Two-child norm: Wrongly conceived idea

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The Assam government’s decision to prospectively enforce the two-child norm in government service is an unwise and wrongly conceived idea. The government has announced that those who have more than two children will not be eligible for government jobs from January 2020. After January 1, 2021, action will also be taken against those in government service if they have a third child. The government says the new rules are in accordance with the population policy approved by the state assembly. But they do not constitute fair and good public policy in a democratic system for many reasons. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, all BJP-ruled states like Assam, have enforced the two-child norm for government jobs. Some states have also barred candidates with more than two children from contesting local body elections. All these are wrong methods to achieve a desirable national goal.  In the first place, such stringent and coercive steps may not be necessary to reduce the population growth. The Assam government mentioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warning about population explosion in his Independence Day speech in defence of its new rules.

The story of population control through family planning is a curious case in India, which holds the distinction of being the first among the developing countries to officially launch a family planning programme as early as 1951. The first Lok Sabha had not yet been constituted. India elected its 17th Lok Sabha earlier this year. It was during Emergency, imposed by the Indira Gandhi government in 1970s, that the two-child policy got an aggressive push. This was the decade when China shifted from its two-child policy to one-child policy. But prime minister Modi flagged an issue which is no longer a serious problem, as it once was. The national population growth is near the replacement level and the decadal growth in Assam is the same as the national growth rate. Laying down the two-child norm for jobs or enforcing it in government service will not in any case have a big impact. The policy will actually hurt the poor people, weaker sections and women who do not generally have control over their reproductive choices and rights. So, the enforced two-child norm is in effect discriminatory, though it looks equally applicable to all citizens. The government seems to have taken the decision to target some sections, and that is wrong. The rules also violate the rights of citizens, who should be able to make their personal decisions and choices without interference from the government.

All citizens have equal right to a government job, and the government cannot deny it to some people. Population policies which are marked by compulsion and coercion have always had unsavoury consequences in India and in other places. Social and economic development, especially of the weaker sections, is the best method to reduce population. Women should be at the centre of any population policy. It is necessary to improve educational and health facilities for the common people and reduce maternal and child mortality to achieve better results. States which have performed well in these areas have shown the best results on the population front. Assam should take its lessons from them.

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