Kerala may as well be doing a China, if a population policy recommending that every married couple in the state should have no more than two children, is embraced by what is touted as the most progressive state in India.
The Commission on Rights and Welfare of Women and Children's chaired by Justice V R Krishna Iyer has suggested that couples should practice stringent family planning and restrict the number of children they have to two. Its reasoning: the state's duty to implement the national population policy.
The report, submitted to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy Saturday, calls for strict action against those that show wilful indifference towards this rule and incentives for those couples that adhere to it. Suggesting a fine of Rs 10,000 and/or up to three months’ imprisonment for violations, it promotes the entitlement of additional facilities and benefits from the government -- including cash incentives of up to Rs 50,000 to women who marry after the age of 19 and have their first child after the age of 20.
The commission has urged the state to put in place other supplementary benefits to promote this new population policy. Among its suggestions was that all hospitals should facilitate free abortion and that medically safe contraceptives be made accessible to married couples free of cost.
The proposal is a first for any state in India and protests have already begun to fly thick and fast, especially from minority communities. Many say it is a violation of their human and democratic rights.
"It's a violation of the parental rights. It's a violation of human rights," said Father Stephen Alathara of the Catholic Bishops Council.
The commission, which has also proposed a 10-member committee to monitor population growth, defends its recommendations saying religious and political outfits cannot discourage family planning as it is a policy that benefits the public. Advocate Rajan, secretary of the commission, told CNN-IBN, "The bill is a meaningful solution to population explosion, it should be welcomed. and will benefits the basic rights of children to grow in a healthy environment".
However, the increasingly dissenting voices against the commission's recommendations is not likely to be taken lightly by the ruling state government. The Congress, which depends heavily on the votes of religious minorities, says the proposal needs a healthy public debate.
"It's only in the embryo stage now and will have to be discussed in various forums," MK Muneer, Kerala's social welfare minister said. "An act can be passed in the assembly only after holding these discussions," he said.
Many proponents of the policy believe that a decrease in population will aid the economic growth of the country, just as China's economic growth accelerate after the implementation of its One-Child Policy in 1979 -- increasing the affluence of its people.
But, looking back in history, Sanjay Gandhi's family planning program to limit population growth in 1976 -- during Indira Gandhi's Emergency rule -- was hugely unpopular and one of the many reasons the Congress party lost power in the next General Assembly elections.
Not much has changed in that respect in India. As a country, we cannot do a China -- where the government can get away with coercively conducting abortions and imposing stringent punishments on violators.
And, it's anybody's guess that the policy -- which its supporters may say is aimed at economic growth and affluence -- is not going to work in isolation, if implemented in one state.
Watch a video on the proposed bill