Dividend or Curse
In a recent move two state governments – Uttar Pradesh and Assam – have advocated aggressive population control measures. This proposal pertains to pursuing a two-child policy for entitlement to state government benefits. The draft Bill of Uttar Pradesh government had evoked sharp reaction from political parties and even social and religious organisations not only from Uttar Pradesh but all across the country. The draft law has listed out incentives for those who have two children or less and disincentives for those who have more than two children. On July 11 this year, CM Yogi Adityanath had unveiled Uttar Pradesh’s population policy 2021-2030 that aims to bring the birth rate down to 2.1 per thousand population by 2026 and to 1.9 by 2030. At present, the birth rate in the state is 2.7 per thousand.
With assembly elections are next to the corner in the state, chief minister Yogi Adityanath has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons by putting out the draft population control bill.
It is clearly a strategic move that the BJP expect will not only help the party in UP polls, affirming its ideological agenda but also trigger a larger debate on population control in the country. Assam, which already has a two-child norm for the government officials, is mulling a similar overarching population policy as in UP. Another BJP-run state Karnataka has also expressed its intention to follow suit. In a bid to take the debate to the national level, two BJP members have already been cleared to present private members’ bills on population control and uniform civil code in the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. Lok Sabha MP from UP Ravi Kishan was expected to introduce the Bill on population control on July 24, and Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan Kirori Lal Meena will introduce the private members’ bills on uniform civil code the same day.
Though the Yogi government claims that the Bill is not polarising in nature since it does not single out any community, many among the opposition leaders have questioned its timing. Even ally Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar, has said that coercive measures don’t seem to work in checking population growth whereas steps like educating women do.
The UP draft bill states that couples having more than two children in the state will be debarred from contesting polls to the local bodies, applying for government jobs or receiving any kind of subsidy. In fact, it incentivises those who would follow a one-child norm. The document states, it is necessary to control and stabilise the population of the state for the promotion of sustainable development with more equitable distribution.
UP, with a population of 22 crores, is the most populous state of the country, and chief minister Adityanath has said that with limited resources and employment opportunities; population control is the only way forward.
Now, keeping aside the politics, the question arises here is that the population is a boon or bane for the country? Many are going in favour of the population boom terming it as “demography dividend” while some are calling it as “population explosion” aimed at destroying all the resources. With ongoing trends, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the coming decade or perhaps sooner. The overwhelming population burden is causing a resource crunch on resources like hospitals, food grains, houses, or employment. In just eight years, India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country. According to estimates in a United Nations report released in 2019, India is also expected to add 273 million people by 2050 and will remain the most populated until the end of the century. The report stated that in 2019, India had an estimated population of 1.37 billion and China 1.43 billion and by 2027, India’s population is projected to surpass China’s. The global population is projected to increase by another 2 billion people by 2050, from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 9.7 billion thirty years down the line. The report has highlighted higher fertility rates, growing older population and migration are few reasons for projections of the population growth. Health economists claim that the major implications of population growth will be increase in young and older population that will face a lack of resources in future. Like every other problem, this issue has also its own pros and cons. It is better to be left for the reader to decide what the best answer to this pertinent question is. All the arguments in favour and against of this question are given in the boxes.
Author Matthew Connelly believes that “India has for centuries had a rich intellectual tradition concerning both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of population, as well as practical experience in controlling fertility since time immemorial. But Westerners preferred to make an example of India when developing their own theories and deriving lessons for policy, whether T. R. Malthus, who taught colonial administrators at Haileybury that alleviating famines in India would only compound the evils of overpopulation, or the first neo-Malthusians like Annie Besant, who cited these same famines as proving that poor people everywhere should practice contraception. In the 1920s, when American and British authors began to warn of a “Rising Tide of Color,” India was once again the most oft-cited example, even though there was not yet any evidence that its population was growing rapidly. In the 1930s Margaret Sanger and her Birth Control International Information Center focused on opening clinics in India. “So many white people returning from there are keen on birth control and see in it the only solution for India’s problems,” as one activist noted in 1933. “But that does not necessarily mean, unfortunately, that Indians will be of the same opinion.” In fact, Indians had for many years been participating in international debates about population. As in Europe and the United States, the cause of fertility regulation could serve various agendas, including gender equality and maternal health, but also neo-Malthusianism and eugenics.”
The economics of population, which started with Malthus, is now undergoing revisions. One example is that China hopes to reverse a fall in its population by raising the maximum allowable number of children per household from two to three.
Some well-known economic hypotheses led governments to aggressively control population to spur growth, the objective of growth being central to the politics of all low- and middle-income countries.
Malthus had predicted that the world’s population would grow at a faster rate than the rate of food production. He was right in flagging these concerns in the Principle of Population in 1798. The population tends to grow exponentially (geometric growth), he argued, but food supply grew in a slower arithmetic ratio. Malthus was ultimately proved wrong as breakthroughs in agricultural technology made countries, such as India, net food surplus. There is still scope to cut population growth because India still has a positive growth rate, but our population policy should keep in the mind the larger consequences of zero population growth. Our country need some positive growth in population happening to not end up like Japan.
Analysts believe that India’s growing population can be a double-edged sword and the country needs to put in place the right policies to maximize the potential of its people by enhancing the state of education, health and infrastructure, so that India figures at better in various human development rankings.
It is imperative that policy-makers deal with the situation on multiple fronts. Universal education, value-added skills accretion and massive growth in employment in the formal sectors should be the key focus areas. Unfulfilled aspirations of the youth can quickly turn to frustration, leading to violent outbursts. There is also a need to engage with the youth and create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship. Failure to do so would not just mean a missed opportunity in terms of harnessing the demographic dividend, but the ensuing rise in unemployment and poverty could undermine the advances made on the economic front and foment societal upheaval.