Friday, March 24, 2023

Too Many for Too Little

A proposed bill to bring in the two-child norm is in conjunction with the Constitution which says that it is the duty of the State to raise the standard of living and improve public health. By Dr KK Aggarwal

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Recently, there was a private member’s bill proposing incentives to promote the two-child norm. Shiv Sena MP Anil Desai proposed that the Constitution be amended to introduce a new provision incentivising those adhering to the two-child norm. The bill is framed keeping in view India’s population explosion and should be implemented in view of the demographic changes in the country.

It was on February 22, 2000, that the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), also known as the Justice Manepalli Narayana Rao Venkatachaliah Commission, was set up by a resolution of the NDA government for suggesting possible amendments to the Constitution. It submitted its report in 2002.

Article 47 of the Constitution is one of the Directive Principles and directs the State to raise the level of nutrition, standard of living and to improve public health. It also secures justice, extension of sickness, old age, disablement and maternity benefits. The Article says: “Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”

Article 41 also provides the right to assistance in case of sickness and disablement. It says: “The state shall within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want.” Their implications in relation to health are obvious.

The Article clearly says “within the limits of economics capacity”. In this regard, India is both a high population and limited resources country. In addition, Article 39 defines certain principles of policy to be followed by the State. The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing

(a) that citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood

(b) that the ownership and control of material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good

(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment

(d) that there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women

(e) that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength

(f) that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.

Section e is important. A country with a high population and limited resources will invariably exploit children and make them enter an avocation. To tackle these, Article 42 gives the power to the State to make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief and for the protection of the environment.

The proposed amendment to Article 47, now called 47A, says: “The state shall promote small family norms by off­ering incentives in taxes, employment, education, etc to its people who keep their family limited to two children and shall withdraw every concession from and deprive such incentives to those not adhering to small family norm, to keep the growing population under control.”

The two-child norm is also based on the fact that the population of India has already crossed over 125 crore. The country has doubled its population in just 40 years and is expected to unseat China as the most populated country in the next couple of decades i.e. by 2050.  India has a population density of 416 people per square kilometre, which ranks 31st in the world.

Many legal attempts have been made to make the two-child norm a reality. In November 2019, a plea challenging a Delhi High Court order of September 3 dismissing a PIL seeking implementation of certain steps, including the two-child norm, was filed in the Supreme Court by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. The High Court order said it was for Parliament and the state legislatures to enact laws and not for the court.

The petition submitted that the High Court had failed to appreciate that the right to clean air, drinking water, health, peaceful sleep, shelter, livelihood and education guaranteed under Articles 21 and 21A could not be secured to all citizens without controlling the population explosion.

It also said that the High Court had failed to appreciate that after a detailed discussion, debate and feedback, Entry 20-A was inserted in List III of the 7th Schedule through the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1976. This permits the centre and states to enact a law on population control and family planning. The Supreme Court bench comprising of Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant issued notices to the centre and others on January 10, 2020.

Earlier in 2018, the Supreme Court refused to entertain a PIL seeking the two-child norm and make it mandatory for contesting elections. Medically, the effects of a population with limited resources were evident during the devastating Spanish flu in 1918 which killed over two crore in India. This could also be seen during the current crisis in China which is battling the dreaded coronavirus epidemic.

The rapid increase in population is also putting a strain on the environment. While developed countries continue to pollute the environment and deplete resources, developing countries are under increasing pressure to compete economically and industrially. One of the largest environmental effects of population growth is global warming. Some scientists fear that this could lead to rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.

So despite critics saying this private member’s bill is politically motivated, the fact remains that population explosion is a crisis that needs to be tackled now. Or else, it will be too late.

The writer is President, Confederation of Medical Associations of Asia and Oceania, and Heart Care Foundation of India

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