World Population Day: As UP invites suggestions, a look at India's history of population control

These critics argue that rich people have imposed population control on the poor for decades. And, they say, such coercive attempts to control the world's population often backfired and were sometimes harmful

FP Staff July 11, 2021 09:11:15 IST
World Population Day: As UP invites suggestions, a look at India's history of population control

Representational image. Reuters

A day before the world observed World Population Day, the Uttar Pradesh government in India released a draft of a proposed population control bill, seeking suggestions from the general public to improve the draft bill. The last date to make suggestions is 19 July.

The proposed bill proposes to incentivise public servants following its two-child policy with "two additional increments during the entire service, maternity or as the case may be, paternity leave of 12 months, with full salary and allowances and three percent increase in the employer's contribution fund under national pension scheme".

The idea seems to be a leaf out of the Narendra Modi government's "incentive model" to implement policies, except, of course, for the debarring of anyone violating the two-child policy in the state from contesting local bodies elections and applying for getting promotion in government jobs, as well as receiving any kind of government subsidy.

The UP government, however, is not the first (and won't be the last) to announce population control measures.

Population control policy explosion: How did it start?

Population has been a topic of interest since ancient times, but it has become a controversial subject in the last two centuries. According to an article in BBC, "Most historians of modern population control trace its roots back to the Reverend Thomas Malthus, an English clergyman born in the 18th Century who believed that humans would always reproduce faster than Earth's capacity to feed them". He saw growth in human population leading to what has come to be known as "Malthusian catastrophe".

Though inventions in agricultural technology proved him wrong, humans haven't completely evaded the "catastrophe". The COVID-19 pandemic has brought back issues like food shortage and starvation deaths, especially among the poor of the world.

Coming back to origin of population control, while historically, both fertility and mortality rates have remained high, "after World War II, improved public health measures, especially clean water and improved sanitation, as well as the new availability of antibiotics, led to a decline in infant and child mortality and an unprecedented increase in the rate of population growth".

These demographic changes became more and more visible, especially in countries that had become independent after World War II. Population emerged as a unique challenge for the governments of these newly independent countries.

At the same time, the powerful countries of that time, saw it as their responsibility to guide these developing countries towards a "population control policy". They incentivised population control measures, as well as coerced countries to heed their advice. And with it was born: policy(ies) of controlling global population.

The dark side of population control

Matthew Connelly's book Fatal Misconception gives a detailed account of "how some people have tried to control others without having to answer to anyone".

According to a report in, "Four years after gaining its independence from the UK, India adopted a population policy as part of its initial five-year plan in 1951. In roughly the same time period, Pakistan and Sri Lanka instituted population policies.

The report points out that not all developing countries (read Sub-Saharan Africa) were open to population control, largely because of their distrust towards the powerful nations.

Few years down the line, China, stunned the world with its population control policies. In 1979, the People's Republic of China adopted the

"One Child Per Family policy", and imposed penalties often severe on those who violated the law. In 2015, China completely scrapped its one-child policy.

The twins of India's Population control

The brutalities committed in India in the name of population control are known to many as the mass sterilisation drive of 1976 launched by the Indira Gandhi government during the 21-month “Emergency".

According to an article in Quartz India, "Government workers, from train inspectors up to the top brass, were working to sterilise as many men as possible. Some even had monthly quotas for how many men they had to convince to get vasectomies."

The public outcry and the protests resulted into an even darker and sinister plan of population control. But unlike the first, this one targetted: Young Indian women (and sometimes men) often younger than 30, and mostly illiterate.

These women would be lured by governmet-sponsored family planning agents to undergo sterilisation in camps with rudimentary infrastructure and untrained staff. Many women would partake in these camps for cash payments as low as Rs 600.

It was only in September 2016 that the Supreme Court of India directed the Union Government to ensure the discontinuation of ‘sterilization camps’ within the following three years and to induce the state governments to follow suit.

Back to Uttar Pradesh: What else does the Population policy say?

According to PTI, as per the draft bill, State Population Fund will be constituted for the purpose of implementation of the act.

Listing the government's duties, the draft bill says that maternity centres will be established at all primary health centres. The centres and NGOs will distribute contraceptive pills, condoms, etc, spread awareness about family planning methods through community health workers and ensure mandatory registration of pregnancies, deliveries, births and deaths across the state.

The draft bill also says that it shall be the duty of the government to introduce a compulsory subject relating to population control in all secondary schools.

The bill seeks to revitalise efforts and provide for measures to control, stabilise and provide welfare to the population of the state by implementing and promoting two-child norm.

The draft bill reads, "In Uttar Pradesh, there are the limited ecological and economic resources at hand. It is necessary and urgent that the provision of basic necessities of human life including affordable food, safe drinking water, decent housing, access to quality education, economic/livelihood opportunities, power/electricity for domestic consumption, and a secure living is accessible to all citizens."

It is necessary to control, stabilise the population of the state for promotion of sustainable development with more equitable distribution, it says.

It is necessary to ensure healthy birth spacing through measures related to augmenting the availability, accessibility and affordability of quality reproductive health services to achieve the goal of population control, stabilisation and its welfare in the state, the draft bill reads.

As this report points out, despite the Supreme Court order, sterlisation camps continue even today, and so does coercion.

Experts say that India's population peaked a long time ago, and is actually on a decline. And, given India's poor track record, one would hope, one more policy doesn't result into another method of coercion.

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