Lest we forget, India is set to have the largest population in the world in five years. By 2022, India is expected to leave Chi behind; and by 2030, India is also projected to cross the 1.5 billion (or 150 crore) line in terms of population. As of 2016, the country’s population stood at 132.4 crore. Though the population growth rate has declined to 1.19 percent presently, and the total fertility rate (TFR) is expected to be down to replacement level of 2.1 in next three years, the overall population will still stabilise only by 2050. The country is thus in a critical phase as far as efforts towards population control is concerned. There is simply no margin for any sort of complacency whatsoever. As per 2011 census, Assam had a population of 3.12 crore which was 2.58 percent of the country’s overall population. The literacy rate in the State was 73.18 percent, slightly adrift of the tiol average at 74.04 percent. Surely, the overall picture and how Assam stands in all this must have weighed on Members of the Assembly on Friday as they adopted the State government’s population and women empowerment policy. The idea is that nowhere in India can any government take coercive steps to control population like in Chi (though Beijing made serious mistakes that must now be endured). So a system of incentives and disincentives it will have to be, even as MLAs stressed on “utmost caution” to achieve the goals. In a country where engineering-medical graduates and PhD holders are known to apply for grade IV government jobs for the security these offer, it makes sense that the Assam government has seen it fit to apply the stick only on government servants who violate the two-children norm. Candidates for government jobs will have to fulfil this criterion as well, while the criterion for legal age of marriage must be followed both by such candidates and those seeking to benefit from government employment generation schemes.
Our burgeoning numbers
The crux is to apply the policy on elected representatives, many of who develop a mindset that the law does not apply to them even if they make it in the first place. The State government will now write to the Centre seeking permission to ect new laws to bar persons having more than two children to become ministers, MLAs and MPs as well as members of other elected and statutory bodies, including panchayats. Minimum educatiol qualifications will also be put as criteria for contesting panchayat and urban body polls, with the aim to create an educated society. Hitherto, there has been much pussyfooting over the sensitive question whether the abnormal population growth in Muslim-domited border districts in Lower Assam is due to high birth rate or ubated influx or both. As per the 2011 census, the growth rates of Hindus and Christians were 16.8 percent and 15.5 percent respectively, while that of Muslims was 24.6 percent. In case of Assam, the population has increased by 17.07 percent, but the rate of growth has been uneven. There are 11 districts with population growth rate more than 17.07 percent, like Dhubri with 24.44 per cent and Morigaon, Goalpara, gaon and Barpeta in the 20 to 28 percent range. This can be compared with population growth rates of 9 to 10 percent in Upper Assam districts, as State Health & Family Welfare Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma pointed out during the debate in Assembly. He has rightly asserted that such alarming growth rates cannot be allowed to irreversibly change the demographic pattern and turn indigenous people into a minority.
Warning that the growth rate of Muslim population in Assam stands at 4 percent compared to 1 percent growth rate clocked by Muslim communities in States like West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, Sarma has said that this has created two negative fallouts in the State. On one side, sons of the soil in Assam are apprehending loss of land and home to the onward rush of migrants, while the migrants are leading sub-human lives with their offspring lacking woefully in nutrition, health and education. Significantly, legislators from both the ruling and opposition benches stressed on implementation of the policy without hurting sentiments and emotions of any particular community. This is important, for population growth figures should be used as indicators for course correction. If these are used to score political brownie points, the very purpose of the government towards population control would be defeated. By the end of 2017, the population of Assam is projected to rise to 3.45 crore. The government has rightly focused on women’s education and empowerment in a big way in its population policy, but it will need to have a comprehensive blueprint to push for employment generation, growth and poverty removal as the larger goals.