A few days ago, Uttar Pradesh (UP) unveiled a population policy aimed at lowering the state’s total fertility rate (TFR) and maternal and infant mortality rates. The state also unveiled a population control bill, promising incentives for households with only two children and punitive exclusionary measures for those who have more than two. The chief minister of Assam also made statements on the adoption of a two-child policy in his state. Unsurprisingly, both states are administered by the governments of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), prompting some other BJP-led states to echo similar plans. A member of Parliament BJP also promised to propose a private member’s bill to the same effect. Ironies abound in these announcements, aside from missing out on the real economic challenge.

Let us examine the ironies before turning to the consequences of economic policy. First, the MP keen to limit everyone’s reproductive choices – Ravi Kishan Shukla, a former film actor from Bhojpuri – said four descendants on Lok Sabha’s website. A story from Scroll.in shows that over 50% of elected UP lawmakers have more than two children; the draft law on population control therefore proposes to exclude those who already exercise public functions.

Other incongruities can be found in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), a large-scale government household survey conducted through multiple rounds. NHFS-V, 2019-20, completed in 17 states and five union territories so far, and slowed by the pandemic, shows Assam’s TFR at 1.9 children per woman. This rate is lower than the replacement rate of 2.1 at which a state’s population remains constant. NFHS-V data for UP is not yet available, but NFHS-IV data shows the TFR of UP in 2015-16 at 2.7, compared to 4.1 in 1998-99.

Clearly, no demographic boom is forcing these states to develop two-child policies. India’s large population is seen as a drag on development, but that’s because myopic economic policy ensures that scarce resources are distributed unevenly and unfairly. It is not certain that undemocratic laws can remedy this. BJP ally and Chief Minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar has said laws alone cannot ensure population control. The politics of these proposed laws, especially because the announcement comes months before the UP elections, are important: BJP supporters have long believed, wrongly of course, that minorities with a higher TFR would be soon outnumber the majority, ignoring not only its mathematical improbability, but also real data, which shows that fertility rates decline from one community to another. BJP leaders do not deceive their supporters of this illusion as long as it garners votes.

Beyond electoral politics, however, politicians should be more concerned about a demographic time bomb.

India’s past population boom gave it a collateral advantage: a demographic dividend. Examined through the prism of the “dependency ratio” – or the ratio between the non-working / earning and the working / earning population – a demographic dividend promises to continue to decline this ratio as more and more people do. more people are joining the workforce. The fall in the TFR over the years has reduced the dependency ratio, as there are fewer children below the working age dependent on the working population. A lower dependency ratio should ideally translate into higher economic growth, as a higher percentage of the population is expected to work / earn and therefore consume and save.

But the demographic dividend has no value if at least 60-70% of the population in the 20-60 age group does not have a paid job. Unfortunately, a large part of our workforce depends on the informal economy, where income flows are uneven and unpredictable. Given the continued economic stagnation and rising unemployment rates over the past decade, India’s demographic dividend appears to be a missed opportunity.

At the same time, improvements in living standards and advances in medicine over the past 40-50 years have extended lifespan, threatening to skew the dependency ratio at the other end of the d-bracket. ‘age. According to the 2015 United Nations Report on the Aging of the World’s Population, the number of people over 60 in India is expected to increase from 116.55 million in 2015 to over 330 million by 2050.

If there are fewer people saving now, they will have less resources to support their golden years, or their non-working years. In addition, with declining fertility rates, there will be fewer people joining the workforce over the next several decades, thus providing fewer resources to the government to finance rising social spending.

This is bad news for the economy. A growing number of people over 60 without access to adequate savings is like a future flashpoint; over 330 million is an important voice bank and the government of the day will come under enormous political pressure to redirect spending towards old age income security, forcing the government once again to choose between various groups of people. deserving beneficiaries. There is another sobering data point: Falling death rates, faster than falling birth rates, have led to an increase in life expectancy, forcing governments to provide safety nets. security for longer periods.

The agenda of these governments is unambiguous: they urgently need to create employment opportunities, rather than fuel populist sentiments.

Rajrishi Singhal is a political consultant, journalist and author. His Twitter handle is @rajrishisinghal.

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