TAXAB believes population stabilisation is the pathway to a more happy and more prosperous India. But experts say it will not only violate women’s constitutional rights but also damage economic growth.
On Monday, the eve of the UN’s World Population Day, a new NGO launched a campaign to pass a law limiting Indian families to two children each. But legal experts and industry leaders say not only is the idea impractical, such a law would violate constitutional rights of women.
The Taxpayers Association of Bharat (TAXAB), an organisation chaired by the ‘father of India’s Green Revolution’, M.S. Swaminathan, argues that rising population has seriously hampered India’s economic development. A two-child law, the group’s leaders say, will reduce India’s population over time and, in turn, lessen strain on limited economic and environmental resources.
“Population stabilisation is the pathway to a more happy and more prosperous India,” said Swaminathan in a video recorded for the launch event. World Bank data indicates that India’s population reached 132 crore in 2016, up from a 116 crore only a decade earlier. This growth has contributed to India’s high poverty rate, which is currently approximately double the world average.
But despite the strain overpopulation places on resources, some legal scholars believe a law limiting childbearing would violate women’s constitutional rights. Sarasu Esther Thomas, a Professor at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, said the law would violate “individual rights and reproductive rights,” although courts have upheld similar laws in specific contexts.
Sonia Shukla, a fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, expressed concerns that enforcement of the law might echo forced sterilisation campaigns of the Emergency, which targeted Muslim families while letting Hindus have as many children as they like.
Other critics argue that the law would not work as intended and would, in fact, damage economic growth. Manish Sabharwal, CEO of Teamlease, a human resources company, called the law “economically stupid”, since it would deplete the Indian workforce of manpower.“The demographic dividend is a gift,” said Sabharwal. “The south and west of India are reaping the benefits of this development and one only needs to take care of the north and the east now.”
Given this resistance, TAXAB plans to begin its campaign by building national consensus on the issue and asking women to pledge voluntarily not to have more than two children. At the launch event Monday, Olympic wrestler Geeta Phogat did so publicly, calling on other Indian women to also promise not to have more than two children.
Thus far, approximately 400,000 people have expressed interest in the campaign by leaving a missed call on the TAXAB hotline, but in coming months the group plans to expand on this network and organise 10,000 student and youth volunteers and lobby state governments.
TAXAB recognises that the proposed law will be controversial at first, but argues that opponents’ considerations must be weighed against the detriment of overpopulation. The group’s President Manu Gaur said, “There are other fundamental rights such as the right to clean air, food and water that come first.”