Another important feature of the family planning programme during the emergency was the fact that an increasing number of persons openly lent their support to legislation for compelling people to limit their family size. Maharashtra was the first and only State in the country to actually pass legislation for this purpose.
Originally, it was placed before the Legislative Assembly as “A Bill to provide for the compulsory sterilisation of certain of persons.” It was referred to a Joint Select Committees and passed, with certain modifications, on July 21, 1976, as the Maharashtra Family (Restriction on Size) Act, 1975.
It defined an “eligible” person as one who resided in the State of Maharashtra and had at any time had three living children or had more than three living children on the appointed date, and who, if a male, had not completed the age of 55 and if female had not completed the age of 44.
Such “eligible” persons would be compelled under the Act to undergo sterilisation within 180 days of the birth of the third living child unless all the three children were of the same sex or if the youngest child was five years of age, in which case it would be assumed that the couple were practicing family planning, and abortion would be required if the wife became pregnant.
Those who did not comply with this law could be sent to prison for a period not exceeding two years.
It is obvious that any legislation which compels people to get sterilised goes against the voluntary principle in family planning affirmed in the World Population Conference at Bucharest.
“Consistent with the Proclamation of the International Conference on Human Rights, the Declaration on Progress and Development, the relevant targets of the Second United Nations Development Decade and other international instruments on the subject, it is recommended that all countries: Respect and ensure, regardless of their overall demographic goals, the right of persons to determine, in a free informed and responsible manner, the number and spacing of their children.”
The International Planned Parenthood Federation examined the Maharashtra Act from several angles and even considered the steps that could be taken to make the law more palatable, but finally concluded: “None of these suggestions overcomes the basic objection to such a compulsory law, that it could not be uniformly applied and that it is likely to be deeply resented and socially disruptive.”
The End of the Period of Emergency: When the ruling Congress was defeated in the national elections in March 1977, several political analysts attributed this failure to the excess of the family planning programme, specially in the Northern States.
The exact contribution of these excesses to the debacle of the Congress can never really be assessed; but, in this context it is relevant to quote Frank W. Notestein, the noted demographer, who predicted as early as February 1971: “There is scarcely a country of the less Developed Region of which it cannot be safely predicted that such efforts at coercion would be more likely to bring down the government than the birth rate.”