The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kalam heads drive for small family

New Delhi, Sept. 15: Soon the nation will see the President in a new role.

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has agreed to propagate the population stabilisation programme. The Centre, in consultation with NGOs, will work out details of a programme that will project the First Citizen promoting the small-family norm.

Kalam has shown interest in generating public opinion for the small family, provided the issue is not politicised. He is also opposed to inclusion of any incentives or disincentives in the programme. The government, policy makers and NGOs are unanimous that Kalam’s sub-identities, ranging from being a scientist to a Muslim to a bachelor, would come in handy.

However, a section in the government is sceptical whether Kalam’s involvement in the population control programme could be without controversy. After all, it comes at a time when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has charged a particular community with consciously increasing its population.

Moreover, the history of population programmes in the country is chequered with controversies — be it a tussle between government and political parties, government and international donor agencies or one wing of the government against another. During the Emergency — 1975-77 — the Opposition parties capitalised on the “excesses” relating to forceful implementation of the “hum do, hamare do” norm.

International donor agencies such as UNFPA are constantly at loggerheads with the government and state governments, opposing the “coercive measures” such as incentives and disincentives in family welfare programmes. The Union health ministry is also at odds with the Central government-run National Population Commission on how to go about achieving the broad targets of population stabilisation.

The proposal to rope in Kalam was the brainchild of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

The Vice-President first sounded the President, pointing out that development, health, education, employment, empowerment, growth and prosperity were all directly linked to population stabilisation.

Once the President said he was ready to be associated with the programme, attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee was asked to give his opinion on how public campaigns could be supplemented by a legal framework without interfering with human and civil rights. Shekhawat said his experience in Rajasthan was that unless the population programme is de-politicised, there would be little progress.

He said as chief minister of Rajasthan, he had tried to get every one — from the Opposition to religious leaders — to support family welfare programmes. Shekhawat narrated how many Muslim clergy and imams of madarsas came forward to support the two-child norm.

Kalam told Shekhawat he had no problems lending his name to the population programme as long as it remained focused on the broad issue of accelerating national development. He said there was an urgent need for a consensus among parties and opinion makers to tackle the menace of the population explosion that is eating into the vitals of the nation.

Sources close to Kalam pointed out that the President would not be blindly going along with the government’s views. He would be consulting NGOs and experts who have been working in the field.

“The President has a fair idea about the issues involved. So he will measure every step before going ahead,” they said.

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