A Critical Overview of the Population Regulation Bill, 2019

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Undeniably, population proliferation has been a major challenge faced by India for years. As a measure to deal with the issue, recently, the Population Regulation Bill, 2019 has been introduced in the Upper House by the Member of Parliament Rakesh Sinha in the month of July. Interestingly, the private member’s bill which lays down the penal provisions against people with more than two children has triggered a debate and is now witnessing the divergent responses of the populace. While some are seen welcoming the move with zeal and zest, others are calling it out for the potentially detrimental outcomes.

What are the various facets of the Population Regulation Bill, 2019?

The Population Regulation Bill, 2019 also popularized as the two-child norm, does not only suggest putting a legal restriction on the number of children one is supposed to have, but it also puts forth some punitive actions against the so-called offenders. Parallel to a deprivation of financial benefits, stern provisions of the aforesaid law would also shut the doors of politics as a career for those offenders. Moreover, there would be a notable cutback in benefits under the public distribution system for those who procreate more than a couple of children.

Apart from the above penalties, the offenders would also see a surge in the rates of interest while availing loan from any financial body. It is interesting to note that along with the legal retribution, certain obligations have also been proposed under the Bill. Under the newly introduced Bill, it would be mandatory for any government employee to provide an undertaking that he would not procreate more than two children. Interestingly, there are some benefits listed out for those public or central sector employees who abide by the norms and go for the sterilization willingly. These benefits would also be extended if the spouse of any public or central sector enterprise employee undergoes sterilization.

Economic survey controversy

According to the Economic Survey 2018-19, India is undergoing a sharp decline in the population growth rate. Introducing the new regulation a few days after the release of the above-mentioned report sparked the controversy regarding the problematic nature of the former.

As per the findings of the survey, “India is set to witness a sharp slowdown in population growth in the next two decades. Although the country as a whole will enjoy the ‘demographic dividend’ phase, some states will start transitioning to an ageing society by the 2030s. It will surprise many readers to learn that the population in the 0-19 age bracket has already peaked due to sharp declines in total fertility rates (TFR) across the country.”

The report also states that the total fertility rate is likely to go below the replacement level by the year 2021. In fact, many of the states have already seen a marginal decline in the total fertility rate, thereby bringing it beneath the replacement level.

“TFR is now below the replacement level. Fertility in 13 out of the 22 major states. In fact, TFR has reached as low as 1.6-1.7 in states such as Delhi, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Even high fertility states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have seen a sharp decline in TFR over the years.”

In terms of age distribution, there would be a possible rise in the working population and a decline in the number of elementary school going children.

The challenging aftermath

While it is irrefutable that population surge is a pressing issue, it can also not be denied that the proposed law is likely to impact the marginalized strata of the society adversely. Here are some of the challenges which the proposed bill could bring-

  • Aged population: In the long run, when the growth rate of the population is already declining according to the aforementioned survey, such regulations could result in a situation where the percentage of aged population increases as against the youth. This phenomenon is also known as the negative population growth. Economically, this would result in higher expenditure and lower production.
  • Attack on poor and marginalized: Those who are ostracized, deprived and unaware of the exigencies of the situation, would be the major prey of the penalties put forth under the Bill.  Moreover, a deprivation of benefits under the public distribution system signifies a denial of anti-poverty scheme of availing food and other products of basic necessity at subsidized rates.
  • Condition of women: Bringing in this regulation in the areas where there is an exigency of social awareness could wreak burden on the women. There is a likelihood of rough consequences for women in the tightly patriarchal families where procreating a male child is of utmost priority. The regulation intertwined with the aforesaid social evil could result in even more unfavourable circumstances for women.

 The example of China

In the year 1979, in order to control the burgeoning population, China introduced the one-child policy. The policy, however, did not only receive widespread criticism but it also brought various socio-political challenges for the country.

With the one child norm, China witnessed a striking increase in gender disparity, sex selective abortions, abandonment and out adoption of the female child. The major factor behind this had been the socio-cultural preference for the male child.

Now, it is interesting to note here that numerous parts of India have also been undergoing the similar son meta-preference scenario.  Looking at the above instance and the current demographic statistics of India, there is a need to question if such policies are actually required by the nation.

Awareness campaigns and family planning

It will not be out of place to mention that the root cause of population increase in India has been lack of education and awareness. Instead of a legal deterrent, there is a need to launch awareness campaigns explicating the meaning and significance of family planning. While it is true that a massive population is challenging for any nation and its resources, it is also important to address the issue with all its intricacies and depth.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Yashda Garg, Advocate at District and Sessions Court, Sector 12, Faridabad.

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