FOLLOWING UP on the population policy passed in the state assembly two years ago, the Assam Cabinet decided Tuesday that those with more than two children will not be eligible for government jobs from January 2021.
Announcing the decision on Twitter, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s office posted: “In a revolutionary move, the Cabinet approved Two Child norms and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act norms for entry and continuation in Govt. service.”
The move comes two months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged the issue of “population explosion” in his Independence Day speech.
Coming on the heels of the NRC, the move to implement a two-child norm for government jobs is bound to trigger a fresh political debate. Assam is also among the states that have a similar norm in place for panchayat elections.
Speaking to The Indian Express, K K Dwivedi, Commissioner and Secretary in charge of the state’s personnel department, said: “Two rules have been made. First, those who have a child after two children will not be eligible for a government job after January 1, 2021. Second, after January 1, 2021, action can be taken against those in government jobs who have a child after two children. These rules are applicable to permanent government jobs only. This step is taken for the benefit of the state, the country and society.”
Dwivedi said twins will be treated as one unit in the second child category. Rajasthan, MP and Maharashtra already have a two-child norm in place for government jobs. In 2017, a resolution on the Population and Women Empowerment Policy of Assam was passed in the state assembly.
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The policy lists two key norms for government employment linked to population growth: Only candidates with two children will be eligible for government jobs; government servants shall strictly follow norms of two children to serve as role models for society.
The policy also covers the electoral process. It states that the government may legislate on legal provisions to bar those with more than two children from participating in panchayat and municipal body elections.
It proposes that the state will take up with the Centre guidelines for MLAs to adhere to family planning norms, and that the two-child norm will be proposed as a yardstick for any contestant to the State Legislature. “…MLAs having more than two children may be disqualified from his/her membership and be debarred from contesting polls in future,” it states.
Referring to Census 2011, the policy document also refers to Assam’s demographics: “The population of Assam increased to 3.12 crore (2.66 crore in 2001 Census). Although there is a decline in the decadal growth of population, the rate of increase of 17.07 is at an unsustainable level. The state’s population density is 398 as per 2011 census as against 340 in 2001. In 2013, Assam recorded a Total Fertility Rate of 2.3 (source: SRS) against a target for replacement level fertility rate of 2.1; its crude birth rate is approximately 21.3 (Annual Health Survey 2011-12).”
According to government data, Assam’s TFR of 2.3 on par with the national rate. “Assam’s average family size is 5.5, which is above the national average. Its MMR ratio is the worst amongst all states in India at 300 (SRS 2013). The State’s infant mortality rate (IMR) is also considerably high with 54 (SRS 2013). In under-5 child mortality rate (U5MR) also, Assam tops the chart amongst the states of India with 73 per 1,000 live births against the national average of 49 (SRS 2013),” the policy states.
“The Government of Assam… recognises that rapid population growth could severely derail progress in reaching our primary goal to achieve a high quality of life for all our population in Assam that is sustainable with available resources,” it states.
A senior official said that although the department of health and family welfare had devised the policy, it is being implemented for government jobs by the personnel department.
Reacting to Tuesday’s announcement, Congress spokesperson Rhituporna Konwar said: “The government had announced this two years back also. Why did they announce it again? They should focus on education and awareness programs — that will help reduce birth rate.”
Aminul Islam, general secretary of AIUDF which has a large support base among the Bengal-origin Muslims of Assam, said that curtailing the right to government job of people with more than two children “is not the correct way to go about things”. “The government should instead focus on education, eradicating poverty and making people aware of family planning,” Islam said.
Last year, Assam had passed the Assam Panchayat (Amendment) Act, 2018, according to which those contesting panchayat polls cannot have more than two children. Other states with similar norms for local body polls include Uttarakhand, Odisha, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.
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