[Editorial Analysis] Making welfare conditional is a stamp of coercion

Mains Paper 1: Society
Prelims level: Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021
Mains level: Population and associated issues

Context:

• Recently, the government of Uttar Pradesh has released a “Population Policy”.

• The policy is intended to bring the gross fertility rate in the State down from the existing 2.7 to 2.1 by 2026.

• In order to achieve this policy, State’s Law Commission has recently anvil a draft law, titled the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021.

Proposed law:

• The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021, seeks to provide:

1. a series of incentives to families that adhere to a two-child norm,

2. also, it intends on disentitling families that breach the norm from benefits and subsidies.

• It promises public servants who undergo sterilisation and adopt a two-child norm several benefits. These include two increments during their service,

1. subsidy towards the purchase of a house,

2. maternity, or paternity leave, with full salary and allowances, as the case may be, for up to 12 months, free health care and insurance coverage for the spouse.

List of punishment in the bill:

• The draft Bill contains a list of punishments, by the term “disincentives”.

• A person who breaches the two-child norm will be debarred from securing the benefit of any government-sponsored welfare scheme and will be disqualified from applying to any State government job.

• Existing government employees who infringe the rule will be denied the benefit of promotion.

• Transgressing individuals will be prohibited from contesting elections to local authorities and bodies.

Reasons behind proposal of this bill?

• The draft Bill echoes the U.P. government’s new policy in claiming that the State’s ecological and economic resources are limited.

• According to it, unless population growth is regulated, the State will be unable to guarantee the provision of basic rights to all citizens i.e. state will be unable to achieve sustainable development.

• Hence, to these ends, the draft postulates an array of measures.

Concerns:

• The new proposal is also worrying because it is likely to bring with it a host of other deleterious consequences:

• The recommendations are rooted in a culture of coercion.

• Also, experiences from across the world demonstrate that laws of this kind do not work.

• They instead, instil an attitude of discrimination, with a burden imposed disparately on the most vulnerable groups in society.

• In Suchita Srivastava and Anr vs Chandigarh Administration (2009), the Court found that a woman’s freedom to make reproductive decisions is an integral facet of the right to personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21.

• “It is important,” “to recognise that reproductive choices can be exercised to procreate as well as to abstain from procreating”.

• This ruling was further endorsed by the Supreme Court’s nine-judge Bench verdict in K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India (2017).

• The judgment pointed out that a person’s autonomy over her body as an extension of the right to privacy.

• Further, the law can worsen the case of aborting the girl child.

• As, an already skewed sex ratio may be compounded by families aborting a daughter in the hope of having a son with a view to conforming to the two-child norm.

• The law could also lead to a proliferation in sterilisation camps, a practice that the Supreme Court has previously deprecated.

Way forward:

• Experiences from other States in India show us that there are more efficacious and alternative measures available to control the growth of population.

• This includes processes aimed at improving public health and access to education.

• Also, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also acknowledged the fact before the Supreme Court that “international experience shows that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter-productive and leads to demographic distortions”.

• The Government further confirmed that India was committed to its obligations under international law, including the principles contained in the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, 1994.

• If we want the idea of India as a welfare state to mean something, the right to access basic goods cannot be made provisional on a person sacrificing her bodily autonomy.

Conclusion:

• Like all other fundamental rights, the right to privacy is not boundless. But, as Puttaswamy clarifies, any restriction placed on the right must conform to a doctrine of proportionality.

• Hence, in pursuing public interest, it is essential that governments ensure that individual liberties are encroached upon to the lowest degree possible.

• On the contrary, the U.P.’s draft law shows that, if enacted, it will grossly impinge on the right to reproductive freedom.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Council of Ministers, consider the following statements:

1. Before January 1, 2004 the prime minister had discretion to appoint any number in his council of ministers.

2. Seventy third Amendment Act added clause (1-A) in the Article 75 which limited the number of Ministers, including PM to 15 percent of the total number of Lok Sabha members.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

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