Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for a “population control policy” on Wednesday may not be on the same page as the government’s affidavit in December 2020 which said it cannot coerce couples into having a “certain number of children” in a bid to curb population explosion.
Further, a 2016 Supreme Court judgment authored by Justice (now retired) Madan B. Lokur had also held that any policy which compelled “mass sterilisation” would amount to infringement of “reproductive freedoms”, especially that of the most vulnerable groups of society whose economic and social conditions make them easy targets of coercion.
Justice Lokur had written that “improved access, education and empowerment” and not coercion should be the guiding factors behind the government's population control campaign. “Policies of the government must not mirror the systemic discrimination prevalent in society,” the court had said in the judgment.
In a 2020 affidavit, the government was categorical in its stand on compulsory population control. “The Family Welfare Programme in India 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 Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.
In fact, the government said that 2001-2011 witnessed the sharpest decline in decadal growth rate among Indians in 100 years.
It said India was a signatory to the Programme Of Action (POA) of the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994. The POA was unequivocally against coercion in family planning.
“International experience shows that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter-productive and leads to demographic distortions,” the Ministry had told the court, in response to a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay to introduce a population control law. Mr. Upadhyay had said that “population explosion was more dangerous than bomb explosion”.
The government said India had been witnessing a “constant decline” in the total fertility rate (TFR). It pointed out that according to Census statistics “2001-2011 is the first decade in the last 100 years which has not only added lesser population as compared to the previous one, but also registered the sharpest decline in the decadal growth rate from 21.54% in 1991-2001 to 17.64% in 2001-2011”.
The Ministry said the TFR which was 3.2 at the time when the National Population Policy 2000 was adopted had declined substantially to 2.2 as per Sample Registration System (SRS) of 2018. The TFR is an indicator to estimate the average number of children that a woman would have over her childbearing years.
Further, the National Health Policy (NHP) of 2017 had set out indicative, quantitative and objective goals for the government which includes the achievement of TFR of 2.1 by 2025, the government had said.