundled in. Essentially, the provisions in the bill seek to debar people who have had more than two children from the benefits of government welfare schemes, bars them from contesting local polls and applying for state government jobs. Additionally, those already employed in government jobs who have more than two children will not be eligible for promotions and ration cards would be limited to four people. On the other hand, those that follow this two-child policy will be incentivised. Those not employed by the government who follow the policy can expect rebates in taxes on water, housing, home loans, etc. Government employees following the policy can expect two additional increments throughout their service, maternity or paternity leave of 12 months with full salary and allowances and a three per cent increase in the employer's contribution fund under the National Pension Scheme. The bill also states that should the parent of a child opt for vasectomy at some point, he/she will be eligible for free medical facilities until the age of 20. While announcing the bill, it was noted that the two-child policy with its attached benefits and penalties will not be relaxed in the case of polygamy and polyandry. Though this new policy follows Assam's announcement of a similar two-child policy last month, it has met considerable criticism. Some leaders, such as that of the Samajwadi Party have termed the bill as 'election propaganda'. Others like Congress leader Salman Khurshid have said that "before making the law, the government should tell how many legitimate and illegitimate children its ministers have". Naturally, given that the two-child policy will have a significantly greater impact on communities that practice polygamy and polyandry, critics have also termed this a targeted attack on specific minority communities in India. There is also some discussion on how a strict two-child policy could impact the remarriage of widowed or separated women whose socio-economic status and chances at remarriage can be affected if childbearing for them is disincentivised. But a far more common criticism for the bill is one voiced by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar who said that it is the education of women that truly helps in bringing a check to population growth rather than any law for the same. This, generally speaking, follows sound and established logic with growing education rates often being linked to lower birth rates and a higher age as education empowers people to fulfil their own desires and aspirations. But beyond the method of population control, it is important to note that restrictive policies in population control have had a mixed track record, to say the least. Indeed, it would not be inaccurate to say that it would be hard to pull up even one example of a restrictive population policy that actually went well for the country or state that is using it. The example of China and its one-child policy is a good example of how complicated population control actually is. Much of China's current woes regarding its rapidly ageing population and dwindling birth rates can be traced to the one-child policy that was implemented decades ago. Much like any other population control strategy, the one-child policy too was pushed forward on the basis that overpopulation is the most serious impediment to development. Given that the one-child policy prevented as many as 400 million births by some estimates, it is, by the numbers, the greatest population control policy ever implemented but it is quite telling that even the Chinese Communist Party loyalists do not defend the policy or its lasting impacts on Chinese society. To be clear, the link between China's impending population decline and the one-child policy is not fully understood but that is itself the point. Population control is not well understood as an exact science and simplifying it down to the numbers is not helpful. Population control mandates are a product of a time when Malthusian thought processes pushed forth a fear that humanity would simply die of overpopulation. Such measures can't be expected to tackle every new development problem that comes along. This does not mean that population control in itself is bad. As many have noted, education and social empowerment remain the best methods for population control that does not seek to penalise or reward certain behaviour. It is also important to note in conclusion that, by most estimates, India's population growth is already slowing, with some estimates saying the nation's population will peak by 2047 and then steadily decline.