In pursuit of population control, the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced in Rajya Sabha on February 7 by Shiv Sena MP Anil Desai. Proposing a constitutional amendment to provide incentives in taxation, employment and education to families limited to two children, the Bill further highlights that concessions will be withdrawn to all those “not adhering to small family norm.”

The Bill proposes to amend Article 47 (falling within the Directive Principles of State Policies) in the Indian Constitution, by introducing Article 47A which will read, “The State shall promote small family norms by offering incentives in taxes, employment, education etc. to its people who keep their family limited to two children and shall withdraw every concession from and deprive such incentives to those not adhering to small family norm, to keep the growing population under control.’’

Desai, in the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ section of the Bill, raises the concern of population explosion, stating that it is "really frightening" that India’s population has crossed the 125 crore mark.

The above section explains the proposed provision as one which will encourage people to keep small families by offering “tax concessions, priority in social benefit schemes and school admissions etc.” To simultaneously discourage families from producing more children, it also suggests measures such as withdrawing tax concessions, imposing heavy taxes and “making other punitive provisions for violations”.

Neera Chandhoke, former professor of Political Science at University of Delhi, told The Citizen that the Bill is an attempt to “regulate the private sphere”, and is an “arbitrary” move.

“It is not for the State to tell families how to plan their children,” she said. "So, I think it is completely arbitrary and very symptomatic of an authoritarian regime. It is not the task of the state to regulate the private sphere of the family,” Chandhoke stated.

The Bill states that India’s population has doubled in forty years, “expected to unseat China as the world’s most populated country” by 2050, making population explosion a concern for future generations. However, Chandhoke believes that a ‘two-child policy’ is “the kind of thing totalitarian states do, authoritarian states like China for instance.” “I think all statistics show that parents are limiting their offspring to one or two already,” she said.

“People are reducing their families,” she told The Citizen, emphasising that parents are “rational” beings who know best whether they can bear the cost of one child or two children. Chandhoke further stated that the Bill seems to be directed towards families from certain communities, for example Catholics. "They don't want to practice family planning as it is against their religion," she explained.

“Or there is a popular rumour that Muslim families have large number of children, which as far as I know has been disproved by every survey,” Chandhoke said.

Meanwhile, Sanjay Hegde, Senior Supreme Court Advocate stated that a directive principle does not automatically become law. “Adding anything to the Directive Principles, adding a goal to the Directive Principles, does not automatically immunise any proposed legislation from challenge,” he told The Citizen.

“While it (the Bill) speaks on one hand of granting of incentives, one would really have to figure out what the disincentives proposed are in the laws that will then be passed, to figure out whether a law would be constitutional or not,” Hegde stated.

Population control has been on the minds of legislators for a while, with similar Bills being tabled over the years, urging the government to enact measures to control the burgeoning population.

A private member bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in July 2019 by BJP MP Rakesh Sinha, proposing a two-child policy with penalties to those who do not adhere to the same, including higher interest rates on loans, debarment from contesting Parliamentary elections and reduced benefits. To encourage smaller families, income tax rebates, free healthcare, subsidies and loans for housing and plots were suggested.

A year before Sinha’s bill, 125 MPs urged the President to enforce the two-child policy. In 2016, another private member bill was introduced by BJP MP Prahlad Singh Patel, which did not reach the voting stage.

Meanwhile, many states have already enacted population control measures, including instituting penal action to discourage large families. In October 2019, Assam decided that individuals with more than two children will be ineligible for government jobs from 2021. This move was based on the Population and Women Empowerment Policy of Assam passed in September 2017.

The two-child policy is compulsory for panchayat members and those contesting panchayat elections in states including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

(Cover Photo: Tanmoy Bhaduri for TheCitizen)