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Swaraj sparks two-child row

New Delhi, April 10: Union health minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement that the Centre is ready to pass a Bill debarring MPs and MLAs from holding office or contesting polls if they have more than two children has revived the row over population stabilisation strategies.

The minister, however, said the Bill would be passed only if there is a consensus. Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha yesterday, Swaraj said the 79th Constitutional Amendment Bill — seeking to restrict the family size of elected representatives — has been pending in Parliament since 1992 because of a lack of consensus.

“This is a quickfix solution and will have wide ramifications,” said Population Foundation of India executive director A.R. Nanda. “Four states — Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh — have already tried such a policy and it has not worked,” the former family welfare secretary said. In these states, men who had more than two children started deserting their wives to gain immunity from the law, he claimed.

The amendment Bill goes against the National Population Policy adopted in 2000. The policy is against giving incentives and disincentives as motivation for population stabilisation or using coercion to achieve targets, said Nanda.

However, several state governments are adopting their own population stabilisation policies, which include introducing special incentives for government employees with two children or less.

States like Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have also debarred candidates with more than two children from contesting local polls. “If this Bill is passed, these states can also prevent candidates with large families from contesting Assembly polls,” said Nanda.

But a consensus will be difficult to achieve, as the policy will not go down well either with the electorate or the parties’ rank and file. The Congress, which still squirms over the forced sterilisation drive during Emergency, is wary of supporting a Bill that may revive unpleasant memories among people.

“There are, however, some political leaders who are supporting the policy,” said a health ministry official.

In a statement presented in Parliament, the health ministry said: “The 2001 census revealed that the annual growth rate of population has declined from 2 per cent to 1.93 per cent.”

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