The noted naturalist David Attenborough argues that unless states control their population growth and craft policies for sustainable development, the ultimate doom is an inevitability. Among the largest populous countries, India comes second. Since its independence, the population of India has more than quadrupled. Though the population growth rate has slowed down in recent years, there are predictions that even with the present rate of growth India will surpass China and become the largest populous country in not-so-distant future.
Though founding fathers of the independent India were aware of the Malthusian dilemma that rapid population growth is not sustainable, and the country’s resources will be heavily constrained to meet the needs of the growing population, they suffered from a moral dilemma by including the Uniform Civil Code in Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution. The Directive Principles, unlike the Fundamental Rights, were confined to the domain of guidelines or visions instead of enforceable state policy. Article 44 of the Directive Principles stated that “the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.” But that endeavor never translated into policy.
Perhaps the logic of the founding fathers was that India is too diverse and multiethnic and it will be awkward to impose uniform civil code and regulate the growth of population. It should be a personal choice of individuals, guided by individual and group values dictated by religion, customs, social practices, and economic conditions. As a result of moral vacillation, the intention to translate the idea of uniform civil code into policy never materialized, and it became a subject of populism and petty politics, while the population grew rapidly. The population grew more than four times since independence.
The issue became a political punching bag when uniform civil code was linked to religion. This is the unfortunate side of the story. Population growth may increase the numbers of a particular group, thus providing them more bargaining power in a democratic country. But this argument can lead to infinite regression as in a democratic state, or in any state, no two groups can have equal numbers to have the same bargaining position. Population growth should not and must not be a religious or political issue, rather it must be a national issue, in which national leaders must rise above party lines and support a policy in which nation comes first.
It is not that there has not been attempts to regulate population growth. There are many well-conceived plans, but they lacked political will and leadership. There were also ill-conceived plans, as the one by Sanjay Gandhi in late 1970s, but those plans, including forceful sterilization, could not be successful. It was abandoned after popular discontentment. Without having a status of national law with required mechanisms to enforce the law, ad hoc policies would not work, and that is the case of the past seventy and odd years since independence.
States like Maharashtra took positive steps to regulate population growth. The Maharashtra Civil Services (Declaration of Small Family) Rules, 2005, states that no individual with more than two children will be eligible for a state government job. Perhaps other states need to adopt such a policy. More so, it is quite important that such policy needs to be made national, passed by the Indian parliament. Article 44 of the Constitution needs no more be a moral guideline, but a practical and effective policy.
The whole nation, in fact the whole world, saw during the lockdown in 2020 the display of abject poverty of India. The media highlighted the plight of the poor Indians walking barefoot, some of them riding bicycles, for hundreds of miles, walking with stuffed polythene bags, with children sitting on the shoulder. These images punctured the image of India which aspires to be a global power. Indian TV channels in their primetime programs displayed these images. It is a different matter that how Indian TV channels are always eager to show the ugly, darker side of Indian politics and society, and downplay India’s achievements. The national spirit, which is visible in Chinese media, is found lacking in Indian media. This becomes more palpable from a distant perspective when one watches news channels of India and China.
The media images also show how India not only suffers from COVID-19 pandemic, but also from an over bulging of its population. It is the time that India handles this issue with utmost urgency. The population growth of India is no more an issue of party politics, religion, caste, language, and region. It is a national issue, an issue of India’s sustainable development and to give India’s current population and future generation a healthy and safe environment, in which they can realize their full potential.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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