The issue of population control has become a topic of hot debate after the most populous state Uttar Pradesh published a draft for proposed population control bill. BJP ruled Assam has already passed a resolution in the assembly regarding the same, and have introduced measures discouraging people to have more than two children. Muslim organisations, in particular, are opposing such measures, and now Communist newspaper The Hindu has come up with a completely misleading to argue that there is no need for a population policy.
In an article titled “No need for a drastic population policy” authored by Subhanil Chowdhury and Saswata Ghosh published on July 29, they used wrong charts and misleading data to argue for their cause.
The article first argues that as per the Population Projection published in 2019 by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, UP will reach the total fertility rate of 2.1, which is considered the replacement rate, by 2025, and Assam should have already reached that rate by 2020. This means, the population of UP and Assam will not increase from 2025 and 2020 respectively, hence there is no need for population control measures, argues the Hindu article.
The authors cherry-picked only one data point from a 268-page document to argue that the population is going to stabilise in the two states very soon, which is completely wrong. According to the same Population Projection document cited in the article, the UP population is projected to go up from 23.1 crore in 2021 to 25.59 crore in 2036, an increase of 2.5 crores. Similarly, Assam’s population is projected to grow from 3.5 crore in 2021 to 3.94 crore in 2036. This shows both states are expected to see an increase of 11% in population in the next 15 years.
This means, the population projection does not say that the population in both the states are going to stabilise soon, as falsely claimed by the authors. Even though 2.1 TFR is considered the replacement rate, there are other factors affecting the population growth, like increase in life expectancy of the population due to availability of better healthcare, nutritious food, shift to non-hazardous occupations etc.
This was a minor offence compared to what The Hindu did next. They printed a completely misleading chart to prove that the population growth rate of Muslims and Hindus are the same. The proposed population control measures will be applicable to all the citizens, so it is puzzling what was the need to compare the fertility rate of Muslims and Hindus.
Citing the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-2 data, the article claims that the fertility rate of both Muslim and Hindu women in Assam, UP, Bihar and West Bengal are similar. They plotted the fertility data on charts, putting the Hindu fertility rate on the X-axis and the same for Muslims on Y-axis. At first glance, the charts show that the fertility rate for both communities is similar. But one looks closer, it can be seen how the authors manipulated the chart to arrive at that conclusion.
While making the chart, they used different scales for Hindus and Muslims, while each unit on the X-axis represents 1% rate for Hindus, each unit on the Y-axis for Muslims actually represents a 2% rate. This means, for the same unit on the chart, the Muslim fertility rate is actually twice the Hindu fertility rate.
Moreover, the charts were prepared taking data for four districts each in the four states, and the important thing is, the article does not mention which districts were used. As the Hindu-Muslim population shares vary across districts in all the states, it is an important factor in comparing population growths.
Also, while the article mentions that the fertility rate for both Hindus and Muslims have declined, they fail to mention that the same for Muslims remains higher than Hindus. This means the proportion of Muslims in the total population will continue to increase, even at a lower rate. On the national average, the fertility rate for Muslims is 0.8% higher than Hindus, as per the NFHS data cited by The Hindu. 0.8% is not a small difference when the fertility rate is between 2% to 4% for most states. In plain terms, Muslim women give birth to almost one more child compared to Hindus.
The article further mentions that the fertility rate of Hindus is higher than Muslims in 4 districts of Assam, 11 districts of Bihar, 22 districts in UP and 3 districts in West Bengal. This is completely misleading and useless information, because these are tiny portions in the total districts in these states. Because Assam has 34 districts, Bihar has 38 districts, UP has 75 districts and West Bengal has 23 districts.
This means, going by the article’s own admission, barring a tiny number of districts, the fertility rate of Muslims is Hindus is more in most of the districts. While the authors claim that higher population growth in Muslims is “is a figment of the right-wing imagination and not supported by facts”, the fact is completely opposite. The data show that the fertility rate among Muslims remains higher than Hindus, and the authors tried to contest that by cherry-picking data from a tiny number of districts, and wrongly plotting data on charts.