Assam’s new draft population policy talks of banning people with more than two children from taking up government jobs or contesting in panchayat and municipal polls— The Indian Express reports that the state is considering extending the ban to Assembly election candidature also. Given the state has one of the highest rates of population growth with low GSDP, its focus on targets for lowering fertility, school drop-out and immunisation rates seems admirable. But, the proposed ban may not pass muster on many counts. One, it would mean the end of many political careers, probably even promising ones, given the retrospective application. Managing perceptions and any potential political unrest regarding this is certainly an uphill challenge. Besides, the move to include MLAs under this ban will violate The Representation of The People Act, which lays down the grounds for disqualification of members of Legislative Assemblies. At the very best, the state can hope for Schedule IX protection, but that could entail a long legal battle.
Where Assam loses the plot is in trying to impose a population control policy that relies on pressure rather than inducement. To be sure, Chhattisgarh’s experiment of incentivising female sterilisation via money-for-tubectomy bombed, given the poor healthcare infrastructure in the state at the time. But there are other ways and focus areas that Assam must consider. For a start, it needs to act decisively to deter child marriage, a practice that is till prevalent in the state. Child marriage effectively means a longer period of fertility for women, and consequently, more number of possible pregnancies. Education and awareness also have to be top bets, as there is a negative correlation between women’s education level and the number of children they eventually bear—female literacy in the state is a low 66%, marginally above the 65% all-India average.