New Delhi, December 12: The central government has submitted in the Supreme Court that it is “unequivocally” against forcing people to have only a certain number of children in a bid to control population.
In its affidavit in the top court, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) maintained that the Family Welfare Programme in India gives couples the right to decide the size of their family without any compulsion.
Responding to a PIL by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, the ministry has rejected the need to have a mandatory two-child norm or frame a specific law on limiting the size of families in the country, the Hindustan Times reported.
After his plea was shot down by the Delhi High Court, Upadhyay has moved the Supreme Court for introducing a population control law. Upadhyay has said that population explosion is more dangerous than bomb explosion and that the constitutional rights to clean air, drinking water, health, livelihood and education cannot be secured to all citizens without controlling the population.
But the MoHFW has sought dismissal of Upadhyay’s petition, stating that the central government cannot introduce or encourage authoritative or legislative methods to control population.
“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,” said the ministry’s affidavit.
It said India was a signatory to the Programme Of Action (POA) of the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994, which was unequivocally against coercion in family planning. “In fact, international experience shows that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter productive and leads to demographic distortions,” the ministry explained.
It further pointed out that there has been a constant decline in the total fertility rate (TFR), suggesting that couples do not want more than two children in the family.
The affidavit also placed reliance on the Census data of 2001-2011 to demonstrate the sharpest decline in decadal growth rate among Indians in 100 years.
“2001-2011 was the first decade in the last 100 years which had 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”, it emphasised.
The ministry said the TFR, which was 3.2 at the time when National Population Policy 2000 was adopted, has declined substantially to 2.2 as per Sample Registration System of 2018.
“The wanted fertility in India as per National Family Health Survey IV is only 1.8 as against the actual fertility of 2.2 prevailing at that time, indicating thereby that couples on an average do not want more than two children. Also, as many as 25 out of 36 States/UTs have already achieved the replacement level fertility of 2.1 or less,” added the MoHFW.
The ministry held that the National Population Policy 2000 and the National Health Policy 2017 are guiding documents to prioritise the role of the government in shaping health systems in all its dimensions and achievement of TFR of 2.1 by 2025.
On Upadhyay’s plea to issue necessary directive to the state governments, the MoHFW has said no such directions can be issued since “public health” is a state subject and it is the prerogative of the respective state government to implement the schemes envisaged by the Central government as per the prescribed guidelines.
An SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, had in January sought a reply from the MoHFW, which has now been filed. There is, however, no next date of hearing as yet fixed.
Upadhyay, speaking to HT, lamented the stand taken by the central government. “India now has a population of 150 crore and it is clear from the numbers of Aadhaar cards made. But this affidavit seems to be evading the real issues. Legally too, the affidavit fails to take note that Entry 20A in the Concurrent List specifically mentions population control and family planning. How can the Centre now say it lacks power to make law on population control?” he asked.