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Population On Policy
Rajesh Girish Bhat, Executive Trustee, Ahmedabad Study Action Group   Akash Acharya, Asst. Prof., Centre for Social Studies (CSS), University Campus, Surat, Gujarat  5/30/2011 6:09:08 AM

Population growth has remained a development concern since Malthusian days. Although there is one school of thought that believes that population growth is a non-issue and negates the problem completely (Bauer 1981), a large number of scholars do acknowledge the problem and support reduction in fertility rate especially in countries like India where population has crossed one billion and the fertility rate is 2.7 (NFHS-3) which is above replacement level rate of 2.11. The second school of thought which acknowledges the problem is divided on the approaches that should be followed to bring down the population growth. Some population pressure groups believe that stringent, drastic and immediate measures are required to “control” population growth in developing countries otherwise there will be overcrowding, shortage of food supply, environment degradation, and ultimately the entire existence of mankind will be in danger as the planet will be short of natural resources to support growing population. This section endorses coercive measures for population control. The other section however advocates a more balanced approach and believes that cooperative measures are better and more effective than coercive measures. This section puts emphasis on access to education and health care services which will create and take care of unmet needs of contraception. The population literature is full of battle between these two sections within the second school of thought (Sen 1995).

Factors Affecting Population Growth
Most people in general and India urban middle class in particular believes that population explosion is due to poor and backward social groups, including some religious groups that do not understand and practice family planning. The only way to control the population is to compel these groups to adopt family planning (Visaria and Ramchandran 2002).
In reality, a range of variables affect the growth of population and rate of fertility. Population growth has three main components of momentum, wanted and unwanted fertility. Momentum is the effect of young age structure of society which is a result of higher or above replacement rate of fertility in past. Since this age group will be young and in reproductive years, population will continue to grow due to this momentum effect even if TFR reaches 2.1. It is believed that India will attain replacement level of fertility and complete the demographic transition in next 20 years but population will continue to rise for 50-60 years due to momentum (Visaria and Visaria 2003). 

Another important component of population growth is unwanted fertility which can be attributed to unmet needs of contraceptives. This means that despite the fact that woman in fact doesn’t desire a child; it is arrived due to lack of access to Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) facilities. According to NFHS-3 (2005-06), most Indian states including some high fertility north Indian states, have reached replacement level of desired or wanted fertility rate. Thus, most women across India do not wish to have more than two children but the population is growing due to momentum effect and unwanted fertility. Visaria and Visaria (2003) estimates that momentum effect in India during 1991-2001 be as high as 69.7 percent  and the contribution of wanted fertility to population growth to be as low as 5.9 percent. The role of unwanted fertility accounts for 24.4 percent. Thus, the popular notion that some groups want to produce more children and they have to be controlled is misplaced. It is very important to understand and decompose these three factors of momentum, unwanted and wanted fertility before taking any policy action.

Role of Incentives and Disincentives
Looking to the composition of factors affecting population growth (momentum, unwanted and wanted fertility); there is little empirical evidence in support of incentives or disincentives aimed at reducing fertility. Incentives and disincentives mainly target wanted fertility which in any case has reached replacement level as per NFHS data set. Thus, carrot (incentives) or stick (disincentives) may not be relevant or effective in bringing down the population growth rate (Sen and Iyer 2002).

Even in China, where a strong disincentive like one-child policy is believed to be instrumental in bringing down the fertility2, of late it is believed that the role of other cooperative facilitating factors like access to education and health, more job opportunities for women etc. have also contributed substantially. In fact, it is also argued that these supportive factors alone could have reduced the fertility and it is not clear how much “extra lowering” of fertility can be attributed to compulsion and coercion of one-child norm. It is also claimed that coercion and compulsion can cut down fertility with great speed and voluntary or cooperative process in very slow. But the Kerala example, where the fertility decline is faster than China without any coercion, does not support such a viewpoint. In fact, it is believed that fertility is influenced by variety of factors like education, media, economic changes, urbanisation, infant as well as maternal mortality rate etc (Visaria and Visaria 2003). By now, there is a much wider consensus on the need to avoid authoritarian intervention in intimate and personal matters like reproductive behaviour (Sen 1995).

It is also argued that incentives are positive steps and are not coercive like disincentive. However, such a distinction between the two is over simplistic and the line is difficult to draw. For example, health insurance benefit to Below Poverty Line (BPL) family after sterilisation is seen as an incentive. Nonetheless, denial of the same benefit to others can also be viewed as a disincentive. Another debate in literature is on whether incentive/disincentive should be applied at group level or individual level. Any action at group level, according to some is less stringent as against action at individual level. But power relations within group, like dominant caste and religious groups within community and men in households, are not equal and it may result into dominant groups coercing the rest (Sen and Iyer 2002).

India’s Population Policy
India was the first country in the world to start a family planning programme way back in the early 50s and the between 1970 and 2000 the fertility declined from around six to less than three. Although there are inter-state differences, rural and urban differences, socio-economic and education levels differences etc., fertility has declined across India.

The country is in the third phase of demographic transition where both mortality and fertility has been declining. However, different states will complete the cycle of demographic transition at different points of time as their fertility rates and the pace of fertility decline is different. All the four southern states (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) plus a small state of Goa has already completed this transition, on the other hand, north Indian states like Bihar, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and the states of MP, Assam will take 10 to 15 years longer to complete their demographic transition (Visaria and Visaria 2003).

For more than four decades after inception, India’s family planning programme focussed on top-down method specific targets and policy makers also tried to take control of birth decision of families through authoritarian interventions especially during emergency period. Coercion was not part of official policy but pressures on “meeting family planning targets” resulted in tactics used by administrators that came close to compulsion. Example of such tactics include verbal threats, making sterilisation a pre-condition to access development schemes, depriving mothers of more than two children of maternity benefits and forbidding persons who have more than two children from contesting panchayat elections. The people who suffered most from these coercive measures were often among the poorest and less privileged sections of society (Sen 1995). 

International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) at Cairo in 1994 advocated a broader reproductive health approach that includes family planning only as a component. It was argued that the issue of population growth requires a holistic approach and variables like education, access to health care services, awareness about methods of contraception play a key role in the process of demographic transition. ICPD called for an approach that is voluntary and based on women’s human rights. India was signatory to the Plan of Action (POA) that was prepared during ICPD and a narrow, authoritarian “control” approach was replaced with more open, friendly and cooperative approach free of rigid targets, incentives and disincentives. This was the paradigm shift in India’s Family welfare programme.

Post ICPD 1994, Government of India introduced Target Free Approach (1996), the Reproductive and Child Health programme (1997), the community Needs Assessment Approach (1998) and finally the National Population Policy (2000). National Population Policy (NPP) called for an end to a regime of incentives and disincentives3 which had resulted into compulsion and coercion to accept family planning methods at the grass root level (Visaria and Ramchandran 2002). NPP 2000 affirms the government commitment towards voluntary and informed choice and consent of citizen while availing RCH services with a focus of target free approach (Sen and Iyer 2002). To offset the population disadvantage, NPP 2000 also recommended that until 2026, (which is likely to be extended beyond) the number of seats for each state in the Indian parliament will continue to be based on the population enumerated by the 1971 census (Visrari and Visaria 2003).

State Level Population Policies (SPPs)
The draft of NPP 2000 was prepared by an expert group under the chairmanship of M.S. Swaminathan. The group had suggested formulation of state population policies (SPPs). Based on this suggestion, the government of Andhra Pradesh prepared a state population policy in 1997. Rajasthan came out with its population policy in 1999. The states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh introduced their population policies in the year of 2000. It should also be noted that although Tamil Nadu did not release a separate document called state population policy, it was in some sense was pioneer (Visaria 2002).

SPPs are expected to identify and resolve region specific population issues (Visaria and Ramchandran 2002). Unfortunately, while reading the text of some SPPs, the old population control mindset is reflected in stringent targets in general and incentives and disincentives in particular. Interestingly, all the SPPs have used the ICPD language of RCH and women empowerment but at the same time advocated incentives and disincentives like two-child norm as a precondition for elected representatives, observance of minimum age of marriage for availing government facilities and services, linking health insurance benefits to sterilisation and even proposing denial of food rations and free education to the third child. It seems that the old fear of galloping numbers, which was responsible for frightened reactions and coercive practices of family planning, is resurfacing once again. Although the coercive approach was explicitly rejected at ICPD, it is still lying somewhere in policy mindset and is reflected in indirect forms of incentives and disincentives. SPP’s implications in terms of equity, social justice and human rights are questionable (Sen and Iyer 2002).

Two-child Norm in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs)
This paper has a limited objective of studying the impact of two-child norm for elected representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in scheduled areas of Gujarat. According to this new law4, people with more than two children can’t contest PRI and Urban Local Body-ULB election (However, they can contest elections at MLA and MP level). Moreover, while holding the position in PRI structure (panch, sarpanch etc.) if the person become parent of third child, S/he can be “disqualified” from holding the position. The Two-child norm was first introduced in 1994 in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Orissa and Rajasthan. As of now, as per the website of Ministry of Panchayati Raj Government of India, this norm is applicable in eight states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Gujarat apart from the four already mentioned). In case of Himachal Pradesh, the law was introduced in 2000 and was withdrawn in 2005 after the protest from civil society organisations. Gujarat is the most recent case of this norm and has not been studied for its impact.

There is a viewpoint that such legislation is not only violation of personal liberty and basic democratic right but also unconstitutional (Sen and Iyer 2002). But it has been upheld by high courts of state government as well as supreme courts. In a case between Mukesh Kumar Ajmera v. State of Rajasthan, Rajasthan high court observed “these provisions have been enacted by the legislature to control the menace of population explosion”. There was a petition in Haryana that two-child norm is against the personal law of religions minorities like Muslims but the court answered with dictum the “personal law is not a part of fundamental right” and added “The sarpanches are to set example and maintain the norm of two children. Otherwise what examples can they set before public?” (Sarkar and Ramanathan 2002).

Rationale for the Study
Eight states in India including Gujarat have passed two-child norm through state assembly. Such a move can affect the less privilege section of Indian community to a larger extent and can strangle their political and social mobility. There can be adverse impact on participation of women and weaker sections in government and can further worsen the sex ratio by increasing sex-selective abortions. Such a norm can result in exclusion rather than empowerment of SCs, STs and women. As per one estimate, more than 80 percent  of the victims of this legislation fall in these categories (Mahila Chetna Manch 2003).

Before the two-child norm is extended to other states, it is important to analyse and debate its grass root impact. The paper tries to do that by taking Gujarat as an example (a state youngest in introducing the norm and has not been studied for the impact) and adds to the existing literature of two-child norm impact study of other states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh (Visaria and Acharya 2006).

We have tried to study various dimensions of this norm by interviewing policy makers and affected people. An attempt was made to understand the perspective of policy makers by interviewing officials in state’s panchayati raj as well as health and family welfare departments5. Affected people have also been approached and interviewed to understand the issue from their perspective. The paper tries to find out answers to the questions like “What is the level of awareness about two-child norm in PRIs of scheduled areas of Gujarat? Who has been affected by this norm and what is the monitoring and implementation mechanism? What is the class/caste/gender and religious composition of disqualified people? What role local power politics has played? What is the impact on women and children? etc. The study with the help of field visits and interviews with affected individuals, tries to deepen the debate on whether this norm is needed, effective and fair or just from human rights perspective.

To begin with, desk review of published literature, policy documents and press-clippings (from Google search on Internet) was carried out. A total of 276 elected representatives from scheduled areas (Surat and Dang Districts of Gujarat) were interviewed with the help of interview schedule and a team of five field investigators in early 2010. Dang district has only one block and Mandvi block (a tribal block) from Surat was selected for survey. Of total of 276 interviews, 43 were past elected representatives. As can be seen from Table 1, more than half were from village panchayat.

But the next step of identification of elected representatives, affected by two-child norm in scheduled areas of Gujarat proved to be an uphill task. Although the norm has been introduced by the panchayati raj department (under the Panchayati Raj Act), they do not maintain any list. We also approached the offices of state election commission, department of family welfare as well as block level offices of panchayati raj department. Thus, attempts to procure an exhaustive, district-wise list of disqualified individuals from government departments failed6 and therefore systematic sampling couldn’t be done. Through informal links and snow ball sampling, we could identify few disqualified PRIs for developing case studies but not all of them are necessarily from schedules areas of Gujarat.

The study is both quantitative as well as qualitative in nature and discussion guides were prepared for in-depth interviews with affected individuals (disqualified/inquiry ongoing/resigned). Informed consent was taken in case of affected individuals before beginning the interview and/or tape recording. Name of the individuals as well as villages have been changed (except where respondents didn't want this and were fine with revealing their identity) to protect the privacy and respondents were assured anonymity. The idea is to capture and analyse the perceptions of those who have been affected and we believe that even this small number of interviews is representative (albeit not be statistically) of larger picture. However, no claims is being made that the analysis is applicable or true for all regions were the norm is in place. Date analysis of field notes has been done manually. Initially plan was to use qualitative softwares like N-Vivo or Atlas-Ti but due to the sensitivity of the issue, the idea of tape recording of the interviews was dropped and thus transcripts could not be made.

Profile of PRIs from Schedules Areas of Gujarat

Socio-Economic Profile

This section describes socio-economic as well as reproductive profile of surveyed PRIs. Table 2 shows details like age, sex, education, occupation etc. which is self explanatory. Since the study was focused on the schedules areas of Gujarat, naturally the proportion of tribal PRIs is quite high. Table 3 describes the economics status of surveyed PRIs with the help of variables like land ownership, occupation as well as income category. It can be seen majority of PRIs are engaged in agriculture and also own land.

Reproductive Profile
Coming to the theme of the study Table 3 explains variables like Marital Status, Age at Marriage, duration of marriage and number of Children. It can be seen from the data on number of children that only 14 PRIs (6.09%) have two or less children. A large majority (93.91%) have more than two children and thus are violating the two-child norm. However not all of them have been “disqualified” from holding position as action can only be taken if any complaint is received by government. It is quite clear from this data that if such a law is fully implemented then entire PRI structure can collapse.

Awareness of the Two-child Norm Among PRIs
Since the law has been introduced after the panchayat elections of 2006 no declaration about not having more than two children' was required at the time of filing nomination at the time of 2006 election. This being the case, the general awareness about the law seemed quite low at the time of the survey in early 2010. Out of 276 respondents, more than half 151 (54.7%) were found to be unaware about the law and the possibility of disqualification process. None from our six case studies respondents knew about law when they were elected. For example, Dineshbhai Makwana (Ex-Sarpanch of Vareli in Surat District) is 32 years old and wanted to become a Sarpanch for working on development activities in the village. He contested the election on a general seat in 2006, won by a good margin (305 vs. 160) and took charge of office in January 2007. Dineshbhai was not aware about the two-child norm either while filing the nomination to contest election or at the time of becoming the Sarpanch. He only came to know when Dineshbhai got a notice from the Taluka Development Officer (TDO) informing him that as he had three children, he faced disqualification according to the Gujarat Panchayat Act 1993, Section 30 (m). Dineshbhai was taken by surprise and soon the news spread in the village.

It also seems that on part of the government, little efforts are made to inform the PRIs about this new law and its details. Many of our respondents have said that the problem is of lack of awareness as almost nobody knows about this law. Even the TDO in some cases was unaware initially. PRIs have suggested keeping a notice on Panchayat's board. Many also admitted that they wouldn't have gone for the third child if they had any clue about the law and its implications beforehand. However, some (15 cases) reported that they withdrew from contesting elections when they came to know about this norm7 and some (12 cases) have reported that they have resigned from the post as they have more than two children.

As per our data a total of 127 respondents have been disqualified and majority of them are from village and taluka panchayat level. Very few cases have been recorded at the district level Table 4 gives details about disqualifications happened so far as well as disqualifications under process.

However, it also need to be pointed out that there is no centralised database with any department of government giving information about number of disqualifications and their profile. We approached various departments of state government at Gandhinagar as well as Surat and Dangs District Panchayats but failed to get any data and it seems that no record it kept which is surprising because studies done in other states some years back (Visaria and Acharya 2006) had also pointed out this anomaly. The study team this time also tried to use the Right to Information (RTI) Act to elicit information but that too failed.

Perceptions of PRIs on the Two-child Norm
While talking to the PRIs both during survey as well as qualitative case studies, a range of issues emerged and in this section we narrate their perceptions on the impact of two-child norm dividing in sub themes with the help of quantitative and qualitative data the study team has collected.

Discriminatory Nature of the Law
Most of the respondents (85.87%) opined that this law is discriminatory in nature as it is only applicable to PRIs and ULBs and not to the MPs and MLAs. There was a strong feeling that "big" people like ministers get away even if they have far more number is children and "small" people like PRIs have to suffer. Some also suggested that the law should also be extended to the government employees. A quote by PRI from one of the other studies by the same author summaries the situation, “Either the law should be for all from village panch to prime minister or it should not be there at all. Can population be controlled only by the PRI members? In fact “big” (MPs/MLAs) people should adopt this norm first before forcing PRIs. There is no point in harassing small people like us.”

Role of Local Power Politics
It is interesting to note that this law has no structured implementation mechanism and it only work through the complaint route. Therefore action will only be initiated if someone complaints about the third child. This has given a boost to local power politics at the village level and all of the disqualified cases are a result of such politics. Out of 25 interviewed complainants, 18 (72%) gave the reason ‘belonging to opposite party' for filing complaint. Rest seven cases (28%) claimed that they filed complaint because the incumbent was corrupt. For example, Kantibhai who complained against the sarpanch of Vareli village and who is a now a sarpanch himself says, "I came to know about the two-child norm through a book on the Panchayat Act that was lying in the panchayat office. I also read about a similar incident in Lavana village of Diyodar block and became aware of its application in reality. I procured the birth certificates of all three children of Sarpanch from the school/panchayat and approached the TDO. My wife who works with the water department of the village panchayat was removed from her job because I had complained against three village panchayat officer bearers. Even the panchayat clerk was removed from his job as he gave me the birth certificates. Sarpach did all this before he was finally suspended. My wife and the clerk are still not re-instated."

However the disqualified sarpanch Dineshbhai says "I soon realized that this was done by my opponent from another political party who lost election against me. He had also managed to procure birth certificates of my all three children from Panchayat for using them as evidence. I approached local lawyers but they had no idea about this 'strange law' so I went to Ahmedabad to meet High Court lawyers. I got the advice that I have to surrender and the longest I could continue was for three months if I indulged into court battle, which would cost about 2 lakhs. This was beyond my means so I decided to surrender and also advised the same to Deputy Sarpach and Member. People of the village were sympathetic and also were ready to collectively meet the Collector/DDO but I told them that that was of no use as this was the law. My opponent had been losing all election for the past15 years and since there was no other way to defeat me, he used this law and see, now he is Sarpanch!"

An ex-revenue chairman of Bardoli Nagar Palika (BNP) says, "One trouble maker from my own party complained. I am grateful to my opposition party for not indulging into such cheap games but I am sad that my own party member did this. I made no attempts to hide the fact and I didn't even appeal. In fact, the collector told me that if I convince the complainant and if he withdraws the application, nothing will happen to me but I didn't want to plead to him. I am sure he would have withdrawn the application had I offered him money but I don't believe in all that as my image is clean. Today, I have not only withdrawn from BNP but also from my party…."

Yunusbhai, a suspended member of Kosamba Grampanchayat says, "The complainant (also from the same community) was part of our panel and she was insisting that we buy cement from her agency for all panchayat related development works. We always keep all tenders in front of gramsabha so we told her to participate in the process which she didn’t agree. She also wanted that we use advertising boards to display advertisement of her cement agency for free and was not willing to pay the required amount. Although she had lost election but wanted that we co-opt her in the panel which somehow couldn't happen. All this agitated her and through her brother (who is an advocate and has close connections with Taluka and Zilla Panchayat as well as collectorate) filed a complaint for two-child norm violation. TDO asked for explanation and I didn't try to hide anything."

Since complaint is the only route to disqualification, two-child norm appears to have become a political tool in the hands of some for settling personal scores and eliminating political opponent or competitor (Visaria and Acharya 2006).

Role of Son Preference
In India’s patriarchal society, son preference is strong and almost universal. In most of the cases of two-child norm violation, the concerned person had two daughters and wanted a son for variety of socio-cultural reasons like lineage continuation, religious beliefs as well as old age support.

Ex-Deputy Sarpanch Aloksingh from Vareli village says, "I was happy with my earlier daughters but can my parents be ever happy with the absence of a son? I had registered my name for family planning but my father scolded me as I only had daughters."
Another PRI says, "One has to recognize the fact that ours is a male dominated society and everyone needs a son for line of succession, wealth etc. Women can't do everything, can she fight in army?"

Interestingly, many members and their families seemed to weigh the number and sex composition of children against the elected position in the village. Apparently, having a son outweighed the position in the village politics and so some willingly accepted their disqualification in favour of a son. For example one of the ex-PRI says, "I had only daughters and my parents wanted a son for continuation of the lineage. I would have gone for the third child (son) in any case even if I had known about this law as for me, son was more important than position."

The danger that lies in this situation is the possibility of sex-selective abortion as if the third child is going to be a daughter, her relative value vis a vis holding a position (which is a substantial source of power and income for many) becomes less important and can lead to the choice of abortion. This can lead to further skewed sex ratio.

Impact of Development Work

Most of the elected as well as now disqualified PRI members claimed that they decided the contest elections for the development of their village; some also had a family history of public service. After getting elected, PRI members participated in development works like building roads, drainage, street lights etc. It was claimed, in some cases that the pace of development works slowed down because of disqualification. Table 5 explains the views of PRI members on impact on development works.

For example, Vipul Vahiya is 38, studied up to 11th standard and was serving as a member of Mahuva Taluka Panchayat which falls under scheduled area (tribal block).Vipulbhai resigned after the arrival of third child. He says, "After assuming office, I did development related works like roads, water, electricity, solar energy for producing electricity and running water pump etc. I also managed to start four new health sub-centres including one in my village Bamania. After my resignation, the pace of development activities has slowed down and others don't have idea about grant management, rights and restrictions. Quite a bit of grant now remains unutilised. This law diverts the attention from ongoing development works and the disqualification process eats up lot of time."

Strategies Adopted to Evade Disqualification
Other studies have noted a range of strategies to avoid disqualification and retain the elected position. They included divorcing the wife, sending the pregnant wife to natal home for long time (so that no one in the village would come to know about the pregnancy and delivery), undergoing abortion, giving away the child for adoption, disowning the third child or claiming that the child is of some relative and they are only care takers, tampering with birth certificates and changing the birth date, etc. (Visaria and Acharya 2006). The present study also noted such strategies that have been reported in Table 6.

It is interesting to note that some of the strategies were suggested by lawyers to the PRI members in order to evade the disqualification. On the other hand, there were also cases where the PRI member didn't even wait for some of file a complaint and resigned voluntarily.

Minority Angle

During course of our fieldwork, we also came across some PRI members from minority community and they had strong views about this norm. For example Yunusbhai Gulambhai Khanji an ex-PRI member from Kosamba says, "I also produced a 'fatwa' (to the TDO) from our religious authorities that prohibits family planning for us and argued that this is against personal law. Nonetheless, I was suspended. We can't go for family planning as Islam doesn’t allow us to do that. It is a question of right to believe and practice one's faith. Take the case of Sikhs, are they not protesting for retaining their turban in France? We believe in holy Koran and we won't go for family planning operation even if we die and some elected post is nothing before our faith. This is a conspiracy to eliminate the entire community from local governance. "

As can be seen from the quote that there is lot of resentment for this law and it is being interpreted as against the religious faith in case of minority community. Such a feeling is obviously not good for healthy functioning of PRIs at village level and should be addressed.

Overall view
As mentioned before the most predominant feeling among interviewed PRIs about two-child norm is that of discrimination. PRI members feel that they have been targeted and MPs/MLAs go scot free. Although most PRI members are aware of India's population problem they are unclear as to how this norm will address it. According to ex-Deputy Sarpanch Alok Singh, "I feel that in the good old days people had many children, sometimes even more than even 10. Do you ever see such a situation today? When situation is already improving than what is the point of having such a law? It is ironical that on the one hand, abortion is punished and on the other giving birth is also punished! What is all this?"

It is also interesting to note that the government is promoting the arrival of girl child through save the girl child and such campaigns as it checks the worsening sex ratio. However, PRI members who become parent of the girl child (as a third child) get punished through disqualification. Some PRI members themselves find this paradoxical. On the other hand, some PRI members (37%) also opined that people with only two daughters should get exemption from this law and they "genuinely" need "at least one son".

Vipulbhai an ex-PRI member doesn’t agree with the logic of this two-child norm. He says, "Why having more than two children should be considered as disqualification? How can you say that only a person with two or less children will be good for public service? What is the logic in this? If some has a son as first child he may not have more children but that is just his luck. I think understanding of panchayati raj functioning is far more important for an elected representative than number of children. "

Expressing his view on population policy he says, "There are many countries in the world that promote more children through various schemes as their population is declining. This hasn't worked either. I believe that Mother Nature takes care of everything and the technology is also a great help. At the time of our independence our population was far less (35 crore) than what is today (more than a billion) but the rates of poverty, unemployment etc. were far more. Today we have better economic growth, education and health indicators despite the population growth. More and more people are using technology and living conditions have improved."

Discussion and Emerging Concerns
On face of it, 'two-child norm' seems a rational policy measure pointing towards the population concerns of India. However, field level implementation of the norm has led to many complex issues discussed before including many adverse or unintended impacts. Our fieldwork in scheduled areas of South Gujarat raises several questions like would adoption of two child norm by a handful of elected representatives at the PRI level will have any impact on India's population? Do people see PRI members as their role models? Does family size of PRI members create any 'demonstration impact' on people at large? If yes, then why MPs and MLAs are excluded from this law? If no then what sense does it make to target only PRI members?

The entire implementation mechanism of this law is operationalised only through filing a complaint and in all of the cases the complaint was filed to settle personal scores. This has accentuated caste and party politics at the village level. All the case studies testify this fact.

Another concern is a population issue being handled by Ministry of Panchayati Raj and that too not in tandem with National Population Policy which discourages usage of incentives and disincentives for population 'control'. India is already under demographic transition with declining fertility and what is more important is focusing on improvement in health facilities, reduction in infant and child mortality, access to contraceptives etc. which results in preference for less number of children. When people decide on their own to have fewer children and are not coerced or forced in accepting a decision imposed from above, the chances of backfire are indeed low and decline is sustained. In such a scenario, does imposition of a disincentive in the form of a two-child norm necessary? (Visaria and Acharya 2006)

 The gender dimension also deserves attention here. The imposition of two-child norm in reality can become anti-women in more than one way. With the passing of the 73rd constitutional amendment, 33 percent of all panchayat seats are reserved for women. Having fought for this representation in the political process at the local level for several decades, the two-child norm disqualifies those women elected members who give birth to a third or higher order child after a certain stipulated period. Women are affected because even those who are elected to local bodies have little or no say in when to marry, whether, when or how many children to have (Hariharan, 2003). In addition, women are also adversely affected because the elected husbands, in order to retain their seats, can resort to measures such as abandoning the wife, denying of having fathered a child, deserting pregnant wife, asking the wife to undergo abortion (especially if the foetus is of a girl). If the woman is the elected representative and becomes pregnant with a male foetus, then her position can be sacrificed in favour of a son; her having to step down is of little consequence to the family since she would produce a male heir. All these practices are anti-woman and therefore the imposition of the norm should also be examined from the perspective of how it would impact women (Visaria and Acharya 2006). In the same way, concern for minority community impact also demands serious attention as they feel that they are being targeted and eliminated from PRIs.

It important to have a wider dialogue and debate about two-child norm of PRI members as there are a number of states implementing this now. Policy makers from both centre and state from Ministry of Panchayti Raj, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Demographers, NGO Activists, Women organisations etc. need to come together and discuss the implications of this norm.  

1 Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.1 is considered as replacement level rate of population.
2 Some population pressure groups advocate that India should emulate Chinese one-child policy in this area.
3 Nonetheless, targets like achieving fertility rate of 2.1 by 2010 were kept and highlighted. Also some group incentives were retained.
4 enacted through Gujarat Panchayat Act 1993, Section 30 (m) amendment made in March 2005 which came in force from August 2005.
5 Unfortunately, we couldn’t elicit any worthwhile view from this section that can expand the debate. Also a search about this norm on Gujarat Government’s Panchayat Department, gave zero results.
6 We also used the Right to Information Act (RTI) and send an application to ZP Surat and Dangs for a list of disqualified PRIs. We didn’t receive any response either to this application or to the appeal in Gandhinagar.
7 This is in a way surprising as the law was not in place at the time of 2006 panchayat elections.

References and Additional Thinking

  • Bauer Peter (1981) 'Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion' Harvard University Press.
  • Buch, Nirmala (2005) ‘Centre’s assertion that two-child norm is not part of National Population Policy: Implications and future course’, (downloaded from website of ReportingPeople.org).
  • Buch Nirmala (2006) ‘The law of two-child norm in Panchayats’, Concept Publishing.
  • Chaturvedi, Adesh, Anoop Khanna and Devendra Kothari (2002) ‘Provision of two child norm in panchayat Raj Act of Rajasthan: A critical review of impact and perception, Indian Journal of Social Development, Vol.2 No.1 June, pp.111-123.
  • Gurung, Madhu (2004) ‘The two-child norm only leads to female foeticide’, InfoChange News & Features, November.
  • Hariharan, Githa (2003) ‘A new emergency’, The Telegraph, 24 August.
  • International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) and Macro International (2007), National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005-06, India: Key Findings. Mumbai:IIPS
  • Mahila Chetna Manch (2003), ‘Panchayati Raj and the two-child norm: Implications and consequences’, January
  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (2000), ‘National Population Policy, 2000, GoI, New Delhi.
  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (2002), ‘Population Policy’, 2002, GoG, Gandhinagar.
  • Planning Commission (1992) The Eight Five Year Plan, 1992-97, New Delhi, Government of India.
  • Murthy, Laxmi (2003) ‘No kidding: Apex Court enforces two-child norm’, InfoChange News & Features, August.
  • National Human Rights Commission (2003) Declaration: National Colloquium on Population policies, New Delhi.
  • Rani Binamrata (2004) ‘Breaking the culture of silence’, Combat India, Vol. 3, No. 4, November-December.
  • Rai Usha (2005) ‘Confusion on two-child norm’, People (Press Institute of India), April.
  • Rao Mohan (2003) ‘Two-child norm and panchayat: Some steps back’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No.33, August 16, pp. 3452-53.
  • Sarkar Lotika and Usha Ramanathan (2002), “Collateral concerns”, Seminar, 511.
  • Sehgal Reshme (2004) ‘Two-child norm puts panchayat under pressure’, InfoChange News & Features, August.
  • Sen Amartya (1995), ‘Population policy: Authoritarianism vesus Cooperation’, International Lecture Series on Population Issues, MacArthur Foundation.
  • Sen Gita and Aditi Iyer (2002), “Incentive and disincentive: necessary, effective, just?”, Seminar, 511.
  • Visaria Pravin (2002) ‘Population Policy’, Seminar, No. 511, March.
  • Visaria Leela and Vimla Ramchandran (2002), “The problem”, Seminar, 511.
  • Visaria Leela and Pravin Visaria (2003), ‘Long-term population projections for major states, 1991-2101’, Economic and Political Weekly, 38(45).
  • Visaria Leela, Akash Acharya and Francis Raj (2006) ‘Two child norm: Victimising the Vulnerable?’ Economic and Political Weekly 41 (1) pp. 41-48.

(Akash Acharya has an interdisciplinary academic background in Economics and Management. After completing his masters in Management, he completed his PhD in Economics. Akash’s thesis analysed the equity impact of micro health insurance scheme run for poor women by Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). He has worked on collaborative research projects with Universities in West and his papers have been published in international peer-reviewed journals like Social Science and Medicine, Health Policy and Planning and Health Policy. His work has also been published in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). On invitation, Akash has visited Universities in the USA, UK and Germany. Akash Acharya is a faculty at Centre for Social Studies (CSS), Surat.

Rajesh G. Bhat is a development activist with special interests in rural poverty, Panchayati Raj and child rights. He was the Executive Trustee of Ahmedabad Study Action Group (ASAG) for 23 years. Apart from ASAG, he has been associated with Western India Forum for Panchayati Raj (WIFPR- a network active in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa), Railway Children Federation of India, Swapath Trust and AWARE Foundation, UK. Under his leadership, ASAG won an international award for post- earthquake rehabilitation work in 2004 (Sonpo prize from the IYSH committee in Japan).

The views expressed in the article are personal and do not reflect the official policy or position of the organisation.)


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