Daily Editorial Analysis for 29th July 2021

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No need for a drastic population policy

Why in News

  • Recently, two states, Uttar Pradesh is promoting Population policy to bring in or bringing in draft legislation aimed at controlling their populations.
  • The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill of 2021 promotes a two-child policy, according to which those people having more than two children will be barred from contesting local body elections and become ineligible to apply for State government jobs.
  • A similar law has also been proposed in Assam, where the Chief Minister has even announced a ‘population army’ to curb the birth rate in Muslim­dominated areas in lower Assam.
  • The aim of the policy is to reduce the total fertility rate in UP.
  • The Chief Ministers of these State don’t seem to have read the document on population projection, published by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2019.
  • According to this document, U.P. will reach a replacement rate (the rate at which women give birth to enough babies to sustain population levels) of 2.1 by 2025, and Assam by 2020.
  • If the replacement fertility rate has already been achieved in Assam and will be achieved by 2025 in U.P.

Decreasing fertility rates

  • The need arises because population policy is an important weapon in the arsenal of the Hindutva brigade to attack the Muslim population in the country.
  • The Assam Chief Minister’s ‘population army’ in Muslim areas and the U.P. Chief Minister’s many utterances prove this. However, even on this score, their policy framework is wrong.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)­2 data, the total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children that women of reproductive age group have had in their lifetime, in 1998­99 in U.P. was 3.87 for Hindus and 4.76 for Muslims.
  • In 2015­16, it decreased to 2.67 for Hindus and 3.1 for Muslims. This means that the TFR declined by 1.2 for Hindus and by 1.66 for Muslims, which is higher.
  • The NFHS­5 data for 2019­20 for U.P. have not been published. When it is published, data will show that the fertility rate for both Hindus and Muslims has declined even further.
  • The fertility trend for Assam is even starker. According to NFHS data, Assam had a TFR of 3.5 in 1992­93, which decreased to 1.9 in 2019­20.
  • Even after such a drastic decline in TFR, the Chief Minister’s enthusiasm to decrease it even further has no merit other than scoring political points based on a distorted notion of religious demography.
  • In 1998­99, the TFR for Hindus in Assam was 2.0, which declined to 1.59 in 2019­20. For Muslims, it declined from 3.05 to 2.38 in the same period.
  • While the fertility rate of Hindus is less than the replacement level, the fertility rate of Muslims is near that level and will reach there in the near future without any policy intervention.
  • The point is that fertility rate does not depend on religion. It depends on socio­economic characteristics like education, income, maternal and child health conditions, and other associated factors.
  • The graphs above show this in a concise manner. This graph shows district­wise fertility rates for Hindus and Muslims in four States: U.P., Assam, West Bengal and Bihar (calculated from NFHS­4 2015­16 data).
  • The horizontal axis shows the fertility rate for Hindus and the vertical axis shows the fertility rate for Muslims. It is clear from the graphs that there is a positive relationship between the fertility rates of Hindus and Muslims.
  • In other words, in districts where Hindus have a high fertility rate, the fertility rate of Muslims is also high. This cannot be explained by religion but by socio­economic factors in these districts. It is also clear that there are districts in these four States where the fertility rate for Hindus is actually higher than that of Muslims.
  • The fertility rate of Hindus is greater than Muslims in four districts of Assam, 11 districts of Bihar, 22 of U.P. and three of West Bengal.
  • Therefore, to stigmatise Muslims in terms of population growth and breeding more children is a figment of the right­wing imagination and not supported by facts.

Preference for a male child

  • The preceding discussion pointed out that the population control policy of imposing a two­child norm is not supported by data.
  • However, it can have other unintended consequences. Generally, any discussion on fertility focuses on policy recommendations regarding increasing female education, which is no doubt important.
  • However, a single­minded focus on this policy instrument ignores the issue of a preference for male children, which is dominant in the country.
  • An earlier study of women’s fertility in Hindi heartland States showed that the proportion of graduate women who had two living daughters but still wanted another child was 23.7% in Bihar, 27.3% in U.P. and 28.3% in Rajasthan.
  • This is nothing but an indicator of a preference for sons in a patriarchal and caste­dominated society.
  • Given such a preference for male children, the two­child norm will only increase sex­selective abortions of girl children, and female infanticide, since couples will want to maintain both the two­child norm as proposed to be enacted by the government as well as their preference for sons.

Problem of ageing

  • The experience of China also shows that if the state imposes its decision on families’ fertility choices, such a decision is bound to fail.
  • With the one­child policy, the proportion of the aged population is increasing in China. Fewer younger workers are available, which might result in a slowdown of economic growth.
  • As a result, the government has been forced to relax the one­child policy and adopt a three­child policy. In India too, as per the population projection report, the proportion of people aged 60 years and above will increase from 13.8% in 2011 to 23.1% in 2036.


  • The two­child norm will only further aggravate the problem of ageing.
  • The lesson to be drawn is that the decision on children is best made by the family, which can be nudged towards making choices that ensure a stable population growth.
  • As a famous demographer argued, the fertility behaviour of a couple is a “calculus of conscious choice”. India’s decades­old population policy has achieved replacement level fertility in the country without taking any coercive measures.
  • Governments should have faith in these time-tested policies and respect the choices of people rather than impose warped and motivated ideas regarding demography on the people.


Virulence and variance

Why in News

  • The IMF’s latest update to its World Economic Outlook spotlights the starkly widening variance in the global recovery from the economic strains caused by the pandemic.

Global Economy

  • The primary fault line precipitating the divergence of the world’s economies into two blocs — those that are normalizing activities from the COVID­19­induced curbs and those that are still struggling — is vaccine access and the pace of vaccination coverage.
  • Three months since its April forecast, the IMF projects the global economy to expand at an unchanged pace of 6% in 2021. But it sees the world’s advanced economies registering faster growth than forecast earlier, while emerging markets and developing economies are expected to post appreciably slower recoveries.
  • The IMF projects Advanced Economies to grow by 5.6% in 2021, 0.5 percentage point quicker than forecast in April.
  • Undergirding this anticipated acceleration, the U.S. economy is seen expanding by 7% — a 0.6 percentage point upgrade — on the back of an expansive vaccine roll­out that has helped enable substantial normalisation in activity, and expectations of additional fiscal support.
  • Emerging market and developing economies on the other hand are seen expanding by 6.3%, 0.4 percentage point slower than projected in April.
  • India is seen as the largest drag, with the Fund cutting its growth forecast for South Asia’s largest economy by 3 percentage points to 9.5%.
  • Citing the impact of the ‘severe second wave’ and expected ‘slow recovery in confidence’ as a reason for its downgrade, the IMF has warned that “countries lagging in vaccination, such as India and Indonesia, would suffer the most among G20 economies” in the event of the emergence of a super contagious virus variant.
  • With just a little over 7% of the population fully vaccinated, India significantly lags the estimated global average of almost 14%, Brazil’s 18% and is way behind the 50% and 55% coverage achieved in the U.S. and the U.K., respectively.
  • The Fund was effusive in its praise for India’s ‘decisive action’ in January, when it forecast 11.5% growth for the fiscal year ending in March 2022, before raising that projection to 12.5% in April, after the economy appeared to rebound well in the January­March quarter.
  • That it has now downgraded its outlook so substantially reflects the extent to which the second wave has severely impaired momentum.


  • With inflation looming as a visceral threat, demand yet to regain traction and political appetite in government for more fiscal support negligible, India’s policymakers have little option but to hasten the vaccine roll­out on a war footing.
  • Failure to expedite the coverage could cost the country dearly.


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