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UP Law Commission floats population control bill draft: How the draft, in its current form, sacrifices merit in favour of fewer children

One of the most fundamental problems with the draft is that it sacrifices merit at the altar of population control. If the draft is implemented as law, then admissions to premier educational institutions and promotions will be based on the number of children one has.

The Uttar Pradesh Law Commission on Saturday made available to the public its draft population control bill and sought suggestions from the public regarding the same. The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021 envisions benefits for those with two children and more for those with only one with disincentives attached for those who act in contravention of the proposed bill.

While the proposed Bill was, no doubt, implemented with good intention, there are multiple fundamental flaws with the bill. One of the most fundamental flaws is that it does not establish the fundamental necessity of the Bill.

According to data available, population growth rate in Uttar Pradesh is already on the decline and the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), that is, the number of children per woman, was 2.7 in 2015-16, a sharp fall from 3.8 in 2005-06. Thus, the population growth rate is already declining without government intervention. Furthermore, in large parts of India, the TFR is less than 2.1 already, that is, the replacement level TFR at which population remains stable and does not decline or grow.

Thus, there does not appear to be any justification for the implementation of the Bill for the purposes intended. All of this aside, there are multiple provisions in the draft Bill that forces us to question the wisdom of it.

The problematic provisions of the UP population control bill draft

One of the most fundamental problems with the draft is that it sacrifices merit at the altar of population control. If the bill is implemented as law, then admissions to premier educational institutions and promotions will be based on the number of children one has.

The draft promises preference for single child in all admission in all educational institutions including AIIMS and IIM. Admission to institutions should be based on merit. There is no valid justification as to why a single child should be preferred over others for admission to educational institutions. It just does not make any sense at all.

The draft also envisions a preference for single child for appointment to government jobs. Again, running a government is not an easy job. And consequent appointment should be based on merit and ability. It is unclear how a preference for a single child figures into all of this.

The draft also bans people with more than two children from applying for government jobs and bans promotions for the same. All of this combined only confirms the death of merit.

Where is the money going to come from?

The draft also proposes multiple sops for those with two children and even more for those with one child and a lot of these are not limited to public servants but encompass the whole population. Furthermore, the UP Government is yet to provide the estimated cost of the said sops.

The draft proposes free education till graduation for the single child, free healthcare and insurance till the age of 20 years, and scholarship for higher studies till the age of 20. This is in addition to benefits provided for those with a maximum of two children.

The benefits for those abiding by the two-child norm include housing loan at nominal rates of interest, rebates on charges for utilities such as water and electricity among other things. The most contentious, however, is 12 months maternity or paternity leave with full pay and allowances. And these are benefits available for not just public servants but the general population as well.

It is not clear how this is going to work for those who work in the private sector. Who will pay the salary, the government or the company? And if it is the private company that has to pay for the maternity or paternity leave, then the cost of labour is going to increase exponentially in the state and the business environment is going to suffer as a consequence.

After all, why should the company hire someone they have to pay 12 months salary for no work at all? If the government says that they will bear the cost of salary and allowances, it is hard to see where the money is going to come from.

These are benefits that are available to all citizens, not just public servants. For public servants alone, increments are promised as well as subsidies for the purchase of plots for houses and “three per cent increase in the employer‘s contribution Fund under national pension scheme.”

Again, the estimated cost of all these sops has not been provided and it is not clear at all where the money is going to come from.

The permanence of the law

India is a democracy and all laws can be changed when a new government comes to power. Therefore, no law is permanent per se and subject to change via elections. The same goes for the proposed bill should it ever become law.

Consider this for a moment. A couple that would have otherwise had more than two children decides to limit themselves to two children due to the draft which may become a law. After 10 years, however, the law is repealed by a different government that comes to power and consequently, most of the benefits as well. What happens then? Perhaps, there is no cause for serious complaints here but it is a consideration that must be taken into account as well.

Moreover, democracy is dependent on the votes that are earned. What happens if a section of the population continues to violate the law and when they have reached a sufficient advantage in terms of numbers to win elections, they elect people who would then repeal the law?

All of these factors have to be taken under consideration while accepting the draft but such answers, thus far, have not been provided.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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