India’s Population Crisis: Should We Punish or Plan Better?

Is punishing people for having more children the right way to solve India’s population problem? 

Updated20 Aug 2019, 10:02 AM IST
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Editor: Purnendu Pritam

On Independence Day 2019, Prime Minister Modi highlighted the importance of population control, stating that India was facing a population explosion.

However, is our population really growing at an uncontrolled rate? What measures can regulate this? And, does this mean that more intensive population-control and family-planning measures are on their way?

This boils down to three important points: that India’s population is increasing rapidly, the people who keep their family small consciously by begetting fewer children are patriotic and that the states and the Centre will have to work in tandem to tackle this issue.

First and foremost: Is India’s population increasing rapidly? Well, yes and no. Let me explain.

Yes, India’s population is growing and is expected to bypass that of China by 2024, and according to the UN, by 2027. But is there a population explosion? Well, no...

“There’s no population explosion. How can there be a population explosion when 24 out of 31 states have reached replacement levels of fertility. Twelve of them are below replacement levels. The United Nations has also revised its projection, earlier India was supposed to overtake china in population size by 2022. It’s now postponed this to 2027. It’s true that India has a growing population, but this is growing at a decreasing rate.” 
Vivian Fernandes, Senior Journalist

Although India’s population continues to grow, it has slowed down markedly in the past decade, and the growth rate has been steadily declining over the past few decades.

To understand this better, you need to understand TFR or Total Fertility Rate, which means the number of children borne by the average Indian woman. Fifty years ago, the TFR was at 5, i.e. the average Indian woman had 5 children. The number is now at 2.2 to 2.3.

Which is just above the replacement rate of 2.1. The replacement rate is the number of children a woman needs to have so that the population sustains itself from one generation to the next. So, India’s population is growing but the pace at which it is growing is not alarming.

In fact, Poonam Muttreja, the executive director for Population Foundation of India, says that the more pressing need is to provide access to family planning and increase the family planning budget.

“India has a huge unmet need for family planning. There’s a 13 percent unmet need for family planning in India. This means there are a number of women or families who want fewer children but either don’t have access or women don’t have the agency to practice family planning. ” 
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India

Vivian mirrors Poonam’s viewpoint in stating that the focus should be on increased family planning and better access to contraceptives.

While it’s not exactly an overnight fix, but steps taken in this regard will certainly go a long way. That’s what most experts on population control feel.

However, the focus, in part at least, is not on making the aforementioned possible but on punishing people for overstepping the prescribed guidelines on the ‘appropriate’ number of children to beget. In fact, earlier this year, BJP MP Rakesh Sinha introduced a Bill in the Parliament called The Population Regulation Bill, 2019.

Among other things, the Bill seeks to take punitive action against having more than two living children, AKA to punish people for having more than two children. And some of the ways it seeks to do this include banning such people from holding elected office, denying them financial benefits and in some instances, even denying food to people under the government’s public distribution system.

“We need to increase our expenditure, access, choice and quality of care. Apart from this, if you attempt population control, the biggest tragedy which we have to learn from China, is in countries where there’s a son preference, sex ratio gets really problematic.”
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India

Poonam adds that in India, where people have a “son preference”, adding punitive measures for having more than two children will lead to a further skewing of the sex ratio.

“This could lead to sex-selective abortion or foeticide or female foeticide or female infanticide, and it has very very serious consequences for society because we’re a society that has not just son preference but we’re also a society that doesn’t value the girl child.” 
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India

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Published: 20 Aug 2019, 08:11 AM IST
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