Government data negates the need for laws to control India’s population growth

First conducted in 1992-1993, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is a nationwide demographic and health report. The findings from the NFHS-5, released in November 2021, give positive data on numerous aspects.

The most significant highlight is sex ratio improvement — 1,020 females per 1,000 males. Child vaccinations have also improved with 94.5% of children between 12-23 months getting vaccinated at a public health facility; 95.9% of pregnant women received mother and child protection cards. However, there was also worrisome data such as an increase in anaemia. Also, gender-based violence in the 18-49 years group witnessed minimal improvement with spousal violence dropping from 31.2% to 29.3%.

The total fertility rate (TFR), or the number of children per woman, is 2.0, which is somewhat lower than the replacement rate. Except in countries with high infant and child mortality rates, the replacement rate averages out to 2.1, indicating that the country’s population has stabilised.

The NFHS-5 data hits the propaganda of population control at its root. The Uttar Pradesh (UP) State Law Commission released the draft of the UP Population (Control Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021, in July last year. The bill aimed at the two-child policy and used debarment from contesting local body polls, applying for government jobs, and removing subsidy benefits as coercive tools. A similar two-child coercive policy was introduced in Assam. Other states with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or BJP-coalition governments such as Karnataka, Gujarat and Bihar were considering the same.

Population control measures are not merely based on the Malthusian theory of “too few resources and too many mouths to fill”, but is also used as a tool against one community — Indian Muslims. Muslims, due to relatively low ranking on socioeconomic and health factors, have a higher fertility rate than other communities in India.

In light of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy case, not only are population control laws and practices unconstitutional — because of the constraints of privacy, discrimination, proportionality, and right to life — but government data negates the need for them.

The data from NFHS-5 shows that TFR for Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka and UP are at 1.9, 3.0, 1.9, 1.7 and 2.4 respectively. While Bihar and UP are above the replacement rate of 2.1, data from NFHS-4 shows a gradual decline where they stood at 3.4 and 2.7 respectively. Generally, states witness decline gradually without coercive measures.

TFR for every religion has declined in every successive NFHS as well, including Muslims, whose TFR declined from 4.41 in NFHS-1 to 2.62 in NFHS-4. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, while they remain the community with the highest fertility rate among major religious groups, Muslims did see a decline in TFR. Therefore, coercive measures that ostracise a community and allow public perception to believe in some kind of population explosion has the potential to further the communal divide.

Furthermore, the use of family planning methods among married women of 15-49 years is increasing as well. While 53.5% of women use any method of family planning in NFHS-4, the number stands at 66.7% in NFHS-5. Every method, from female sterilisation to injectables to pills, has shown a little increase in use. Of these five states, Bihar saw the most encouraging increase in the use of family planning methods from 24.1% in 2015-16 to 55.8% in 2019-21. However, male sterilisation stands at an abysmal low of 0.3% compared to 37.9% in women.

Considering that India spends merely 1.26% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on public health care and about 3% on education, the improvement is remarkable. It indicates the potential of quick major improvements if the government spends the right amount. Since data outlaws the need for population control incentives, perhaps the government and representative can turn their attention to measures that will ensure stable and healthy family planning. These measures include basic education, marriage at median age, increase in employment and income.

Prakhar Raghuvanshi is a constitutional law honours student, National Law University, Jodhpur

The views expressed are personal

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