By Padmini Subhashree
The issue of population explosion in India isn’t a novelty any more. It has been realised time and again that there is a strong parallel between the tempo of population growth and the standard of development in a country. This axiomatic problem has lead to a Public Interest Litigation filed by Avishek Goenka in the apex court, calling for substantial measures by the Government and civil society to tackle this problem. The court has disposed off this matter and has asked the petitioner to discuss his prayers with the appropriate Ministry.
The petitioner advocates inclusion of turfs for family planning messages in the print advertisements of all ministries, incorporation of family planning content in school textbooks, administer commercial vehicles with catchphrases with an aim to sensitise the present and future generation about this impending crisis.
The suggested measures have no element of novelty. They have been long contemplated and even worked upon as a part of long term mission objectives in different family planning legislations including National Population Policy 2000. Further, the petitioner doesn’t take into cognizance the large pool of illiterate citizens who can’t be reached out to in spite of indubitable family planning slogans, unless they are made to realise the merits of a small family, which often get covered in the garb of crippled superstitions in their minds. India was the first country in the world to adopt a National Family Planning Programme as early as 1952 to meet population requirements that would be consistent with economic requirements. But the laid back way of implementation and the ostrich-like bureaucratic approach have acted as major hurdles in the fruition of this policy.
The Chinese government in early Eighties took up a war-level effort to keep population under check. The acclaimed one-child policy, mandatory sterilisations, incentivisation as well as strict punishments on disaccord of laid-down rules were promulgated as strategic tools, in addition to a mass awareness campaign and sex-education among adolescents.
An important feature of the PIL is that it seeks to include corporate sponsorship into the realm of national family planning programmes. The Chinese experience displays the efficacy of social participation and good scout exercise although it would be interesting to discover how far the profit bottom-line of business houses would keep a tab on their philanthropic gesture towards a national cause.
Implementation of a large scale project that encompasses almost every inhabitant of the nation is tedious and time-consuming and may extend over decades. The largely domineering government hold over public life and Herculean efforts bore results in China due to state-centric allegiance and Communist propaganda.
The Chinese success may primarily be attributed to bureaucratic accountability. Attaching sanctions against default of pre-defined targets and placing rewards for success fuels the motivation of the work-force. On the contrary, the bug of generating mutually antagonistic vote banks keeps whizzing the ears of our politicians who take no heed in curbing the instinctive impulse to maximise their size. This is a major antecedent of population explosion that leaves us with nothing but a humongous pool of human race who do their parts in own subsistence but are ignorant of the collective interest of the country which are mortgaged in stocking their bellies.
Envisaging such a radical situation in India would be far-fetched and unrealistic. The one-child policy entails a strict follow-up which can be easily consumed in the Indian scenario by forgery and under-reporting. The largely agrarian Indian population quintessentially seeks larger families to support their family income. The social consequences are seemingly grave considering the huge and violent retaliations that can be anticipated in response to such a public-restraining policy. Moreover, dogmatic notions of patriarchy are deeply entrenched in the Indian mindset and the consequent cultural preference for sons gives scope for an incessant string of conception until the touted male procreation is conceived.
The theory of logistic population growth applies very erratically to over-populated regions where unlike the usual trend, population growth doesn’t cease beyond a certain point of saturation. This is due to the transcending levels of competition among inhabitants for resources in an effort to perpetuate their own livelihood over others. In these circumstances, nothing short of a subversive model of population control is worth venturing upon. However, effort towards securing subsistence and development in this process might be easily construed as encroachment on fundamental rights. Our existence in a democracy narrows down to a civilised code of governance rather than imposing coercive and intimidating policies upon citizens. The much publicised Bloomberg exposure of Sanjay Gandhi’s intimidating policy of forced sterilisation caused a stir among general masses primarily on grounds that it was a blatant infraction of public liberty that was indiscriminately dictated to fill the bill for national agenda. History is replete with instances of mass uprisings and collective revolt a knee-jerk reactions to any compelling law imposed on public life.
The petitioner has also argued that a high-level committee be set up to device constructive and technically sound measures as a cure to the problem. However, such committees have been set up in the past and their recommendations have culminated in numerous legislations. The National Population Policy 2000 was enacted to give a focused approach to population stabilisation. It was aimed at reconstructing the entire cascade of reproductive and child health care in India by addressing the problems pertaining to personnel shortage, technical inefficiency and infrastructure with regard to contraception. But institutional problems like inadequate delegation of financial and administrative powers to Panchayati Raj bodies and inefficiency in resource mobilisation diluted the quantum of progress in this largely decentralised venture.
Hostility towards contraceptives has been a major backfire when it comes to strategising the population control methods. The sterilisation programme initiated in India’s family welfare programme way back in 1956 was initially popular and was conducted in accordance with the wishes of the seeker. But it comes with its own set of limitations since many cases of failed sterilisation were reported owing to technical misfires and incapacitations. The two landmark cases of State of Haryana v Santra and Shakuntala Sharma v State of U.P. bear down the very objective of sterilisation processes and subsequently undermine the credibility of these procedures, which further daunts prospective seekers in the future. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 supplements the provisions relating to abortion in the Indian Penal Code. However, it often gets contrived by the prowls of pre-natal foeticide and other ominous agendas of some parties which may well question its plausibility and productiveness.
It is evident that the issues governing population dynamics in our nation are convoluted and perplexing and hence discovering a substantially scripted solution will not be feasible. As recognised by the PIL filed in this regard, an immediate prodigious effort is essential to contain this problem. The contribution of the stronghold of the totalitarian regime which has gone tooth and nail in China to tackle the population crisis is distinctly discernible. However, the outcome of such an approach doesn’t command wholesome appraisal as a skewed population pyramid in favour of old people has emerged in China. Therefore, an exclusive and all-pervasive agenda wouldn’t be of great help since the societal and legal conditions vary significantly in context of different nations. Instead, by learning from the success and failures of other models, we may adapt them to the particular needs of Indian society. Helping construct an educationally sound society would be the most effective way to deal with the issue because a prudent and edifying society holds the key to resolve this crisis. More importantly, women’s education needs to be given a top-notch priority. It is because of the pivotal role women play in sowing the rudiments of realisation in any family. In view of legislations, more than absence of law, it is the trauma of policy failures which continues to plague our nation so that every initiative gets entangled in the quagmire of social afflictions and is rendered worthless at the end. Policymaking and radical follow up need to concur at moment for sparing us the sight of an explosively populous and space-hankering human race jumping off the edges of earth while someone is still being born.
(The author is a student of NUJS, Kolkata and an Assistant Editor at JILS)