Clamour in Karnataka

Print edition : August 13, 2021

TWO days after the Uttar Pradesh government unveiled its population policy on July 11, C.T. Ravi, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national general secretary, provoked a debate on the issue in Karnataka. The former Minister tweeted: “It is high time Karnataka brings in a new population policy on the lines of Assam and Uttar Pradesh to control its growing population…. With the limited natural resources available, it will be difficult to meet the needs of every citizen if there is a population explosion.”

A similar statement was made by K.S. Eshwarappa, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister. Speaking to mediapersons, Eshwarappa said, there was a “need to implement a new population policy in many States, including Karnataka, on the lines of measures taken by the Adityanath government.” Deputy Chief Minister C.N. Ashwath Narayan, joined in by saying that “tough steps must be taken for population control”.

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Notwithstanding the intention of these BJP politicians, demographic statistics in Karnataka belie the need for any kind of coercive population policy on the lines proposed in Uttar Pradesh. According to the report of the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-20) (NFHS-5), the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Karnataka stands at “1.7 children per woman… well below the replacement level of fertility”. (The replacement level of fertility is 2.1 children per woman). The TFR remains low in both urban (1.5 children per woman) and rural (1.8 children per woman) parts of the State, according to the NFHS-5. The report also points out that TFR has decreased in the State “by 0.1 children between NFHS-4 [2015-16] and NFHS-5”. The TFR in the State has steadily declined from NFHS-1 (1992-93) when it was 2.8.

Speaking to Frontline, T.V. Sekher, professor and head of the department of population policies and programmes, International Institute of Population Sciences, dismissed the need for a policy to legislate population control in Karnataka. He said: “The TFR is already less than two in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. What is the need for a coercive population policy in Karnataka now when we have already reached the intended target?”

Sekher added that the roots of population control in Karnataka could be traced back to the “birth control clinics” set up in the princely state of Mysore. “The first state-sponsored effort to control population in the world was started with the establishment of two such centres in Mysore [now Mysuru] and Bangalore [now Bengaluru] in 1930.”

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Nizamuddin Faujdar, spokesperson of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, accused the BJP of raking up the issue “for the sake of politics”. “They want to play with the sentiments of people. The proposed population policy is not even an issue in south India,” Faujdar said. Kannada activists are opposed to any population policy in the State. Anand. G. of Banavasi Balaga stated in an interview that “the Centre must not give targets to States to achieve TFR below replacement levels”.

Responding to the issue, Law Minister Basavaraj Bommai stated that any decision would be taken after “discussion and deliberation”, adding that there was no immediate plan to roll out a population policy in the State.