By Kartikay Sharma
Recently a new census came out of China that may have a lesson or two for the Indian society, the government, and the legislature that have some voices advocating for the introduction of Population Control Bill or a two-child policy in simple words. China also has a decennial census like India and although India’s census results haven’t come out due the COVID-19 pandemic, the headlines results that have come out of China is China’s population is not growing as fast as predicted. China’s population growth has slowed down and has been on decline ever since Chinese government enforced the one-child policy. The intrusive one-child policy enforced by the Chinese government in 1980 meant a couple cannot have more than one child. The census results in China show us the Chinese produced the fewest babies ever since they started the census operation in 1953 except for 1961 when between 1.5 crore to 5.5 crore people died of starvation in the Great Chinese Famine. China has seen 3 years of successive decline in production of babies and as a result, China’s current population stands at 141 crores. India’s estimated population stands at 138 crores which means India’s population will overshoot China’s earlier than estimated. These are not good signs, especially when our country is already struggling to keep up with the demands of the current population. Then why shouldn’t there be a population control bill introduced?
In India, several states, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Maharashtra, have enacted some form of two-child rule for those seeking elected office or government jobs. Ever since independence, several Public Interest Litigations have been filed various High Court and in the Supreme Court. In July 2019, Rakesh Sinha introduced the Population Control Bill, 2019 in the Rajya Sabha. The bill’s aim is to keep India’s population under control. On February 7, 2020, Anil Desai, a Shiv Sena MP, introduced the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in the Lok Sabha on February 7, 2020, suggesting changing Article 47A of the Indian Constitution to read:
“The State shall promote small family norms by offering incentives in taxes, employment, education etc. to its people who keep their family limited to two children and shall withdraw every concession from and deprive such incentives to those not adhering to small family norm, to keep the growing population under control.”
The 2020 bill proposes to introduce a two-child policy per couple and aims to incentivize its adoption through various measures such as educational benefits, taxation cuts, home loans, free healthcare, and better employment opportunities. The 2019 bill proposed by Sinha talks about introducing penalties for couples not adhering to the two-child policy such as debarment from contesting in elections and ineligibility for government jobs.
The question which remains unanswered is whether artificially tying to decrease population by law and by intimidation, coerciveness, and bullying behaviour, feasible for a complex society like India? When China introduced the one-child policy, it was appreciated by a lot in the world and especially in India. However, the policy is said to have resulted in the formation of a strange society known colloquially as a dystopian society. Because of the dystopia that every family can only have one child, two new generations of Chinese children have been born with no sibling, cousins, uncles, or aunts.
According to historical estimates, China’s one-child policy, implemented in 1980, prevented 40 crore births, and the lesson for India is that when you try to do things out of fear, without taking everything into account, and you interfere with the way nature and human beings think by using the brute power of law or government, and try to change things too drastically, unmindful of the consequences, then you can be sure you will be visited by unintended consequences of what you are doing.
Population decline currently is important for India, but it would better done in a planned way with economic growth keeping pace with it and changing society keeping pace with it. State using brute power to stop procreation is not only against the nature but also in violation of Article 21 of the India Constitution as discussed in a judgement titled Jasvir Singh vs State of Punjab by Justice Surya Kant in 2014,
“State has denied the right to procreate to the petitioners only because such a right does not find any mention in the rulebooks or statutes. In the absence of such a right having been spelled out in codified law, it cannot be assumed that the petitioners’ prayer contravenes any law.
The denial of the right to procreate thus is alleged to be unreasonable and arbitrary as such a right not being violative of any rule or law, its denial amounts to be a monstrous violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
Many European countries, and Japan are experiencing population ageing, which is increasing dependency ratios. The dependency ratio is the proportion of people who are dependent on the state, such as retired adults and others who rely on government assistance. Dependency ratio keeps on getting worse for countries where average age keeps rising and average age keeps rising when countries do not add new population. China’s average age currently stands at 38. On the other hand, India’s average age is 28 years. China is currently getting older and because they don’t have the same manpower anymore and because their dependency ratio will now go up and put pressure on their very badly underfunded pension system, on their public health system, on their old age care system and when they grow old there will be very few young people to look after old people. To address China’s challenges with old people, the country is raising the retirement age to relieve pressure on its pension system. Something Indian legislatures should think about before introducing legislation for Indian society.
In 2016, the Chinese government relaxed population control laws and changed the one-child policy to a two-child policy. According to available data, China’s population has moved on, and despite the government’s allowance for more than one baby, Chinese people are not procreating more babies, as evidenced by the sharp decline in population growth since 2016. The consequence of the stunted population growth is slowing down of China’s goal to be a global superpower as declining population will slow down availability of manpower for China’s economy and industry.
The lessons for India from the Chinese fiasco are that China’s population growth rate in the last ten years has been 0.53 percent per year, compared to
0.57 percent per year in the decade before that. It has declined, but the fact remains that China has artificially controlled its population for quite some time. India has taken its time as society has evolved, the economy has evolved, people have become more aware, the infant mortality rate has decreased, India’s health care, despite its flaws, has improved, and India’s birth rate has also decreased dramatically. So, while India’s net growth rate is roughly twice as high as China’s, it is exceptionally low by Indian standards.
In 1961, an Indian woman had 6 children on average. It is now down to 2.2. That is a significant improvement. In China, however, it is 1.3, which is far too low for a developing economy. Returning to India, states with higher literacy rates and higher state capacity, particularly in Southern India, have fertility rates comparable to, if not higher than, China. However, states that are otherwise shambolic in terms of state capacity and governance, such as UP and Bihar, have higher fertility rates. As a result, India has a fertility rate of 2.2 on average.
Therefore, if you consider all of this and realise that enforcing a policy that specifically deals with humans or nature, such as this, can have consequences. It hasn’t worked for China, and it won’t work for India.
It also states that, while India appears to be overcrowded, if we continue to develop and grow our economy, and if we continue to tax it correctly and spend it on welfare, medical facilities, and primary health care, our people will become aware, and they will produce fewer and fewer children, as they have done for the past 50 years.
Therefore, the better way to control population is to do it scientifically, socially, economically, and in terms of development, not by law.
(Kartikay Sharma is a student of law at VIPS, Indraprastha University. The views expressed are personal.)