December 14, 2004
SC Lawyers Want Laws To Control Population, But…
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi, Dec 14 (UNI) Citing suicides in Andhra Pradesh and child selling in Orissa as signs of families having more members than they can care for, Supreme Court lawyers have called for new laws to control population explosion.
The occasion was a seminar last week at which lawmakers came under fire for their failure to respond to the ”needs” of public interest and for pursuing a policy of voter ”appeasement.”
Participants expressed shock at the authorities having ”second thoughts” on barring politicians with more than two children from contesting elections to Parliament and Legislative Assemblies.
The move to withdraw the 79th Constitutional Amendment Bill, which was introduced in 1992 and pending in the Rajya Sabha, came last month amid concerns of coercion.
The Bill barring people having more than two children from contesting any election from Panchayat to Parliament sought to amend Articles 102 and 191 on disqualifications of persons for being chosen as members of Parliament and State legislatures.
Lawyers at the seminar said there was nothing coercive in applying restrictions prospectively– a year after enacting– as it lets a candidate choose between a third child or a shot at office.
They hailed an apex court judgement in Javed Vs State of Haryana upholding a law disqualifying those with more than two children from contesting Panchayat elections.
Several States such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa have already embraced the two-child norm for their Panchayat polls.
Supreme Court Judge B N Srikrishna, speaking at the seminar, called it ”immoral” for a couple to give birth to a child they cannot look after.
Organisers estimate India’s current population at some 1,100 million. They say it grew by 190 million in the last decade and is expected to grow by 200 million more in the next decade.
The participants included former Gujarat High Court Judge A S Qureshi, former Law Minister and senior advocate Shanti Bhushan and SC Bar Association President P H Parekh.
Mr Bhushan, Law Minister in the Janata government that swept to office in 1977 on a wave against forced sterilisations and other emergency excesses, complained that Indian leaders are guided only by how their actions affect vote banks.
Mr Qureshi bemoaned the absence of a coherent population policy and observed that in 57 years of independence India had produced more mouths to feed ”than the grain we have.”
He decried attempts to sow confusion through ”propaganda” that ”certain communities” are trying to increase their numbers.
He and other speakers recounted population control efforts being made in Islamic nations, such as Iran, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
In India, ”there is practically no policy of family planning,” said Ravi Prakash Gupta, an advocate who petitioned Delhi High Court in August to set a one-child-per-family norm and apply ”negative sanctions” against couples which produce more than two children.
Mr Gupta’s petition seeks to deprive such couples of any reservation in housing, employment or travel, the right to vote or run for office, or even take or keep a government job.
Speakers said family planning in India– launched as early as 1952– suffered a setback because of forced sterilisations during the 1975-76 emergency– and has never recovered.
”Even educative and persuasive measures have been abandoned,” Mr Gupta said. ”There is now practically no advertisement in either print or electronic media.”
Speakers voiced concerns over the gravity of the situation in India and stressed legal measures and incentives and disincentives to combat it and promote the small family norm.
But critics say blaming all sort of administrative, executive, legislative– even judicial– deficiencies on ‘overpopulation’ has become almost fashionable and very often a convenient excuse for governance incompetence, mismanagement and failures.
Experts say having so many mouths to feed or so many hands to employ or heads to shelter can be seen as problems– but also as solutions.
Veteran demographer Ashish Bose, reached for comment, dismissed the lawyers’ argument, saying, ”how come in a welfare state, we have virtually rotting buffer grain stocks on one hand, and some families in Kalahandi giving up kids, on the other. It’s mismanagement.”
Mr Bose demanded why Kerala– a demographic success with fertility rates below the replacement level– is short of jobs for its work-age people and pensions for the elderly retiring from work. How has population control helped Kerala ?”
Speakers at the seminar said more and more births were putting more and more pressure on living space, amenities and resources, creating more city slums, without water and sanitation, and crowding transport and hospitals.
Asked whether these were consequences of excess population alone– and not a result of poor planning and inept and corrupt management of resources, Mr Gupta asserted: ”It’s because of the population explosion.”
Asked whether the view was based on a study, Gupta replied that ”by any proper administration the thrust of population explosion in urban areas cannot be managed.”
Critics say no one denies all resources have limits but who is to say whether that limit is reached without first determining– and restoring– what is pilfered or wasted and bringing to book those responsible.
”Mismanagement could also be a cause for these problems but we are fast reaching a stage when even the best of management cannot improve the condition,” Mr Gupta said. ”If we add two crores of people every year– we would become a bottomless pit which no economic growth can fill.”
What kind of governance will improve the situation if population goes on rising, Bhushan asked. He suggested a five per cent surcharge for non-compliance with the two child norm and a one per cent exemption for compliance.
He disclosed that when a Constitutional amendment introduced during emergency was repealed by the successor government, he tried and saved some of its contents, including an entry enabling the Centre and States to enact laws to control population.
The seminar on ”the need of law to regulate and control population explosion” was organised by a group calling itself All India Progressive Lawyers’ Association.
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