| Actor-activist Shabana Azmi at the first meeting of the National Commission on Population in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 23 (PTI): Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today outlined a three-pronged population strategy focusing on empowerment of women and elimination of poverty.
Chairing the first meeting of the re-constituted National Commission on Population, Singh said the government did not encourage incentives and disincentives as these had, at best, marginal impact in the past and sometimes even caused resentment and non- acceptance.
“I sincerely believe that coercion of any kind to achieve population stabilisation is unacceptable in a free society,” he said.
The Centre’s approach seeks to place fertility reduction in a broader context of evolving an effective development strategy and offers choice in limiting family size.
Singh contended that unless the population policy was integrated with a wider development policy it would never achieve the objective of population stabilisation within a reasonable timeframe.
Population stabilisation, he said, should not be mistaken for population control as the former entails a holistic and comprehensive approach towards education and healthcare, particularly for women and children.
The Prime Minister emphasised that investment in comprehensive healthcare coupled with a wider development policy covering educational and economic needs and raising the status of women must be the key to any population stabilisation strategy.
The population of the country, which was 36 crore in 1951, is now around 110 crore and trends indicate that it would touch 140 crore by 2026, making India the world’s most populated country, he said.
Referring to the experience of states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, Singh said: “The link between social and human development and demographic front is obvious and too stark to ignore.” He urged political parties, social activists and policy-makers in states with high population growth to learn from these states.
A political and social consensus is needed to move forward in the population stabilisation strategy, Singh said.
Emphasising the need to empower women for accelerating the demographic transition, the Prime Minister said that even now, over half of them get married before the permissible age of 18.
Not having easy access to contraception of any kind, he added, has contributed to a demographic pattern of “too early, too frequent and too many children”.
Singh said his government is committed to social and economic empowerment of women and has initiated several steps to widen social opportunities and guarantee economic rights to them.