Uttar Pradesh 2 child policy and what’s wrong with it
As the Uttar Pradesh Population Control, Stabilization and Welfare Bill 2021 stirred controversy, the TV media mainly focussed on its incentives, disincentives, and its stipulations for government jobs. They glossed over its emphasis on “voluntary sterilization”.
The bill seeks to limit the number of children a couple can have to two because, it claims, Uttar Pradesh has “limited ecological and economic resources”. It aims to do so by providing couples who adopt the policy a range of incentives, from pay increments and tax rebates to subsidies and even cash. Not adhering to the norm will mean exclusion from welfare schemes, local elections, state employment, TV news channels have widely covered this aspect of the bill, if only with a thick sprinkling of communal dog-whistling as usual. What they haven’t covered as much is that even if you have just two children but don’t get sterilized, you will be deemed not to have adhered to the norm. The bill goes even further, promising additional benefits to those who get sterilized after having only one child.
Although legislation in India is infamous for being wrapped in dry prose of bare reason, the Adityanath government’s new bill makes a hamfisted attempt at fiction. In detailing exceptions to the rule adoption, disability, death, technicalities of pregnancy it provides “illustrations” to explain its stipulations. Which once parsed makes you realize that the bill’s focus is not on controlling the population as such but on controlling pregnancy.
If a couple loses a child and then has two more, one after the other three pregnancies, that’s they will fall foul of the bill. But if they have two kids in a single birth two pregnancies in total they won’t, Indeed, multiple births and pregnancies are a running theme in the bill, only it’s muddled. An illustration in section 15 dealing with disability essentially shows that a couple can technically have as many as four children without violating the policy so long as one of them is disabled and two are twins.
In effect, who receives benefits under the proposed law will be determined not by how many children they have but by how many pregnancies. One can easily have three children so long as they are born through only two pregnancies, Not surprisingly, given its muddled logic, the bill has invited wide criticism. It’s not even needed to begin with. The chief minister claims the bill is aimed at controlling the population by reducing UP’s fertility rate to 2.1 by 2026 and 1.9 by 2030. But the fertility rate is already coming down in UP as elsewhere in the country. According to the National Family Health Survey of 2016, UP’s fertility rate is 2.7, down from 3.8 a decade earlier and not far off the population replacement rate of 2.1, which many Indian states have already achieved.
Poonam Muttreja, the director of the Population Foundation of India, has been pointing out that falling fertility rates render the notion of a population explosion a myth. As for Uttar Pradesh, she says family planning and not population control is what is needed, Moreover, similar policies have had disastrous consequences elsewhere.
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