Bhanoji Rao

ON THE second day of the New Year and the first working day in 2006, the highest court of the land issued a notice to all States and Union Territories asking them to indicate the action taken by them in implementing the National Population Policy (NPP), 2000. The notice was issued on an application filed by Azadi Bachao Andolan, which said that the policy had not been implemented so far.

It all started in 1993 when an expert group, headed by Dr M. S. Swaminathan, was asked to prepare a draft of a national population policy that would be discussed by the Cabinet and then by Parliament. In 1994, the report was circulated among Members of Parliament, and comments requested from Central and State agencies. Despite the promise made by the then Prime Minister in 1997 to announce a National Population Policy in the near future, not much happened because of the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.

The passage of time made it necessary for more discussions, and a revised draft National Population Policy was placed before the Cabinet in March 1999. The Cabinet appointed a Group of Ministers (GoM) to examine the draft. The GoM met several times and deliberated over the nuances of the Policy. To arrive at a consensus on the inclusion/exclusion of incentives and disincentives, the GoM invited experts from among academia, public health professionals, demographers, social scientists, and women's representatives. The draft population policy was discussed by the Cabinet and finalised. Thus, we now have the NPP 2000.

The six to seven years taken to finalise a policy document is but a reflection of the transaction costs inherent in our democratic system. To get an idea of the speed with which the population is growing, it is enough to take a look at the counting clock provided on the Web site of the Population Commission. The natural clock seems slow relative to the Indian population clock. This is in spite of fairly commendable achievements on the fertility front over five decades. The crude birth rate (CBR, computed as annual births per thousand people) fellfrom 40.8 in 1951 to 25 in 2002. The total fertility rate (TFR, computed as the average number of children per woman) fell from six in 1951 to 3.2 in 2000.

The decline in fertility, however, did not help in full measure to move towards a near-term stabilisation of the population. Population continues its upward climb. Even if one takes one person added every second, in a week, the Indian population increases by 0.6 million persons and, in a year, the increase is close to 3.2 million, about the size of Singapore.

Goals were set and missed far too often to command respect. According to the Third Plan, for instance, CBR was to be reduced to 25 by 1973. The Eighth Plan (covering 1992-97) set the target of 26 for 1997. Fortunately for the policy-makers, the International Conference on Population and Development canvassed for the abandonment of such goals and, since 1994, CBR goals were off the shelves.

The National Population Policy, 2000 (NPP) and the Tenth Plan (2002-07) reiterate voluntary and informed consent as the ground rule for fertility regulation and population stabilisation. There are many targets in NPP for 2010, which include infant and maternal mortality reduction, promotion of school education until the age of 14, raising the age at marriage, and the reduction of TFR to 2.1 that will then ensure a stable population from 2045. According to the Population Projection for India and States, 1996-2016, issued by the Registrar General in 1996, the estimated population for 2001 was 1,012 million. It turned out that the actual was 1,029 million.

As pointed out in a technical paper submitted to the Planning Commission by Prof K. Srinivasan of the Population Foundation of India, the 15 larger States, each with more than 20 million persons in 2001, constitute 96 per cent of the country's population. Based on the trends in TFR in 1971-96 for each of the larger States, and assuming a floor value of TFR of 1.6, replacement level of fertility, or TFR of 2.1 for the entire country (as a weighted average of TFRs projected for different States) will be achieved only by 2026. An implication of this is an estimated population of 1,409 million in 2026 (in the next 25 years) and to the stable level of 1,628 million by 2051.

On the other hand, if the TFR of 2.1 is achieved by 2010 as set out in the NPP, the population of India will increase from 1,027 million in 2001 to 1,330 million in 2026 and will continue to increase until 2046 when it would reach a peak of 1,417 million. There is, thus, a 200-million difference almost as much as Indonesia's demographic size between the two levels of stable populations a clear indication of the need to take the task of population stabilisation seriously.

NPP 2000 is to be largely implemented and managed at the panchayat and nagar palika levels, in coordination with the concerned State/UT administrations. The National Commission on Population (NCP), presided over by the Prime Minister, with members drawn from wide-ranging constituencies, including independent experts, is to oversee and review its implementation.

The application filed by the Azadi Bachao Andolan submitted that the NCP was constituted in May 2000, but its first meeting was held only some months ago, in July 2005. The thrust of the petition was that not much action has taken place in the States and other levels of administration despite several guidelines contained in the Policy. The lack of effective implementation would naturally have serious repercussions on achieving the goals of the NPP.

On the attainment of a TFR of 2.1 by 2010, although progress in some States is satisfactory, poor performance in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa is proving to be a drag on national achievement. Therefore, unless urgent and focussed interventions are undertaken to address the issues of reproductive and child health care in these States, the attainment of the demographic goal set in the NPP, 2000 seems unlikely. The sentiment is reiterated in the UPA Government's Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of May 2004: "The UPA government is committed to replicating all over the country the success that some southern and other States have had in family planning. A sharply targeted population control programme will be launched in the 150-plus high-fertility districts."

To address the special needs of States such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, an Empowered Action Group (EAG) was constituted on March 20, 2001, for closely monitoring the implementation of Family Welfare Programmes in the EAG States.

India has one of the oldest national family planning programmes, started in the 1950s. Yet, the country's fertility fell rather slowly

vis-à-vis

China's. In the early 1950s, both China and India had a TFR of about six children per woman. While China's TFR fell sharply to less than two in recent years, India's was around three. This is not to canvass for a Chinese-style population control programme; it is only to remind ourselves that we need to act, and fast.

(The author, formerly with the National University of Singapore and the World Bank, is Professor Emeritus, GITAM Institute of Foreign Trade, Visakhapatnam. He can be reached at bhanoji@gmail.com)

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 10, 2006)
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