In 1974, India had played an important role at the U.N. World Population Conference at Bucharest.
This conference, as has been pointed out in the chapter on Population Policies (Chapter 13) ended in an atmosphere of de-emphasis on both population and population control, highlighting the need for rapid social and economic development, despite the fact that it was originally meant by the organisers to generate interest in population and population control.
The leader of the Indian delegation, who was also then the Minister of Health and Family Planning, declared enthusiastically “Development is the best contraceptive.”
Though India had never pursued a population control policy at the cost of development programmes, it almost appeared to the world that this declaration was a sign of the weakening of the Indian commitment to population control and family planning.
He, however, later clarified the point: “Some people have interpreted it to mean that we are not really interested in family planning and that we are simply going to wait till development takes place, and family planning will look after itself.
This is not at all true. My point, I think, is a very clear and obvious one; that unless you have a marked improvement in the living standards of the people, particularly of those who are what we call below the poverty line, family planning is simply not going to-work. So we have to improve their standard of living.”
One of the results of the World Population Conference was the declaration of the National Population Policy on April 16, 1976.
Till then, the population policy of India was generally equated with the family planning policy, and one of the grounds on which India was criticised in international circles was that she ignored other approaches to the solution of the population problem.
The statement on the Population Policy, on the other hand, took into account some of the complex relationships between the social, economic and political aspects of the population problem and included appropriate measures to take the population problem.
The statement also outlined several approaches to the improvement of the family planning programme.
For the first, time in the history of Independent India, some thought was given to the political aspects of the family planning programme. The statement included measures to freeze the representation in the Lok Sabha and the State Legislatures on the basis of the 1971 census until the year 2001.
Similarly, for allocation of Central assistance to State Plans, devolution of taxes, duties and grants-in-aid, the population figures of 1971 were to be followed till the year 2001.
Eight per cent of the Central assistance to State Plans would be earmarked against the performance of the family planning programme.
The Policy Statement also included certain long-term measures such as rising the age at marriage to 18 for girls and to 21 for boys, and improving the levels of female education especially above the middle level.
The special feature of the proposed legislation to rise the age at marriage was that any violation of the law would be treated as a cognisable offence.
To bring about a greater acceptance of family planning, several measures were mentioned in the policy statement. These included a system of graded monetary compensations based on the number of living children at the time of sterilisation, with Rs. 150/- offered when the couple had two living children and Rs. 100/- and Rs. 701 – when the couple had three and four or more children respectively.
These amounts included the expenditure incurred on drugs and dressings. Group incentives were introduced in the family planning programme in order to bring about a greater involvement of the people.
The contribution of voluntary organisations was recognised and provision was also made for the necessary legitimisation of such bodies. Donations to such organisations would be exempted from income-tax.
The Policy Statement also outlined a multi-media motivational strategy, which involved the utilisation of all the available media channels as well as traditional folk media to encourage and sustain interest in family planning.
The Policy Statement recognised that family planning was a multi-faceted problem and emphasised the contribution of all other Ministries to the implementation of the programme.
The Union Cabinet would take up a careful monitoring of this programme at the State level, so that the States would be alert and sensitive to any fluctuations in the implementation of the programme.
As a long-term programme, population education for the younger generation was accepted as a supportive measure, so that the young might grow up with a greater awareness of the population problem and realisation of their national responsibility.
The Statement was also explicit about the support of the Government to research in reproductive biology and contraceptive technology.
The most controversial part of the Policy Statement was the proposed legislation of compulsory sterilisation of a couple after they had a certain number of children.
The need for an element of compulsion in the family planning programme was accepted in principle, and each State was given the option to frame its own legislation in this regard, if it thought it had the necessary infrastructure and other facilities to carry out a programme of compulsory sterilisation.
The States were, however, advised to make such legislation uniformly applicable to all Indian citizens resident in the State, irrespective of caste or community. They were also advised to enact such legislation for those who had three or more children.
The States were also allowed to frame their own policies bearing on a preferential treatment of those who had accepted family planning when it came to the question of allotment of houses, loans, etc. The Union Government announced that the service/ conduct rules of Central Government employees would be modified to encourage them to adopt the small family size norm.
Though the Policy Statement was criticised on several grounds, the important point of the criticism was that many of the measures were not new. Perhaps the weakest part of the Population Policy Statement was that it accepted, in principle, the idea of compulsion, supported by legislation in matters concerning child-bearing.
This stance appears to be contradictory when it is recalled that at the World Population Conference at Bucharest in 1974, the Indian delegation, while suggesting major revisions in the Draft of the World Population Plan of Action, had strongly contested the propriety “of coercion in any form personal group, national or international.”