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Jonathan Abbamonte

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India faces ‘two-child policy’ to reduce births, ‘overpopulation’

Jonathan Abbamonte
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September 11, 2018 (Population Research Institute) – Nearly 125 lawmakers in India's Parliament have signed a petition to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, calling for a nationwide two-child policy. Members of Parliament (MPs) who signed the petition have called for a law prohibiting Indian couples from having more than two children with stiff penalties for couples who exceed the proposed two-child limit.

On August 9th, four MPs from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh met with President Kovind to personally deliver the petition letter and to make known their concerns about population growth. Also attending the meeting with President Kovind was Anil Chaudhary of the Population Solutions Foundation (Jansankhya Samadhan Foundation), a radical population control advocacy organization in India that, since 2015, has actively lobbied for a nationwide "maximum two-child policy for all" law.

"We have submitted a document signed by almost 125 MPs to the President and we have demanded a law on this so that we can control the increasing population," MP Ganesh Singh, one of the four MPs who met with President Kovind to deliver the petition letter, was quoted by TimeNewsNow.com.

Following the submission of the petition letter, Chaudhary called on lawmakers to introduce stiff penalties to enforce the proposed two-child policy, should the proposal be adopted. "[W]hoever flouts that law ... [whoever] proceeds ... [to have a] third child, they should not get any government [benefits] and their voting rights should be withheld," Chaudhary was quoted by TimesNewsNow.com, "And even [for] the couple [that] proceeds with the fourth child, they should be jailed."

All four lawmakers that met with President Kovind were members of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political party of current India Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to TimesNowNews.com, all MPs that signed the petition were members of parties that are part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the ruling right-wing political coalition in the Modi government.

In India, the office of president does not have much power in practice. However, the president serves as the ceremonial head of state and as a check on the balance of power and the MPs' meeting with the president is certain to lend high-profile credibility and publicity to the lawmakers' push for a two-child policy law.

While the Chinese Government has moved to a two-child policy out of fears of a falling birth rate, in India fears of overpopulation are pushing the country in the opposite direction.

"India should not repeat China's mistakes," says Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. "People are the ultimate resource – the one resource you cannot do without – as China is belatedly discovering after having eliminated 400 million from their own now aging and dying population."

Last month, BJP lawmakers in both houses of Parliament made demands for a nationwide population control law, claiming that population growth threatens to outpace gains made in area of development. The requests were made during the 'Zero Hour,' a period of the legislative session where lawmakers can, with the permission of the Speaker, raise issues of urgent public importance. Uday Pratap Singh, a BJP MP in the Lok Sabha (India's lower house), specifically called on the government to introduce a two-child policy, citing China's one-child policy as an example of policies that other countries have implemented to control population growth.

Last September, the BJP led Assam state government adopted a two-child policy which prohibits anyone with more than two children from holding a government job or from running for election for local government office (civic bodies in India known as Panchayats). While several states had initiated two-child policies for government employees during the 1990's and the early 2000's, Assam became the first state in 10 years to adopt such a policy. Many states, including Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Chhattisgarh have since repealed their two-child policies.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of India received at least three separate Public Interest Litigation (PIL) pleas, asking the Court to compel the Government to implement a nationwide two-child policy. One of the petitions, filed by Delhi BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, based its case off the 2002 report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) which recommended that an amendment be added to the Constitution of India to "secure control of the population by means of education and implementation of small family norms." The NCRWC was authorized by the NDA-controlled Parliament back in 2000 to offer lawmakers with recommendations for amendments to be added to the Constitution. The government's refusal to adopt the NCRWC's recommendation for a population control amendment has long been a point of frustration for some NDA partisans.

Another case filed by Anuj Saxena and others petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the Indian Government to "formulate, enact and/or enforce Strict Population control Measures" and to "formulate policies with a vision to encourage and / or reward the family who is adhering to [the] two child policy, and Punish appropriately, [those] who are in nom (sic) compliance of the same." The Saxena case claimed that India's "unprecedented and lethal population explosion" threatens the environment and contributes to unemployment, poverty, and overcrowding.

The Supreme Court has refused to hear both the Saxena and Upadhyay cases for procedural reasons. In the Saxena case, the Court dismissed the plea, stipulating that the issue was a "policy matter" that is "for Parliament to decide ... not the court."

Population control policies in India have long served as a flashpoint between Hindu-nationalists that have advocated for them and Indian Muslims and the poor who have viewed such policies with suspicion. Population control initiatives are widely viewed in India as indirect attempts to lower the population of Indian Muslims and of poor and rural Indians as both groups tend to have larger families on average. Meanwhile, most Hindus families already average at two children or less.

According to the results of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), the total fertility rate (TFR) among Indian Muslims for 2015-2016 was 2.62 children per woman of reproductive age while the TFR among Hindus was 2.13. This was a significant drop from the fertility rates observed for both demographic groups only 10 years prior when the NFHS-3 (2005-2006) found a TFR of 3.40 among Indian Muslims and 2.59 among Hindus.

With the fertility of Indian Hindus at or close to replacement fertility, some right-wing Hindu-nationalist politicians have clamored for Hindu couples to boost their fertility in order to increase the number of Hindu followers compared to other religious groups in the country. In 2015, Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP MP particularly well-known for making controversial remarks – including once advocating for the death penalty for people who engage in missionary activity or cow slaughter – urged that "every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion."

Population control policies in India are often rooted in anti-Muslim animosity as displayed by certain Hindu-nationalist partisans. Earlier this year, Union Minister of State and BJP MP Giriraj Singh commented that "The growing population of the country, especially Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony, and development of the country." Recently, BJP MP Vijay Pal Singh Tomar said on the floor of Parliament, according to First Post, that population growth in India needed to be curbed, part and parcel because children were being born in the name of "Allah" and "Bhagwan" (a controversial anti-Hindu mystic preacher).

Moreover, population control policies have a long history in India. In the late 1950's India became the first country in the modern era to implement policies directly targeted at reducing the country's population growth rate. In the late 1970's, approximately 8 million Indian citizens (mostly men) were forcibly sterilized in a single year by the Government under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, a period in India's history when the government suspended civil liberties and imprisoned political rivals under a declaration of a state of emergency.

In India, population control policies have long enjoyed public support from a significant subset of the citizenry. While Malthusian ideology by and large is no longer prevalent throughout most of the world, in India, Malthusianism continues to enjoy wide acceptance. The belief that the country is overpopulated and in need of population control is not uncommon in India.

Despite Malthusian alarmism espoused by certain BJP politicians and voters, however, the rate of population growth in India has slowed considerably in recent decades. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Population Division projects that India's population will peak at 1.68 billion in 2060 and will begin to contract thereafter.[1]

For more than half a century, the fertility rate in India has plummeted. According UNDESA estimates, India's TFR in the early 1960's stood at 5.89 births per 1,000 women of reproductive age.[2] UNDESA projects that the total fertility rate for India will fall to 2.28 this year.[3] Similarly, official Government of India statistics estimated an all-India TFR of only 2.3 in 2013.[4]

In urban areas, and in several states, the fertility rate has fallen below the replacement level. According to official vital statistics from the Government of India's Sample Registration System, the total fertility rate in urban areas fell to 1.8 children per woman of reproductive age in 2013.[5] The fertility rate for India overall sits only slightly higher than the replacement rate. UNDESA estimates that the fertility rate necessary to meet the replacement level in India will be 2.26 for the 2015-2020 quinquennial period.[6]

Since 1950, India's population has more than tripled with a total population projected to reach 1.35 billion persons in 2018.[7] Yet, over that same time period, the birth rate has fallen by an estimated 58 percent and India's TFR has declined markedly.[8]

India's population growth does not appear to have had a negative effect on the country's development. From 1991 to 2015, India added some 420 million people to its population, roughly the equivalent of the 2015 populations of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom combined. Yet despite this large increase, the percentage of the population living with hunger in India has declined significantly. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the prevalence of undernourishment in India fell by nearly 40 percent between 1991 and 2015.[9] Food in India has also become more affordable. According to the FAO's food price index, India's index fell by nearly 5 percent between 2000 and 2014.[10]

Access to safe drinking water has also improved in India. According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, the percentage of the population with access to safely managed drinking water has increased by 69 percent since the year 2000 in rural areas of the country.[11]

Moreover, India's population growth does not appear to have hampered economic growth. India's unemployment rate has hovered around the natural unemployment rate for decades.[12] And according to the World Bank's World Development Indicators database, India's GNI per capita and GDP per capita has more than tripled since 1990.[13]

Published with permission from the Population Research Institute.


[1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2017). World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Id.

[4] Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner. Compendium of India's Fertility and Mortality Indicators, 1971-2013, Table 3. Sample Registration System. http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011-Common/Sample_Registration_System.html (last updated: Jul. 4, 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] UNDESA (2017), supra note 1.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Id.

[9] Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Statistics Division (2018). FAOSTAT: Suite of Food Security Indicators (last updated: May 2, 2018).

[10] FAO (2015). Food Security Indicators (3rd release: Oct. 12, 2015).

[11] World Health Organization (WHO). Basic and safely managed drinking water services: data by country. Global Health Observatory (last updated: Nov. 30, 2017).

[12] World Bank. Unemployment, total (% of total labor force) (modeled ILO estimate); Unemployment, total (% of total labor force) (national estimate). World Development Indicators (last updated: Aug. 28, 2018).

[13] World Bank. GNI per capita (constant 2010 US$); GDP per capita (constant 2010 US$). World Development Indicators (last updated: Aug. 28, 2018).

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