Why two-child plan in India’s most populous state is ‘coercive’

The right-wing government in India’s most populous state has proposed a controversial legislation aimed at curbing its population growth, with experts calling the move “coercive” and fearing it may lead to increased gender inequality.

Last week, a draft law, titled Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021, was unveiled by Uttar Pradesh state’s law commission, asking the public to share their suggestions on it by July 19.

The bill proposes to make people with more than two children ineligible for state government jobs, disentitle those already in service to promotions, and exclude them from the benefits of as many as 77 government schemes.

It also suggests incentives such as tax rebates for people with two or less children in the state, home to more than 200 million people.

According to the draft, anyone violating the two-child policy in the state will also be debarred from contesting local bodies elections.

Government employees following the two-child policy will be eligible for incentives such as two additional increments during their service, subsidy on purchase of land or house, and a 3 percent increase in Employee Provident Fund under the National Pension Scheme.

Those with one child will get four additional increments in their jobs and free healthcare and education for their child till the age of 20.

The draft says those who are not in government service but follow the two-child policy will get rebates on water and electricity bills, housing tax and home loans from banks.

‘Coercion not acceptable’

But experts say there is no evidence to suggest that such a law will help in bringing down the fertility rate. Instead, they fear, it would lead to increased gender inequality.

“The proposed bill has the potential to lead to increased gender inequality, skewed sex ratio, exacerbation of malnutrition and an inevitable rise in unsafe abortions.”

According to India’s National Family Health Survey conducted in 2015-16, Uttar Pradesh has a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.7, which is above the national average of 2.1, Muttreja said.

However, Muttreja said due to the efforts by subsequent governments in Uttar Pradesh, health outcomes have improved since 2015.

“The Technical Group on Population Projections for the Period of 2011-2036, constituted by the National Commission on Population under the ministry of health and family welfare in July 2020 projected that Uttar Pradesh will achieve the replacement level of TFR by 2025, without a need for coercive policies,” Muttreja told Al Jazeera.

According to the United Nations Population Division, a TFR of about 2.1 children per woman is called replacement-level fertility, which, if sustained over a longer period, each generation will exactly replace itself.

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