Population : Facts and Myths
- Dr. Almas Ali
Respected panelists and friends, I have been asked to speak about the facts and myths
associated with the Indian Population which I rename as myths and realities. At the outset let
me begin by asking a very important and pertinent question: “In India, even today when we
talk of population, why is it that we are so overwhelmingly concerned with „numbers‟?” No
doubt, I agree, “numbers” are always fascinating and usually carry with them the ring of “so-
called” inevitable truth. But, unfortunately, in our country the population related numbers
have become a matter of grave and often misinformed public debate.
It is a fact that, in the last five decades, India‟s population has increased from 36 crores in
1951 (around the time of Independence) to over 102 crores in 2001. The growth in numbers
of India‟s population has become a perennial source of worry for everyone – politicians,
public leaders, administrators, bureaucrats, development planners, public health experts,
demographers, social scientists, researchers and even to the common man. To be frank, there
is some sort of a “fear psychosis” about numbers – some kind of Almas Ali is a a
“number phobia”. Whenever there is any discussion on senior public health
population issues, it invariably begins with such expressions like: specialist and is
“India has over one billion people”; “it is the second most associated with the
populous country in the world”; “in near future it will cross China Population
Foundation of India
and will become the most populated country in the world”; “the as Senior Advisor
large population of India is the real reason for high levels of
poverty, low per capita income and slow economic growth” and it is often stated that an
uncontrolled explosion is responsible for holding back India‟s progress an economic growth
and is identified as a significant hindrance for the country‟s development.
Therefore, the question which needs to be answered is that, ‘is India really going through a
population explosion / is the population really growing at a very alarming proportion?‟ The
answer is simple NO. But this straight-forward answer on its own will not convince any one
or take us very far. We have to ask many other related questions and understand some basic
Let me begin with the most basic issue-- the issue of population growth. It has to be
understood that population growth occurs naturally and has taken place everywhere in all
regions of the world. India is no exception.
In order to understand this in a correct perspective, there is a need to understand the concept
of demographic transition in terms of three stages of demographic evolution:
Stages of Demographic Evolution
First stage is high birth rates and high death rates (high balance)
Second (intermediate) stage is high birth rates and low death rates (high rate of
natural increase) and
Third stage is low birth rates and low death rates (low balance).
The first stage of the demographic evolution is when high birth rate and high fertility is
accompanied by high death rate. In the second stage, high birth rate and high fertility
continues. However, few factors lead to a steep fall in the mortality rate resulting in a high
natural growth. With the advancement of economic and material progress, education,
women‟s empowerment and availability of contraceptives birth rate start declining slowly at
first. Rapidly thereafter a stage is reached where the birth and death rates are equal once
again, i.e low balance. This cycle of changes, which occurs in any population, is known as
Let us have a closer look at the second (intermediate) state, which is of high rates of natural
increase as a result of faster decline in death rates (mortality), with birth rates maintaining
their initial high levels.
This scenario characterized the world demographic growth in second half of the 20 th century
with an unprecedented growth rate. The world‟s population doubled from 3 to 6 billion in less
than forty years between 1960 and 1999 and increased from 5 to 6 billion in just 12 years
(from 1987 to 1999), while it had taken four times as much to double from 1.5 to 3 billion
and nearly a millennium to reach the first billion. What triggered this growth in the second
half of 20th century, starting from 1950 onwards, shortly after the Second World War was the
rapid and steep fall in the death rate. This sudden decline in death rates (mortality) was
primarily the result of achievements in the then economically advanced countries and the
unexpectedly low cost of applying the benefits of modern medicine and replicating them in
developing countries. Knowledge acquired in curbing the spread of killer diseases and
epidemics was transferred to the developing countries whose natural growth rate was near
stagnant (which was a reflection of high mortality and high fertility). While the death rate fell
drastically, fertility and reproduction maintained their high levels (i.e. birth rates remained
high). This resulted in unprecedented high levels of natural growth.
India was no exception. From around Independence, the death rates started declining rapidly
while birth rates continued to remain high. This led to a phase of rapid growth in population
from 1951 to 1981.
Population of India at a Glance – 1901-2001
Year Total Absolute Decadal Average Phase of Demographic
Population increase Growth Annual Transition
(in crores) (in Rate Exponential
crores) Growth Rate
1901-1951 23-36 13 - - Near stagnant population
1951-1961 36-44 8 +21.6 1.96 High growth
1961-1971 44-55 11 +24.8 2.22 Rapid high growth
1971-1981 55-68 13 +24.6 2.20
1981-1991 68-84 16 +23.9 2.14 High growth with
1991-2001 84-102 18 +21.3 1.93 definite signs of fertility
The population chart correctly reflects the theory of demographic transition where after
passing through the stage of stagnant population, high growth rate and rapid growth rate, the
decadal growth rate starts declining.
As seen from the above table, in 1951 the total population of India was little over 36 crores.
The population grew to about 44 crores in 1961, and to about 55 crores in 1971. During the
decade 1951-61 absolute increase in population was about 8 crores, decadal growth rate was
21.6% and average annual exponential growth rate was 1.96. The period between 1961-71
recorded the highest ever decadal growth rate at 24.8%, with a corresponding average annual
exponential growth rate of 2.22 and an absolute increase of about 11 crores. The period
between 1971 and 1981 recorded a marginal decrease in decadal growth rate from 24.8% in
1961-71 to 24.6% in 1971-81.
However, after 1981, the population growth rate (both decadal growth rate and average
annual exponential growth rate) has reduced considerably. In the last 20 years the decadal
growth rate and annual average exponential growth rate has come down from 24.6% and 2.22
during 1971-81 to 23.9% and 2.14 during 1981-91 to 21.3% and 1.93 respectively during
1991-2001. In fact, the recent decadal growth during 1991-2001 registered the sharpest
decline since independence.
This means in India, population growth rate has definitely been declining steadily over the
last two decades. Moreover, fertility has also declined in the past; say in 1951, a woman
would have an average of over 6 children (though many of them would die early) but now the
average is little over 3. That is, what we call in technical terms TFR (Total Fertility Rate),,
which was as high as 6 or more has come down to 3.2 in 2001. The fact is in India couples
now have fewer children and most couples opt for small families.
For the first time in 2001 census, the proportion of children under 6 years has also come
down which is a clear indication of the fertility decline. Then why does the overall growth in
numbers still appears high? It is because of what is called “Population Momentum” Trends in
fertility and mortality i.e from 1951 to 1981 have shaped the “population age structure” in
such a way that there is a tremendous “in built growth potential” which has resulted in the
“bulge” in the proportion of people in prime reproductive ages. Moreover improvement in
general mortality conditions in aged population and increase in life expectancy has helped to
accelerate in built growth. This tendency of growth is termed as Population Momentum in
demographic literature. In short, India has high proportion of young persons (about 60%)
who are in the “reproductive age group or will soon be so”. Even if this group produces
fewer children per couples, the quantum increase in numbers will be high, because the
numbers of reproducing couples is high. Thus, the birth rate will be high even though Total
Fertility Rate is low.
According to some estimates in the period 1991-2001 the proportion of population growth
due to population momentum was as high as nearly 70% (69.7%) while unwanted fertility
contributed about 25% (24.4%). Only 5 to 6% (5.92%) of population growth was due to
wanting more children. Even if fertility could immediately be brought down to replacement
level, i.e TFR 2.1, with constant mortality and zero migration, there will be tremendous
population growth in absolute terms in the near future and this trend will still continue for
next few decades.
India, with its large proportion of young persons, will take some time before the results of
declining fertility start showing explicitly. Put simply, this decline does not look very rapid
and because India is like a fast moving express train whose brakes have just been applied.
Since it is very heavy and moving very fast, it will take time before it actually stops. The
important thing to note is that the brakes have been applied.
Population Growth: Myths and Realities
Myth: India‟s population is growing because uneducated rural poor have more children now
than they had 50 years ago while educated urban middle class has controlled its family size.
Reality: The fact is that family size and number of children across all population groups,
poor or middle class, rural or urban is declining. Both rural and urban people have roughly 44
per cent fewer children compared to a few years ago. Comparison between urban and rural
TFR shows that while urban women now have 1.7 children less, rural woman have 2.1
children less than they had 30 years ago (TFR: Rural 5.6, Urban 4.1 in 1970 and rural 3.5
urban 2.4 in 1999)
Myth: Poor people have more children because they do not appreciate the benefits of family
Reality: The poor often have large unmet needs for contraception. In some poorer states
unmet needs for contraception are as high as 25%. The desire for family planning has
increased in poor families.
Myth: Since India‟s Independence population growth has overtaken food production.
Reality: Food production since Independence has also increased over 4 times (from 50
million metric tones in 1951 to over 200 million metric tones in 2001), while population
growth had been a little less then three times (from 36 crores in 1951 to 102 crores in 2001).
Myth: The quickest results in speeding population stabilization can be achieved through
coercive/authoritarian approach like China‟s „one child policy‟ or imposing a „two child
Reality: While it is true that China has brought down its population growth rate remarkably,
even more remarkable drops in the growth rate occurred in Kerala over the same period.
(China‟s TFR 2.8 in 1979 dropped to 2.0 in 1991, while Kerala‟s TFR 3.0 in 1979 dropped to
1.8 in 1991) without any coercion. Also, much of the growth rate reduction in China took
place between 1970 and 1979, before the introduction of the “one child policy”. The decline
in China‟s growth rate has its roots in increasing educational access, improvement in
economy and in improvement in the status of women, which took place after the Communist
Revolution and before the one child policy was introduced. And hence, it is not entirely clear
how much of China‟s fertility decline can be actually attributed to one child policy alone.
Myth: The two child norm is not only useful from a population and development point of
view but it is also good for women‟s health.
Reality: The two child norm has to be understood in the context of son preferences, which is
a common feature of Indian Society. If the government imposes a two child norm, there will
be widespread sex selection and sex selective abortion of the female foetus, and increased
abortion - related health risks for women.
I conclude by saying that population stabilization is not a technical problem requiring a
technical quick fix solution. The answer does not lie in pushing sterilizations and chasing
targets. For population stabilization, it is important to improve people‟s access, particularly
women‟s access, to quality health care. Women must have access to both essential and
emergency obstetric care. The contraceptive mix needs to be enlarged and expanded. There is
also a need to revitalize community-based health initiatives.
We are now discovering that the obvious route to population stabilization is through social
development, through women‟s empowerment, through greater gender equality. Women‟s
empowerment is critical to human development.
As mentioned earlier, given the crucial importance of Population Momentum (which in a way
assures further population growth in near future), no matter whether we introduce “two-
child”/ even “one-child” norm, to pressurize people to go for less than two children may
simply be barking up the wrong tree. This may be neither relevant nor particularly effective
in bringing down the growth rate.
The single most important factor that can reduce the momentum is raising the age at
marriage/ cohabitation especially for girls. The strongest impact of this can come through
increasing years of schooling for girls. Therefore, population momentum can only be eased
out significantly by policies that encourage women to delay child bearing as this stretches out
the time between generations.
The recently announced Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the UPA Government is a
very progressive document but among its provisions is a line stating that, “A sharply targeted
population control programme will be launched in the 150-odd high-fertility districts,” which
again is a reflection of a mindset that believes there is a big population problem.
It is indeed a little worrying trend because at a time when the Reproductive and Child Health
(RCH) Programme is recording significant structural and long term impact, the Indian
experience does not warrant a shift back from the social development approach. There
appears to be a very thin dividing line between awareness creation, gentle persuasion,
voluntary decision and of course coercion. If this approach is not handled properly, it will
ultimately end up in a situation leading to a “two child” norm, which in turn will increase the
chances of widespread sex pre selection and sex-selective abortions of the female foetus
leading to distorted sex ratio in 0-6 years population. The other probable fall out of this
focused campaign mode approach may be that the health functionaries might be pre-occupied
again with family planning goals/targets and terminal contraception (citing this as being
voluntarily adopted), neglecting the two cardinal features of Reproductive and Child Health
(RCH)--services related to women‟s health and quality of care.
Population Policy: An Overview
- Mr. A.R. Nanda
………I had a long stint in the government. When I speak on the population policy, I have
little trepidation because I know that the policy, which has been framed, is at best - a
compromise. A compromise between what the people perceive as their needs and what the
government in its wisdom perceives, as a requirements, to meet those needs.
The Government of India formulated the „National Population Policy‟. It was laid before
Parliament, was discussed at length, and it is supposed to have the consensus of all political
parties, which were at the national scene at that time. Before this policy was formally
announced, it had the necessary consultation with the experts and various state governments.
Thus, this policy seems to have gone through an evolutionary process.
The evolution of population stabilisation efforts in India by government goes back to the
onset of the five-year development plans in 1951-52. The first such policy was launched in
the form of a Programme in the year 1952 (the „National Family Planning Programme‟) and
henceforth India became the first country to officially declare a National Family Planning
Programme. In fact, when China went through the Communist Revolution in 1950s, they
borrowed a few things from our Programme, but administered it in a different manner under
the Maoist era. They adopted an equitable social development approach to tackle their
population problem. They started with the premise that „population is our biggest asset‟ and
took many benign measures of social development. So they looked at their people, even if
they were many, as an asset, whereas in India we started looking at our people, right from the
year 1952, as liability. And this remains the basic difference between the approaches adopted
by these two countries.
We all talk about emulating the Chinese model. They, in fact, have solved their population
problem, but they did not solve it through „one-child norm‟. One-child norm came much later
in the year 1979 and China, between the years 1949 to 1979, followed an equitable, social
development approach – a people‟s approach. But in India we seem to have lost that
opportunity. If we really want to emulate China, we must follow their social developmental
approach, which they adopted to stabilize their population. India is a democratic country. So
our approach has to be slightly different and well within the democratic four walls.
In India, an apex committee known as „Family Planning Research and
Programme Committee‟ was set up, which sat for its first meeting at Mr. A.R. Nanda is the
Bombay in July 1953. It took quite a comprehensive and broad view of Executive Director of
the family planning issue. It suggested that family planning should not Population Foundation
of India. He has been
be conceived in the narrow sense to mean birth control or the spacing of the former Secretary,
the birth of children and but be seen in a holistic manner. It Department of Family
recommended the opening of Family Planning centres at different places Welfare, GoI and also
served as the Registrar
for sex education, marriage counseling, marriage hygiene, planned General of India .
parenthood and many other things including infertility issues, because
infertility is as much an issue as fertility control. Keeping all this in view, the committee gave
its recommendations in the year 1953.
China took due note of these recommendations and started looking at the basic needs of the
people such as marriage counseling and many other things, other than pure contraceptive
measures. Thus, peoples‟ needs and the State‟s needs converged and as a result of this a
cultural revolution got initiated in which academics, bureaucrats and service providers were
asked to go work with the peasants. We never had any such thing conceptualized
implemented in India. So the path, which China took, was more suitable for looking into the
basic needs of the masses, and they witnessed a tremendous rise in women‟s empowerment,
equitable access to health, education and income. All this had a direct effect on the fertility
rate, and as a result the birth rate fell sharply by 1979. Thus, it‟s clearly visible that the basic
concept of family planning services that China followed was in tune with what the Bombay
meeting had envisaged.
When Mao Zedong was out of the Chinese scene, there came a paradigm shift in their
approach. With the contagion of western education, the perceived threat of growing numbers
took deep roots in the mindset of some Chinese scholars and leaders. Some people who went
to US to pursue higher education backed the idea that China needs to control its population
and they advocated many restrictive population policies like the „One-Child policy‟ and this
development marked and brought about a paradigm shift in their whole approach towards
population control. The results were disastrous which created more societal and family
problems like skewed sex ratio, increased crime against women, female infanticide and
foeticide, rather than helping in smooth stabilization of population. Now the Chinese are
reviewing their policy and looking at the possibility of having a law against sex
There are thus lessons to be learnt from the Chinese experience in governance. We tend to
misrepresent the Chinese story, whenever we compare the Indian situation for advocating
coercive population policies like the „Two-Child Norm‟ and the concomitant regime of
incentives and disincentives to solve our population problem quickly.
It‟s a pity that our policy makers and bureaucrats paid a lip service to the rational and sane
advice of the Family Planning Research and Programme Committee and instead, adopted a
top-down contraceptive programme with targets of sterilization. A separate Department of
Family Planning was created in the Health Ministry and a centrally sponsored „target
oriented‟ programme was launched from 1966 providing for financial incentives for
sterilization acceptors. Although later on the programme was integrated with maternal and
child health and further with health and nutrition, the primary objective was to achieve targets
of male and female sterilization. All this has done more harm than good.
The various committees formed before and after independence have clearly emphasized on
adopting a comprehensive approach of primary health care, with no compromises to be made
in this regard. The perception of the families and that of the state must converge, when it
comes to acceptance of a small family norm. Peoples‟ needs must be understood and
addressed in a holistic manner and they will voluntarily accept family planning. But
unfortunately, we are again coming back to targets.
National Population Policy 2000
With this scenario, I will now place the National Population Policy 2000. There are seven
States that have introduced policies with various incentives and disincentives, which are not
in accordance with the NPP.
National Population Policy is the affirmation and articulation of India‟s commitment to
International Conference on Population and Development ( ICPD) agenda. It forms the
blueprint for Population and Development Programmes in the Country. It was at the Cairo
Conference, that for the first time, a consensus was reached among many countries, including
India, which, was a remarkable development in many ways. The ICPD in 1994 successfully
adopted a Programme of Action, which constituted a paradigm shift in thinking and action on
population issues globally. Though India is yet to fully incorporate the provisions of this
convention in its domestic laws, but by virtue of the country being a signatory to this
international convention, civil society has a moral right to ask the government not to deviate
from its commitment to the ICPD agenda.
The National Population Policy, which was formulated and announced in February 2000, is
the first ever comprehensive and holistic population policy of the country. The NPP
envisages overall economic and social development as the goal to improve the quality of life
of the people, to enhance their well being and to provide them with opportunities and choices
with a comprehensive, holistic and multi-sectoral agenda for „population stabilisation.‟ It
envisions population stabilisation as a function of accessible and affordable reproductive
health; increased coverage and outreach of primary and secondary education; assured
availability of basic amenities like sanitation, safe drinking water and housing; women
empowerment with enhanced access to education and employment; and infrastructure
development like roads and communication. Thus, it promotes open information, awareness,
empowerment and development based approach and sums up „population stabilisation‟ as a
multi-sectoral endeavour. In principle, it unequivocally rejects the targets and the
incentive/disincentive approaches and provides for a Target-Free Approach (TFA).
The NPP is gender sensitive and incorporates a comprehensive holistic approach to the health
and education needs of women, female adolescents and girl child. A primary theme running
through the NPP is provision of quality services and supplies and arrangement of a basket of
choices i.e. people must be free and enabled to access quality health care, make informed
choice and adopt measures for fertility regulation best suited to them.
Objectives of the NPP
The immediate objective of NPP is to address the unmet needs of contraception, health
infrastructure, and trained health care personnel and to provide integrated service delivery for
basic reproductive and child health care. Its mid term objective is to bring the Total Fertility
Rates (TFR) to replacement levels countrywide, by 2010 through vigorous implementation of
multi-sectoral operational strategies. Its long-term objective includes bringing about
population stabilisation by 2045, consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic
growth, social development, and environmental protection.
It envisions achieving:
universal access to information, counseling and services for fertility regulation;
100% registration of births, deaths, marriages and pregnancy;
containing the spread of HIV and promoting better integration with the National
AIDS Control Organization (NACO);
managing reproductive tract infections (RTI) and sexually transmitted infections
mainstreaming Indian systems of medicine;
promoting „small-family norm‟ to achieve replacement levels of total fertility rate
(Small- family norm is not two-child or one-child norm but could be anywhere
between having one to five children. It depends on the necessity, needs and
requirement of a family);
and to bring about convergence in the implementation of related social sector
programmes so that family welfare becomes a „people centered programme‟.
The implementation of the strategies and Action plan of the NPP requires a transformation in
the mindset and style of functioning of the bureaucrats, technocrats and service providers vis-
à-vis the approach to population issues, accountability, planning, monitoring and
coordination. The most important strategy is decentralized planning and program
implementation. In India, we have more than 620 districts, around 6,38,000 villages and 4000
cities and towns. Under the decentralized planning and programme implementation there will
be a separate annual plan for every village, every ward of a city/town, wherein the health
service people, ICDS and others will work together. There will be a house-to-house survey of
each family. During these social audits, they will assess the specific needs and requirements
of each family – relating to infertility, death due to diseases and other problems and the
contraceptive requirement best suited to them. All planning for effective implementation at
the community level will be done by the elected representatives of panchayats/gramsabhas
(PRIs) of that village and they will ensure a proper assessment of the needs for health,
education, nutrition, reproductive health and family planning within that village. This plan is
known as „Community needs assessment‟ through participatory methods.
Such holistic plan for health, population and social development is to be prepared for each
village and each ward. And the district plans, state plans and the central plan should be based
on the community level plans reflecting the perceived needs of each family and each
Even under the current CMP, if the sharply targeted population control measures remain and
we supplant them further with village/ward/town specific community plans and don‟t impose
a target set by either the Central, State or local government, it will become a „people‟s
Apart from decentralized planning and implementation, other important strategies involve:
Convergence of service delivery at village levels;
Empowering women for improved health and nutrition;
Child survival and child health;
Meeting the unmet needs for family welfare services;
Special strategy for under-served population groups, namely- urban slums, tribal
communities, hill-area population and displaced and migrant populations;
Increased participation of men in planned parenthood;
Diverse health care providers;
Collaboration with and commitments from NGOs and the private sector;
Mainstreaming Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy;
Contraceptive technology and research on reproductive and child health;
Providing for the older population;
Assuring Information, Education and Communication.
As far as contraceptive technology and research on reproductive and child health is
concerned, we have excellent research going on and some of the products have already been
released into the market. The non-hormonal male contraceptive known as „RISUG‟ is a good
example of the ingenuity of Indian scientists. There are many other such products like
„Saheli‟ etc., which are again non-hormonal and thus safe for women‟s health.
Providing for the older population is one of the immediate concern areas. The Census has just
brought out that 7.6% of our population is in the age group of 60 years and above. It clearly
indicates that out of the 100 crores, roughly around 8 crore people are in this age bracket. The
average life span has increased due to direct intervention of modern science and technology
and people are living longer particularly, widowed women. We have to look after them.
….I apologize if I have cast some aspersions, but since I was part of the Government and
have seen the functioning from very close quarters, I know that we had many failings. But I
am happy to see that the present CMP has brought out an excellent blue print for effective
implementation of policies, barring that particular sentence which talks about population. I
am hopeful that the Tribunal will take a view on that and would suggest the government not
to go in for a strategy that will kill the comprehensive Primary Health Care approach.
Anything that has to be strategised has to be within People‟s Health Mandate. Only then
could the efforts at population stabilisation proceed on a smooth course, and would turn into a
people‟s movement producing desired results.
This write-up is based on the Expert Address delivered by the author at the People‟s Tribunal on „Coercive
Population Policies and Two-Child Norm‟, at New Delhi in 2004.
Declining Sex Ratio : A National Emergency
Mr. J.K. Banthia
From a reading of the Census 2001, it is now possible to narrate the story of India – from
urban to rural India. When we brought out our report (Child Sex Ratio: Bare Truth – A report
on missing girl child based on the census of India 2001), in April 2001, it was clear that the
sex ratio in the age group 0-6 had decreased at a much faster pace than the overall sex ratio of
the whole country after 1981. The decreasing sex ratio in the child population perhaps has
had a cascading effect on the population over a period of time, leading to a diminishing sex
ratio in the country. This skewed sex ratio in the age-group 0-6 would surely have a negative
impact. The imbalance that has been set up in this early age-
group will be difficult to remove and will haunt the population Mr J.K.Banthia is an
for a long time to come. The demographic sex ratio of 927 of the officer of the Indian
population in the age group 0-6 does not augur well for the Administrative Service.
He was the Registrar
future of the country and will lead to diminishing sex ratio in the General of India during
country. Coming from the government‟s report, it was supposed Census 2001.
to be a bold statement and we still stand by it. Unfortunately, we
have been proven right and the situation continues to be grim. The census reveals that the
deficit of women has risen from 3 million in 1901 to 36 million in 2001. [See Table (1)]
Census year Persons Males Females
1901 238 121 117
1951 361 186 176
1961 439 226 213
1971 548 284 264
1981 683 253 330
1991 846 439 407
2001 1028 532 496
Table (1) - Population of India (in millions)
What is Sex Ratio?
Sex ratio, in India, is defined as the number of females per 1000 males in the population. It is
an index of male-female (im)balance in population. At birth there are 942-955 girls for every
1000 boys, which is called a „biological ratio‟. At the Census 2001, sex ratio of population
stood at 933 females per 1000 males, a marginal increase from 927 recorded at the 1991
Census. Internationally, sex ratio is defined as number of males per 100 females and the sex
ratio at birth is 105 boys for every 100 girls.
But this trend is increasingly being disturbed. In the past 100 years, the population of women
is on a constant decrease. Previously it was more than 970 but now it is 933. The sex ratio is
constantly decreasing in the rural areas. In the urban areas though there was a decrease, rural
migration positively affected the sex ratio, however the overall position is still in doldrums.
In 1901, there were 3 million women lesser than their men counterpart and the difference has
now increased to 36 million hence resulting in a huge deficit. In the northern Indian states of
Rajasthan districts like Jaisalmer, the situation is very alarming and there is a rapid decline in
the sex ratio.
Sex ratio of population communities and residence, India – 2001
Religious Communities Total Rural Urban
All 933 946 900
Hindus 931 944 894
Muslims 936 953 907
Christians 1009 1001 1026
Sikhs 893 895 886
Buddhists 953 958 944
Jains 940 937 941
Others 992 995 966
In the developed and western countries the sex ratio is 1040 or 1050 females per 1000 males.
If you compare India with these countries, our position is very bad.
Child Sex Ratio (0-6 years)
Census Total Rural Urban
1981 962 963 931
1991 942 948 935
2001 927 934 906
Decline in child sex ratio from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 has somewhat activated the
political, legal and adminstrative set up of the country. However, the Census findings should
now be converted into a tangible action plan to help the cause of the girl child.
Child sex ratio i.e. sex ratio in the age group 0-6 years is a powerful indicator to examine the
social response and attitude towards the girl child in recent past. If it is accepted that the
impact of differential sex selective undercount, age reporting and migration is negligible, then
the sex ratio in the age group 0-6 years will be principally influenced by:
1. Sex ratio at birth
2. Sex selective mortality at younger ages
The sex ratio at birth is usually a biological constant with a value that lies between 943 – 954.
As the male infant mortality is higher than female in normal populations, the child sex ratio
would tend to increase and improve over the globally accepted constant.
The Scheduled tribes do not have a cultural bias or social bias against the girl child. The
position in general population is a cause of concern because this is not a decimal point
demography. There is a striking difference of 60 – 80 females (less for every 1000 males).
Child Sex Ratio – Top Ten Districts in India
District Child Sex Ratio (2001)
East Kameng (Arunachal Pradesh) 1035
Pulwana (Jammu & Kashmir) 1033
Kupwara (Jammu &Kashmir) 1021
Dantewada ( Chhatisgarh) 1014
Upper Siang (Arunachal Pradesh) 1010
Bastar (Chhatisgarh) 1009
Lower Subansiri (ArunachalPradesh) 1005
Badgam (Jammu & Kashmir) 1002
Nabarangapur (Orissa) 999
North ( Sikkim) 995
It is pertinent to mention in the light of the above chart that in such districts the sex ratio is
favourable to women despite the fact that these are tribal belts with no technology, no
infrastructure and lack of communication facilities. However the relatively advanced districts
across India show a remarkable deficit in child sex ration which is unfavourable to women.
Child Sex Ratio- Bottom Ten Districts in India
District Child Sex Ratio (2001)
Fategarh Sahib (Punjab) 766
Kurushetra (Haryana) 771
Patiala (Punjab) 777
Ambala ( Haryana) 782
Mansa (Punjab) 782
Kapurthala (Punjab) 785
Sangrur (Punjab) 786
Sonipat (Haryana) 788
The census 2001 also showcases the community- wise sex ratio of those residing in the urban
and rural areas, which reflects that Christans and Muslims are better- placed and more
favourable to girl child than the rest of the communities.
Religious Communities Total Rural Urban
All 927 934 906
Hindus 925 932 898
Muslims 950 955 938
Christians 964 965 964
Sikhs 786 788 778
Buddhists 942 945 935
Jains 870 869 870
Others 976 976 967
If we look at the sex ratio state- wise, in Gujarat the situation is particularly grim. There,
more than 60 districts have shown a 50% decline. In Himachal Pradesh, 23 districts have
shown a decline between 40-49%. The bad practise of Himachal Pradesh has been
transmitted to the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab, as evidenced by their alarming
decline in sex ratio.
Child Sex Ratio: Delhi and Districts – 2001 Census
Districts Total SCs General
Delhi 868 901 861
North West 857 901 845
North 886 932 875
North East 875 882 874
East 865 906 856
New Delhi 898 941 881
Central 903 896 905
West 859 907 849
South West 846 890 837
South 888 904 884
The chart shows that barring South Delhi, neglect of the girl child is very clear and that
widescale female feoticide is practised .
The position on child sex ratio appears grimmer if we look at the rural picture and
distribution of villages by ranges of child sex ratio. There is a remarkable increase in the
number of villages if we compare the census of 1991 and 2001 but unfortunately the sex ratio
has been unfavorable to a female child.
Distribution of villages by ranges of child sex ratio, 1991 & 2001 Census
Ranges of child sex ratio (0-6 years) Number of villages
Less than 800 3853 6376
800-849 1464 1621
850-899 1655 1263
900-949 1402 882
950-999 1360 813
1000+ 2694 1323
Total 12428 12278
Ranges of child sex ratio (0-6 years) Number of villages
Less than 800 1330 2965
800-849 749 1236
850-899 886 1010
900-949 738 624
950-999 565 433
1000+ 934 496
Total 5202 6764
Ranges of child sex ratio (0-6 years) Number of villages
Less than 800 6884 8763
800-849 3210 4310
850-899 4346 5216
900-949 5042 5105
950-999 5761 5165
1000+ 15169 12536
Total 40412 41095
Ranges of child sex ratio (0-6 years) Number of villages
Less han 800 28 70
800-849 27 38
850-899 45 23
900-949 49 15
950-999 18 6
1000+ 32 6
Total 199 158
Ranges of child sex ratio (0-6 years) Number of villages
Less han 800 3069 3859
800-849 1755 2157
850-899 2235 2586
900-949 2465 2516
950-999 2514 2255
1000+ 5987 4693
Total 18025 18066
The position in Delhi has worsened between 1991- 2001. The chart below is well descriptive
of the alrming decline in the sex ratio in Delhi at the tahsil or taluka level:
Child sex ratio: 2001 and 1991 census – Delhi Tahsils
Tahsils 1991 2001
Sadar Bazar 917 932
Darya Ganj 947 932
Connaught Place 934 926
Kotwali 910 913
Chanakyapuri 939 898
Kalkaji 910 897
Defence Colony 924 885
Hauz Khas 910 882
Seemapuri 910 882
Model Town 917 880
Preet Vihar 923 879
Seelam Pur 922 876
Paharganj 921 874
Parliament Street 895 871
Karol Bagh 941 869
CivilLines 918 869
Patel Nagar 919 868
Shahadra 915 862
Rajouri Garden 913 862
Vasant Vihar 905 859
Saraswati Vihar 913 858
Gandhi Nagar 920 846
Punjabi Bagh 901 843
Najafgarh 893 841
Delhi Cantonment 929 838
Vivek Vihar 895 836
Narela 908 828
DELHI 915 868
The media has constantly reported the shocking decline in the female sex ratio especially in
Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan.
Remedy to the alrming situation:
Controlling and monitoring female feoticide
Following the publication of the provisional census results, which among other aspects
focussed on the plight of the girl child, there has been an enormous activity in the legal,
social and governmental spheres to control this menace.
The public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, the Fatwha issued by the religious priests
in Punjab and the amendments to the PNDT acts are clear signs of the interest generated in
this area. The „save the girl child‟ campaign needs to be further supported actively by all
agencies within and outside government in a civilised society to restore the balance of sexes.
Keeping a vigil on sex ratio at birth
The country cannot wait until the census of 2011 to tell whether the sex ratio at birth has
improved or further detoriarated. We need to act now! We should start monitoring the sex
ratio at birth from the civil registration data, which gives monthly report for any
administrative level. Instructions have already been issued in this regard by the Registrar
General of India to all of the Chief Registrars of births and deaths in every State for
monitoring the monthly sex ratio at birth and disseminating this data back to the public and
Follow the innovative scheme in Tamil Nadu
Cradles are kept in the social welfare department offices of the state government for
receiving female babies from parents
The babies are brought up by the state government
The scheme was introduced as part of a strategy to prevent probabale infanticide in
1992 by the chief minister during her first tenure
In Salem district alone, 302 babies have been saved.
To conclude, it is unfortunate that demographers, insensitive policy makers and some
enthusiasts on population control always see population as a problem and concerned only
with population control as a reduction of numbers by coercive methods. They are not
interested in addressing the problems and sufferings that are the reasons behind these
numbers. The key to the reduction of population is in making the social, economic, cultural
and political rights available to all individuals. Lastly the government should aim to make a
comprehensive development policy along the lines of the ICPD .
This write-up is based on the Expert Address delivered by the author at the People‟s Tribunal on „Coercive
Population Policies and Two-Child Norm‟, at New Delhi in 2004.
The Two-Child Norm Law in Panchayats - People's Experiences
- Ms. Nirmala Buch
India‟s concern with the issue of population started early with adoption of a national
family planning programme in 1952. The National Population Policy has been formulated in
2000 in pursuance of the spirit of ICPD 1994 recognizing the linkage of population,
development and gender. But adoption by some states of laws incorporating a restriction in
the local government participation process in the panchayats and municipalities continue with
the approach of disincentives. This restriction, known as the „Two-Child Norm‟, applies to
individuals who give birth to three or more children after a specified date. The assumption is
that the disincentives will act as a „deterrent‟ against large family size as well as promote
local leaders with two children as „role models‟. This deterrent has also been extended to bar
entry into public services and to deny development and welfare programme benefits, e.g.,
micro credit, subsidy for income generating asset creation, housing and shelter for the poor.
This restriction has serious implications for women whose status is undeniably low and for
the vulnerable sections whose weak bargaining power and late entry in the political domain is
My paper is concerned with exploration of peoples‟ experiences with the two-child norm law
in panchayats, introduced in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Orissa and Rajasthan in
1994 and by Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh in 2000. Maharashtra legislated for it in
the year 2003. So it is now in force in eight states (including Chhattisgarh which inherited the
amended panchayat law with this restriction). The paper is based on exploratory studies by
Mahila Chetna Manch in 2001-02 in five states of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya
Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan supported by the UNFPA. These studies sought to explore the
implications and consequences of this norm on the lives of people with special reference to
their ability to make reproductive choices and to identify the constraints and effects of the
Norms‟ implementation from the point of view of the affected persons. The paper also draws
upon the experiences and data collected by us later during our ongoing studies of panchayat
women's experiences in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
We saw the evolution of this law and its politics particularly in the context of the
Constitutional Amendment of 1992, which sought to achieve a more inclusive, gender -
sensitive rural local government. We looked into the variations of this law in different states;
and analyzed the difficulties in studying this subject before analyzing the responses of
various people, such as policy makers, programme implementers, media,
lawyers and other civil society organizations. We note the significant Ms. Nirmala Buch
trends in the legal pronouncements on this subject culminating in the is the President of
Supreme Court judgment of 2003 and then analyzed the experiences of the Manch, Bhopal and
panchayat representatives affected by the operation of this law. We finally a well known social
look at the implications of this law on the contours of democratic activist.
decentralization and participation of women and vulnerable sections in the
panchayats, the implications of human rights, gender justice and the efficacy of this law for
the stated objective of acceptance of contraception and smaller families contributing to
The history of this law starts after the results of the 1991 census and subsequent focus of
policy makers on the issue of population growth. The Committee on Population set up by the
National Development Council (NDC) suggested in 1992 that legislation should be brought
in Parliament prohibiting persons with more than two children from holding any post right
from panchayat to Parliament. It was suggested that this would convey the country‟s
seriousness about adopting a „small-family norm‟. This recommendation predated the ICPD
agreement of 1994 and the National Population Policy of 2000.
The chief minister of Rajasthan who was a member of the NDC Committee introduced this
measure for panchayats and municipalities in the state law and suggested its adoption by the
committee. The state, of course, finally implemented it only after including it in its Panchayat
Law in 1994 and, because of protests, after the panchayat elections of 1995. Haryana, Orissa
and Andhra Pradesh soon followed with inclusion of such provisions in their panchayat laws,
which they had enacted to conform to the 73rd Constitutional Amendment. This Amendment
introduced a major change in the composition of panchayats, providing for reservation for the
Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes and one-third reservation for women. The restriction
on individual‟s participation in local government process thus came simultaneously with, and
runs counter to, this bold step, which assured inclusion and political participation of the
vulnerable sections of the society. The Amendment also reduced the minimum age for entry
from 25 to 21 years. But such state laws adversely affected entry of younger aspirants (the
reproductive age group) in the PRIs. And thus, it‟s clear that the effect of the two child
provisions in these laws is disproportionately on the very sections that the constitutional
mandate sought to include. As these laws are drafted, these are skewed specifically against
younger, new aspirants to the political process.
The state laws, which are mere replicas of the Rajasthan law in this respect, disqualify new
aspirants to panchayats if they have a third or more children after a stipulated date but give
one year‟s time for its effect. No family size before this date would disqualify them. In most
of the states, the law is to be enforced by the executive authorities, namely, commissioners,
collectors or sub-divisional officers. In Andhra Pradesh, the civil judiciary, namely, the
Munsif has to deal with a petition as a civil case. These two dispensations have resulted in an
executive or judicial manner of implementation of the law. The proceedings are initiated on a
complaint. Though in some cases it can also be initiated by the executive officer himself
without any complaint. This results in the issue becoming a part of the local politics and not a
matter for promoting small families. Persons intending to keep a rival from contesting a
panchayat election or to oust him after election become the prime movers of proceedings
against contestants for entry in panchayats. The executive officers have generally not used the
powers to initiate action on their own so far but even a single direction from any state
government would any day spur them to act. In fact some officials wanting to show their
contribution to population stabilisation have already started doing so from 2003.
We must mention some difficulties and limitations of our study. Despite the „national
interest‟ and crisis of „population explosion‟ cited as a rationale for this law, virtually no data
were available about cases of disqualification for violation of the norm even though these are
legal proceedings and concern for this „important‟ measure would have needed constant
review to see what was happening. When the number of these cases in a state was indicated at
all, this was found incomplete when pursued in the field. This made sample selection difficult
along with the time available for the study. This situation continues even now as we found
that what we recently collected as the number of affected persons under this law in MP and
Rajasthan up to March 2004 from the official agencies showed less number than what another
ongoing study of the subject in MP showed in the field. The official figures given to us in MP
were of 562 male and 290 females (i.e. 852 till March 2004 including 200 sarpanch, 20 up-
sarpanch and 610 panch). However, Sama records 866 affected persons up to February 2003.
The intimate nature of this subject and the interstate/inter-district movement for sex selection
tests and abortions to avoid PNDT law are other serious problems. Even the community,
except the opponents of victims, would just like to not speak about it. Somehow the feeling
about conflict of „personal‟ and „national‟ in one's family size and national need affected
responses, which translated to people supporting the law in statements, but violating in
practice. Thus, a woman ex-sarpanch, while expressing her strong desire to contest again in
2005, spoke in support of the law. When reminded of her current pregnancy, which would
disqualify her, she said that she would deal with this aspect at the appropriate time.
The National Family Planning Programme had promoted the concept of a small family and
people have become very familiar with the key slogans. This has affected the responses in the
field about views on the Two Child Norm law. People are generally surprised that anyone
should be questioning the need and desirability of small family and raise the issue of two
child norm law with social development, women‟s autonomy, etc. The slogans of “do yaa
teen bachche ghar men rahte achche”, “hum do humare do”, “do yaa teen bachche bus”
with both parents and two children depicting a boy and a girl read with strong son preference
have also contributed to some of the questionable practices among people who are trying to
meet the requirements of a law on two children, but at the same time are not able to break
from the cultural and social practices and attitudes still heavily skewed against female
children. The slogans reflect the government‟s thinking about the ideal number of children,
though not enforced by law. The success of China in reducing population growth through its
famous one child norm has also contributed to opinion in favour of this law. However, those
holding this view fail to note that China‟s success depended substantially on the prior
progress in social development, particularly in field of health and education. The issue of an
externally imposed norm enforceable by law, as opposed to responsible choice is quite
blurred in public responses.
Respondents in our study showed these trends in all the five states. We had interviewed 272
persons- 10 community members who participated in FGDs, 56 government officials and 70
others including lawyers, media persons and NGO persons. We analyze their perspectives
and opinions here. We interviewed 136 affected Panchayat representatives who were either
disqualified or faced enquiry or proceedings in the two districts in each state and an
additional district in AP and Orissa to capture their experiences, which we analyze later.
Perspectives and Opinions of officials and others in civil society
There was unanimity among the senior government functionaries across the states about the
importance of this provision in view of the “population problem” and “national' interest”.
One senior health policy maker said, “How long can we wait for social development.
Population problem is too serious.” Another policy maker concerned with panchayats said,
“Population is too serious a national problem. Everything is fair to deal with it”. There was
uniform acceptance of the assumption that this law would make leaders adopt smaller
families, which would be adopted by the community at large. When asked about the potential
of this law in increasing women‟s vulnerability to abortions or desertion, the officials
discounted the possibility. There was also a misplaced belief that an Indian woman elected to
a panchayat becomes so empowered that she could freely decide the timing and number of
children irrespective of her family and spouse wanting differently and also that she will be
able to resist social pressures for sons. At the implementation level this law was seen as just
one more condition that had to be met for eligibility or for disqualification at par with eleven
or twelve other conditions.
There were, however, some other noteworthy opinions. One official in Haryana noted that
this provision was an important tool for harassment and called it the Harassment Act. In
Orissa, professors of a medical college called for harsher laws similar to the One Child Norm
in China, which is interesting in the light of the low population growth rate in Orissa. In
Andhra Pradesh, which is the only southern state where this provision exists, a district
medical officer claimed that this law was un-necessary considering the desire for small
families, which was already near universal.
The lawyers of the higher courts across the five states agreed that the norm was justified. In
the north Indian states they also mentioned the issue of national interest more than once. In
Rajasthan, there was more than one case where the High Court ruled in favour of the norm
and lawyers agreed with the decision. However, in one case, a lawyer practising in a
subordinate court in Andhra Pradesh was categorical about the questionable practices
“This act is deceiving the poor. The educated are deceiving the illiterate. Wrong certificates
are being produced. Some people say they have given their child for adoption, others deny
that the child is theirs. All sorts of things happen, and, anyway, most candidates complete
their term by the time the court trials are finalized... “
One lawyer in Orissa felt that the law violated the civil rights and was an invasion of privacy.
For lawyers who had handled such cases it was just another law and most felt that the
problems in the implementation of the Act could be avoided with better dissemination of
information about the Act.
The role of the media in all states had been limited to mentioning the fact that the act existed
and that there were cases of complaints and disqualification. Media persons across the five
states mentioned that there had been little debate in the media about the norm vis a vis the
democratic rights of people, especially women. There was also a feeling that this norm had
made a modest beginning with the lower rungs of representatives, and should be extended to
cover the state and national legislators as well.
The opinion among members of the NGO community from all over the country was mixed.
While some supported the legislation, others felt that it was not in the interest of women and
had a great potential for abuse. In some cases, the NGO leaders felt that this norm affected
Dalits and the poor adversely because they tended to have larger families for various reasons.
There were also instances where the NGOs admitted that they had not thought about the
implications of this provision in the Panchayat Act and did not even highlight them in the
training programmes for Panchayat representatives.
There was difference of opinion regarding the two-child norm among members of the
community. In places, the men or the more well off agreed that the norm was useful, whereas
women and the poor did not agree and referred to the anxiety about children‟s survival due to
inadequate health services. Members of the community also mentioned instances of misuse of
this provision to settle scores. They mentioned ways in which those who had resources
circumvented the norm. Focus group discussions with community members revealed that
while, on the one hand, the affluent may go unchallenged for violating the two child norm
and are able to afford to contest any litigation if they were implicated, the poor, particularly
women, were in no position to do so. Our case studies substantiated these observations. Thus,
a complaint against an influential woman sarpanch was closed because the female infant died
(obviously, of illness and neglect). However, the commissioner disqualified another person
who had a stillborn child because he had done everything to violate the norm; it was only
nature that intervened to result in a stillbirth.
The courts have upheld the validity of the law from the beginning with extensive references
to the serious crisis of population explosion and the nexus of the measure with the importance
of „population control‟. This also seems to have influenced the lack of extensive debate of the
Experiences of Panchayat representatives facing disqualification
A total of 136 panchayat representatives facing disqualification were respondents in our
study. All of them were interviewed and forty-three case studies were prepared. The picture
emerging from these interviews showed that:
Women form 41 percent of the respondents while the overall proportion of women in
panchayats is a little over a third of the members.
The weaker sections of Scheduled castes, tribes and backward castes form an
overwhelming 80% of the respondents. The same trend was seen in the total number
affected by this law in M.P till March 2004 with 72% from these groups.
Roughly 50% have an annual income of less than Rs. 20,000.
Most representatives were also in the age bracket of 21 to 49 years. An overwhelmingly large
number (95%) of the representatives were from the village level that generally have lower
educational and income levels than at the block and district level. The proportion of sarpanch
were higher than that of panches (49% to 46%) ostensibly because they are seen as exercising
more powers and hence a higher target for political moves for ouster. Overall the
representatives facing disqualification were young (21-49 years), poor, predominantly from
the backward castes and had a higher representation of women than the overall proportion of
women representatives in panchayats.
We also made detailed case studies of forty-three representatives who faced disqualifications.
The findings from these case studies and the interviews are summarized below.
Contraceptive use and Family Planning
The main objective of the two-child norm is to promote contraception so that more couples
have smaller families. Most (80%) of the affected representatives were aware of the
importance of small families and over a half (53%) had adopted permanent methods. But this
was after they had reached their desired family size, which was higher than two and included
at least one or two sons. Roughly a fourth (23%) of the respondents were practicing some
form of contraception. In eleven cases abortion had been induced and in four pre-natal sex
determination had been done.
Among the states, of the 23 Panchayat representatives interviewed in AP, the majority of
those disqualified (15 out of 17) claimed to have adopted permanent means but only after
they had obtained the desired family size. Most of the respondents were aware both of family
planning methods and of the advantages of a small family. Their decision to go in for
sterilization, they claimed, had no connection with their opting to contest the election. On the
other hand, in the sample of twenty affected panchayat representatives in Madhya Pradesh,
only twelve were aware of family planning methods. Among them eight were practicing
some form of contraception.
It was seen that families tried to show a reduced number of children to show compliance of
the norm. Thus a 35 year old sarpanch from the backward potter caste in Nalgonda had four
children from two wives but insisted that he was not violating the norm as he had left his
second wife, the mother of two of his children though she was living in the same village - a
case of deliberate disowning of the wife and children. Another 40 year old cobbler SC
sarpanch in the same district sent his wife away to her parents home when she became
pregnant for the third time. A complaint was made in this matter but then dropped when a
Dalit organization threatened to expose cases of violation by other influential persons. He
then quietly married a second time.
Mitwa the most educated OBC woman in her family was selected as a pradhan of a
panchayat samiti in Rajasthan in 1995. She did not want the third child, a second son, but her
husband did. She had three abortions after the election. As a lactating mother, she could not
openly feed her undeclared child or take it to meetings. She continued until 1998, when she
was disqualified for violation of this law. Her experience of complaints and litigation has
made her bitter and disillusioned.
The wife of Mangatram, sarpanch of a Gram Panchayat in Morena District in MP, gave birth
to a third child in November 2001. He maintained that the child could not be his as his wife
was away at her parents‟ home in Uttar Pradesh since November 1999. He requested the
ADM for permission to divorce his wife on grounds of adultery (as reported in Hindi Daily
Nav Bharat, Bhopal edition,dated 16th April 2002)
A thirty year old well- placed Rajput sarpanch from Sawai Madhopur District had one son
and two daughters. She had her fourth child when she was the sarpanch. The family wanted
one more son since one son is equal to only one eye. She had taken admission for delivery in
the hospital in her sister-in-law‟s name. She also left the female infant behind in town to
avoid detection where it died at the age of six months allegedly of „rickets‟. This way, the
complaint case against her was dropped. Her husband also has a second wife, a nurse, who
has two children.
Maheshwari underwent an abortion because she wanted to stand for the post of sarpanch in
the Panchayat elections of August 2001. She lost the election. Later, her two-year-old son
died when he accidentally drank kerosene. She denied the fact of abortion, perhaps fearing an
enquiry. She was pregnant again at the time of our survey.
Twenty-six years old Menka, scheduled tribe sarpanch in Angul District of Orissa had three
daughters, one of them born after the cut-off date. She had not used any contraceptives or
gone for sterilization, as she wanted a son. During the third pregnancy, she went for sex
determination test and the doctor told her that she was carrying a son. However the child
turned out to be a girl – all she could say was,„if I had known, I would have aborted. Now I
have lost my position and there is no son‟. She tried to prevent her disqualification by getting
a certificate that her child was that of her sister.
There were others who went ahead and had more children despite the two child norm because
of their own reasons.
Rachna, a 35 year old, illiterate, scheduled caste sarpanch from Faridabad District was a
wage labourer. Her illiterate husband worked as a mason. She contested the Panchayat
election in 2000 and was elected from a seat reserved for scheduled caste. She gave birth to
her eighth child when she was holding the post of sarpanch. When she received the
disqualification notice, she did not contest it. She said, “What anger can a poor person show?
It does not matter if the sarpanch post has gone. I was working as wage labourer before, so do
Rama, a tribal sarpanch in Betul in MP, has six children through three wives. The last child, a
boy, was born in February 2001. When asked about the Two Child Norm, he took this very
lightly and said that he had heard about it from the panchayat secretary. When informed that
he was subject to disqualification because of his son he replied: “The sarpanch‟s post is not
going to support me during my old age, but my son will. It does not really matter if I lose the
post of sarpanch.” At the time of our study there were a number of such cases of violation of
the Norm but no action had been initiated.
A number of representatives have been disqualified in Betul district in 2004, but the response
of the representatives opting for old age security in a son and concern for child survival were
seen unchanged. Sarupi, a 30 year old illiterate panch, who had gone for terminal method
after her five children and was saved from the law due to the birth of the youngest child
before 2001 said on the notice received by her GP sarpanch, “we produce more children so
that even if we lose one or two, some will survive for old age security.”
Radha, a 30 year old scheduled caste woman was elected panch in 1997. During her fourth
pregnancy, when she was already a panch, she undertook a sex determination test and was
told that it was a female: she had an abortion. In her next pregnancy, she had the test done
again and learnt that it was male: she continued the pregnancy and delivered her fourth child,
a son and hence faced removal from the post. For her, having a boy was more important than
the political post.
Similar stories were found in all the states.
Bila, a 36 year old SC sarpanch in MP took his wife in an advanced stage of pregnancy for
abortion to save his post. It was only after the doctors firmly refused to abort the fetus due to
a risk to her life, that she and the baby were saved. It, of course, meant a loss of his panchayat
Complaints and disqualification
It was reported that those who had money or influence also succeeded in delaying or
influencing the inquiry and prolonging the court proceedings to continue in their posts despite
having violated the norm. Among the twenty representatives interviewed from the districts of
Ajmer and Alwar in Rajasthan. 7 had been disqualified, 2 exonerated and 11 had an enquiry
pending against them. But there were instances of cases of violation not reported, or when
reported, fraud documents were given to ensure that no action was taken.
Ramlal, who had contested against Mukesh for the post of sarpanch in Sawai Madhopur
District, had raised the issue of Mukesh‟s four children. Ramlal had filed an election petition
with supporting documents including Anganwadi record, birth-death register, immunization
record and ration card but reportedly no action had been taken against Mukesh and he won
the election. In another case, the Pramukh as well as the members of Zila Parishad knew
about the violation of the norm by a Zila Parishad member from Mina caste, but they were
afraid to speak out because he came from a dominant caste and belonged to the party in
As action is taken only after a complaint is lodged, there were cases of the two child norm
being used to settle political scores. Among the ten case studies in Andhra Pradesh, the
complaints were politically motivated in three of the cases. In two cases, these representatives
had held office earlier and the norm had been violated in their earlier term without any
complaint having been made. In the third case the complaint was false because the third child
was born before the cut off date. In this case, a young OBC female sarpanch elected to a
reserved seat after five decades of a single party in power faced mental and physical assault,
and red chili powder was thrown on her face. After the police intervened, the two- child
norm was used to harass her, even though her youngest child was born before the legal cut off
date. All three cases were from the backward castes, two of whom were women.
Interestingly, in all three cases the couples had adopted the permanent method of
contraception before the election in which their disqualification was sought.
In Haryana, we came across disqualified representatives who were certain that the complaint
against them was politically motivated, as there were other panchayat members who had
violated the norm but had no complaints made against them. Some disqualified
representatives had contested the elections because they did not know of the norm and
claimed that they would not have contested had they known the law. Hoshiar, an OBC panch
in Ambala, was unanimously elected as the community had agreed that the issue of his four
children would not be raised. But when he went with other members to remove
encroachments on panchayat land, the opposition party complained and he was disqualified.
Circumventing the law
Representatives who faced complaints of having violated the norm used many strategies to
deny the birth of a child, to hide and misreport children, or even to tamper with or provide
contrary documents. In Rajasthan, the study team came across a variety of methods that had
been attempted or successfully used. In one case the child‟s horoscope, details on the ration
card and school records were provided as proof, but even then it did not work. In another
case, an ANM‟s records had been tampered with. In a third case, the doctors certified that the
child was not of the representative and in the fourth, a woman representative tried to hide her
child among the other children in her joint family. In one case, the OBC sarpanch went for a
sex-determination test and then went for an induced abortion to avoid disqualification.
In Haryana, the study team came across different strategies to avoid disqualification. The
common practice in Gurgaon District was to obtain stay orders from a higher authority and
then continue for a long time. In fact, the disqualified representatives from here were in the
forefront of the cases in which the Supreme Court finally decided about the legality of the
Two Child Norm law for panchayats in 2003. There were also instances of giving the
disputed children in adoption to near relatives (and some with adoption deeds).
The different methods adopted to provide evidence in Andhra Pradesh included producing
birth certificates as well as sterilization certificates, including certificates of failed
sterilization. There were also cases of desertion of wives. In Orissa the desire to contest a
complaint was less as the people were poorer and could not afford prolonged litigation.
However there were cases where the representative provided documents to prove that the
complaint was ill founded.
In Madhya Pradesh too, those disqualified or facing disqualification used several tactics to
avoid the proceedings ranging from expressing ignorance about the norm, to pushing the
date(s) of their/spouses' conception (either by themselves/spouse) prior to the cut-off date.
For this, they used Anganwadi/ANM records and ration cards. Some had given their children
in adoption to relatives. In one case, the couple planned to get a divorce to avoid
There is an overwhelming opinion among key actors like policy makers and implementers,
lawyers and NGO workers that the Two Child Norm law is necessary to reduce family size,
population growth rate and give an impetus to development. The judiciary has also accepted
the desirability of “Population Control”, and has supported this norm, citing limited resources
and population explosion, the major problems faced by this country. There is no conclusive
evidence to show that the law is motivating the panchayat leaders to adopt smaller families
and set an example for the community as has been assumed by its promoters. In any case, the
norm has no bearing on functioning of the panchayat representative.
Overall, a large proportion (76%) of the disqualified representatives in our study were
practicing contraception. However, this had little to do with their preference of family size.
When given a choice between leadership and having a male child, the child won hands down
in most cases. While a number of respondents stated that they heard about this law only after
the disqualification proceedings started, knowledge of the law did not motivate elected
individuals to not have the third or additional child.
A larger number of disqualified representatives resorted to induced abortion, when faced with
the prospect of disqualification. With the states which have adopted the Two Child Norm law
for panchayats, poor gender related indicators, low female literacy, declining child sex ratios,
desertion of women, bigamy, prenatal sex determination and sex selective abortions affect the
already precarious status of women. have serious implications for the status of women.
The introduction of this Norm in panchayats has an adverse impact on participation of
women and weaker sections in local self governance. Our study indicated a
disproportionately high number of weaker sections among those who faced disqualification.
The democratic rights of the poor, backward and women were further compromised by their
vulnerability to complaints and their inability to go in for protracted and expensive litigation.
On the other hand, the law could be circumvented through manipulation, which was easier for
those with political or financial clout.
One major concern emerging from the interviews of the key members of society and the
judicial pronouncements was the lack of awareness about the strong linkages between
population, development and gender. The concept of „population explosion‟, and scarcity of
natural resources continues to be the dominant discourse despite ICPD 1994 bringing social
and human development into center stage in population stabilization and. development. There
is also an undercurrent of bias that implies that mainly the poor, illiterate and certain sections
of society have large families and need stringent corrective measures of such a law. Practices
like desertion, charges of infidelity of wives, disowning children, falsifying records, sex
selection tests, induced abortions are adopted by candidates to stay in power. These demean
the social status and dignity of women and have long term implications for the declining
child sex ratio.
It is ironic that the Two Child Norm was introduced in the panchayat laws at the same time
that the Constitutional Amendment was mandating inclusion of weaker sections and women.
The application of this Norm has the potential of adversely affecting the democratic rights
particularly of these sections. The overwhelming presence of these sections and women
among those affected representatives, confirms this trend. This norm adversely affects the
principle of gender equity and impairs the ability of couples especially women to exercise
their reproductive rights to free and informed choice in contraception.
We need serious debate and discussion regarding the impact on democratic participation,
gender equity and human rights of judicial pronouncements which state that the right to
contest election is not a fundamental right, but only a statutory right upon which conditions
can apply. Similar discussion is needed concerning the common refrain that this law does not
place restriction on the size of family but only on contesting election if the stipulated number
of children is exceeded and the belief that such coercive measures can be a solution.
Our study shows disturbing trends and consequences especially adverse to women. It is a
matter of deep concern that further and stricter application, including denial of benefits and
basic services to those exceeding the norm, are being considered, India‟s democracy can
achieve objectives of population stabilization only by promoting democratic participation and
protection of rights and choices and not by coercion and exercise in law making.
There is need to widely debate the linkages of population and development and women‟s
autonomy and status and put a hold on the application of Two Child Norm laws.
Even the Supreme Court observed “We do not think that with the awareness
which is arising in Indian women folk, they are so helpless as to be compelled
to bear a third child even though they do not wish to do so”. P 37 of the
Judgement of July 31, 2003 in Javed & others vs State of Haryana & others.
All names changes to protect identity.
The Supreme Court observed, “Complacence in controlling population in the
name of democracy is too heavy a price to pay, allowing the nation to drift
towards disaster”. P 22 of the Judgement cited above”
But the Supreme Court observed, “Who can better enable the discharge of
functions and duties and such constitutional goals being achieved than the
leaders of panchayat themselves taking a lead and setting an example.” P 25 of
the judgement cited above.
This write-up is based on the Expert Address delivered by the author at the People‟s Tribunal on „Coercive
Population Policies and Two-Child Norm‟, at New Delhi in 2004.