Anti-People State Population Policies

IN February last year, the Government of India adopted the National Population Policy 2000. This policy is weak on many counts: population is not integrated with health, it has population stabilization rather than the health and well being of the population as a goal and so on. Yet one aspect on which the policy is to be hailed is that it resolutely affirms the “commitment of the government towards voluntary and informed choice and consent of citizens while availing of reproductive health care services, and continuation of the target free approach in administering family planning services”. It is thus surprising that several state governments have announced population policies, which, in very significant manners, violate the letter and the spirit of the National Population Policy. Equally distressing is that several private members bills are pending in parliament that seek to reinforce a punitive and anti-democratic approach to issues of population.


Before considering why these measures are anti-democratic, it might be pertinent to recall some of the measures proposed by the states. The Uttar Pradesh policy, for instance, disqualifies persons married before the legal age of marriage from government jobs, as if children are responsible for child marriages. Further, 10 per cent of financial assistance to Panchayats is to be based on family planning performance. Indeed, frightfully recalling the Emergency, the assessment of the performance of medical officers and other health workers is linked to performance in the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) programme, the new avatar of the family welfare programme. The policy also recommends User Fees for government health services when it is widely accepted that these are inaccesible to the poor. And in a daring departure from other states, the policy recommends the induction of contraceptives such as injectables and implants which are both unsafe and dangerous to the health of women.

Madhya Pradesh, besides debarring persons married before the legal age at marriage from government jobs, also forbids them from contesting Panchayat elections. As in the case of UP, disbursement of resources to PRIs is linked to family planning performance. In a piquant twist, the provision of rural development schemes, income generating schemes for women, and indeed poverty alleviation programmes as a whole, are all linked to performance in family planning. Rajasthan, besides debarring persons with more than two children from Panchayat elections, also bars them from other elected bodies like cooperative institutions. It makes adherence to a “two-child norm” a service condition for state government employees.

In addition to many of the above, the Maharashtra government in an Order announced the two-child norm as an eligibility criterion for a range of schemes for the weaker sections, including access to the public distribution system and education in government schools. The Andhra Pradesh government’s fervour is exhibited by the fact that performance in RCH and the Couple Protection Rate will determine construction of school buildings, public works, and funding for rural development. Performance in RCH is also a criterion for coverage under programmes like TRYSEM, Weaker Section Housing Scheme, Low Cost Sanitation Scheme and DWCRA. Allotment of surplus agricultural land, housing sites, benefits under IRDP, SC Action Plan and B C Action Plan are to be given in preference to acceptors of family planning. Further, educational concessions, subsidies, promotions and government jobs are to be restricted to those accepting the small family norm. In a macabre metaphor of the lottery that is the life of the poor in the country, awards of Rs 10,000 each are to be given to three couples per district chosen by lottery. Eligible couples comprise those with two girl children with the mother sterilised, those with one girl child with the mother sterilised and couples two children or less with the father sterilised.

Newspaper reports indicate that Gujarat, that crucible of Hindutva politics, has unveiled a population policy that, besides carrying a range of disincentives, also explicitly makes a two-child norm mandatory for all communities.

These state policies are thus in complete disjunction with the National policy and indeed with commitments made by the Government of India at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. Policy makers so anxious to control numbers need to be reminded that such policies are unnecessary as a significant demographic transition is underway in large parts of the country. Areas where this transition has lagged behind need assistance towards strengthening their health and anti-poverty programmes and not measures that punish the poor. As the NPP itself points out, there is a large unmet need for health and family planning services. In such a situation, without meeting this unmet need, to propose punitive measures is both irrational and absurd.


The disincentives proposed are particularly anti-poor, anti-dalit and anti-adivasis, with these weaker sections having to bear the brunt of the withdrawal of a range of subsidies and measures to mitigate poverty and deprivation. The National Family Health Survey for 1998-99 shows that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is 3.15 for SCs, 3.06 for STs, 2.66 among OBCs and 3.47 among illiterate women as a whole. In contrast, it is 1.99 among women educated beyond Class X. Significant sections among these already deprived populations will thus bear the brunt of these policies of disincentives. In addition to privatisation that de facto deprives SCs and STs of jobs in the organised sector, these explicit policy measures will further curtail the meager employment opportunities available to them.

The disincentives are also anti-women since women in India seldom decide the number of children they wish to bear, when to bear them and indeed have no control over how many will survive. By debarring such women from contesting elections makes a mockery of policies to empower women. Further, they will provide an impetus to some women to resort to sex selective abortions and female foeticide, worsening an already terrible sex ratio in the country.

The proposals are also anti-minorities since they ignore the fact that the somewhat higher TFR among some sections of these communities are a reflection of their poorer socio-economic situation. It need hardly be stated that just as the Hindu rate of economic growth is a chimera, so is a Muslim rate of population growth.

Finally, the proposals are deeply anti-democratic and violate several provisions of the Constitution (the right to livelihood, the right to life, the right to privacy, among others) and several International Covenants that India is signatory to, including the Rights of the Child.

The fact that structural adjustment policies have led to the collapse of a weak and underfunded public health care system, and that these same policies have also led to an increase of infant mortality rates in ten of the fifteen major states of the country, do not seem to concern our policy makers. So single-minded are they in their short-sighted policies that they do not realise the appalling fact that it is the fearsome pursuit of family planning programmes that has led to the distrust of the health system among the poor. The fact too is that it was these same people who brought down a government for the “excesses” of family planning not too long back. Is the fear of the poor so strong among our legislators and policy makers that their memories are so short?