India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has proposed legislation that incentives couples to abstain from having more than two children, joining Assam as the second state ruled by Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to propose population control legislation.
The draft bill, titled the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021, calls for couples with more than two children to be ineligible from receiving government benefits or subsidies and barred from applying for state government jobs.
The state’s draft law includes incentives for two-child couples if one of them opts for voluntary sterilisation, including soft loans for construction or house purchases and rebates on utility bills and property taxes.
The pretext of the bill is provided with a sober assessment of the state’s limited capacity to accommodate so many people (if it were a country, Uttar Pradesh’s 240 million people would make it the fifth most populous): “[i]n Uttar Pradesh, there are the limited ecological and economic resources at hand. It is necessary and urgent that the provision of basic necessities of human life including affordable food, safe drinking water, decent housing, access to quality education, economic/livelihood opportunities, power/electricity for domestic consumption, and a secure living is accessible to all citizens.”
The bill arrives in the midst of a scorching heatwave that has upended the lives of millions across northern India, killing at least 6,500. Climate change, which scientists have indicated is making heatwaves in India and elsewhere across the Northern Hemisphere more frequent and severe, is known to be exacerbated by high population growth. (A smaller population translates into diminished demand for energy and lower emissions of greenhouse gases).
The bill also seeks to mitigate risks inherent in the state’s limited economic capacities. Per capita income in Uttar Pradesh is less than half the national average; a trend which will continue to worsen if fertility rates remain comparably high compared to national average. Among the bigger Indian states, Uttar Pradesh has the second highest fertility rate with a score of 2.9 (only Bihar has a higher score with 3.3).
The draft law, which is open for public comments until July, would still need to be ratified by state lawmakers.
India, which is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2027, does not have a national two-child policy.
Assam’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said the proposal is partly to control the population growth of the state’s Bengali-speaking Muslims who trace their origins to neighbouring Bangladesh. Some fear that the legislation has the potential to become hijacked into a Hindu nationalist ploy to curb the Muslim population. It highlights a growing concern: as the urgency to curtail the effects of climate change intensifies and punitive solutions – like stringent population control population legislation – become increasing attractive and needed; so too does it become increasingly easier for nationalist and authoritarian governments to masquerade policy under the pretext of climate change mitigation for more nefarious means.
Uttar Pradesh, governed by Hindu hardliner Yogi Adityanath, is also home to a big Muslim population.
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