IN response to a petition seeking implementation of a two-child norm to check the country’s population, the Centre has told the Supreme Court that India’s population policy is “unequivocally against coercion in family planning”, which has proved to be “counter-productive”, and that the country’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is “witnessing a constant decline”.
In an affidavit filed in the top court on a petition by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, the Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare said, “… international experience shows that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter-productive and leads to demographic distortions”. India’s TFR, the government has pointed out, is already down “substantially” to 2.2 as per the 2018 Sample Registration System, which is part of the Census exercise, from 3.2 in 2000, when the National Population Policy was adopted.
“(The) Family Welfare Programme… is voluntary in nature, which enables couples to decide the size of their family and adopt the family planning methods best suited to them, according to their choice, without any compulsion,” the government said.
In his Independence Day speech last year, the first of his second term in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had highlighted “the need to have greater discussion and awareness on population explosion”. He had also said those who choose to have small families contribute to the development of the nation and that it was a form of patriotism.
Giving figures on fall in fertility rates, the government’s affidavit in the Supreme Court said, “The wanted fertility in India as per NFHS (National Family Health Survey) IV is only 1.8 as against the actual fertility of 2.2 prevailing at that time, indicating thereby that couples (on) an average do not want more than 2 children.” It adds that 25 out of 36 states and Union Territories had already achieved the replacement level fertility of 2.1 or less.
Census figures also show that the 2001-2011 decade was the first in 100 years where a lesser population was added compared to the decade preceding it, the government said. “(It) also registered the sharpest decline in decadal growth, from 21.54 % in 1991-2001 to 17.64 % in 2001-2011.”
Noting that “the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994, to which India is a signatory, is unequivocally against coercion in family planning”, the Centre said various steps and schemes by it “to stabilise the country’s population” were “beginning to yield dividends”.
“At present India is knocking at the door of achieving replacement level fertility and has made remarkable improvement in reducing maternal and child mortality. With commitment and perseverance, India can achieve the goal of population stabilisation and advancing the development goals of the country.”
Upadhyay had earlier filed a petition in the Delhi High Court. After it was dismissed, he approached the Supreme Court.
In its submission to the Court, the Centre has also said that since ‘public health’ is a state subject, state governments must lead health sector reforms in a “suitable and sustainable manner”, and that its role can be “supportive and facilitative”.
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