BENGALURU: At a time when policies on population control are being hotly debated, experts feel that such measures are coercive in nature and shift the focus away from real issues on hand.
Terming it a “disaster” to even think of implementing a population control policy in Karnataka, executive director of the Population Foundation of India, Poonam Muttreja, said no state needs such a policy, and, if Karnataka implements a ‘coercive’ policy like that, then the government will soon have to start offering incentives to people to populate, specially as Karnataka’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has been anyway declining from 2.5 in 1999 to 1.7 in 2020, while the prescribed TFR is 2.1.
“It is going to be a disaster. Karnataka will have a reverse problem wherein the government will then have to offer incentives for people to be born. It is an absolute ‘no’ according to me,” Muttreja said, terming it as “a new fashion to make such announcements”.
The states have a comprehensive framework and inspiring document in the form of National Population Policy 2000 to follow. Recently, in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on a petition in December 2020, the Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare had itself 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 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, Muttreja pointed out.
Dr Rathnamala Desai, national president of Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), and Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Principal, SDM College of Medical Sciences, Dharwad, said, “The state cannot take away reproductive rights of individuals in a democratic country. Coercion, compulsion and disincentives will not affect the population dynamics.
We have unpleasant examples from our past experiences. The issues that should concern the government include inequality, and social and gender discrimination in access to health, education and employment. A woman should have equal opportunities and rights in education, employment, property among others in reality and not just on paper.”
She said the State Government must invest in health and education and reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. Instead of permanent sterilisation, long-acting reversible contraception should be encouraged. She said legislation will further disempower women on their right to reproductive health and lead to increased illegal practice of sex-selection and unsafe abortions. “Women in India have little say on their reproductive health,” she noted.
Demographic experts said it is a tactic of the government to shift focus from real issues. “We have so many other important issues to focus on right now. We need strategies, research to mitigate the pandemic, vaccine production, distribution strategies, the economy is crashing, fuel prices are going up. With so many issues on hand, we are talking of something which is absolutely not necessary,” said a researcher and demographic expert on the condition of anonymity.
Prof Amman Madan, Sociologist and Anthropologist at Azim Premji University, said, “The real issue is lack of development. We have more than 150 years of data to show that when development goes up, the rate of having children comes down automatically. The high rate of children is basically for the very poor and, as they go into the middle class, the TFR goes down. In reality, it (the policy) cannot be implemented and will not be productive.”
Experts argue that the State Government should put its energies into investing strongly in infrastructure, deep investment in good and stable electricity, good roads, IT infrastructure, network, free education and health infrastructure, raw materials, etc, strengthen small businesses and not waste energy on optics.
Neonatal mortality a worry
Karnataka’s fertility rate at 1.7 (2019-20) is lesser than most other North Indian states (UP 2.7, 2015-16), but neonatal mortality is very high at 15.8 (per thousand births). In Kerala, it is 3.4 (per thousand births).
77 pc of sterilisation is tubectomy
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16, 77 per cent of sterilisations are tubectomies. According to data, 54 per cent of Indian men decide what contraception women should take, but their participation in contraception is abysmal.