The Centre has told the Supreme Court that India is unequivocally against forcing family planning on its people and any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter-productive and leads to demographic distortions.
In an affidavit filed in the top court, the health ministry told the apex court that the family welfare programme in the country is voluntary in nature, which enables couples to decide the size of their family and adopt family planning methods best suited to them, according to their choice and without any compulsion.
The submission was made in response to a public interest litigation filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay challenging a Delhi high court order that dismissed a plea seeking certain steps, including two-child norm, to control the country’s growing population.
The ministry said that ‘public health’ is a state subject and the state governments must lead the process of health sector reforms in a suitable and sustainable manner to protect the common people from health hazards.
Improvement in the health sector can be effectively led by the state government with effective monitoring and specific intervention to control and regulate the implementation process of the guidelines and schemes in a proper perspective,’ it said.
‘The answering respondent no. (ministry) plays a supportive and facilitative role in achieving the health care reforms and outcomes. It is reiterated that the answering respondent no. 1 merely acts as a facilitator for providing accessible and affordable health care through state-led reforms in the health sector,’ it said.
The ministry said that as far as implementation of the guidelines and schemes in the states is concerned, it does not have any direct role and it is the prerogative of the respective state governments to implement the schemes as per the prescribed guidelines.
The ministry only allocates funds to state governments for implementation of the approved schemes, it added.
The Ministry of Health And Family Welfare told the top court that India has adopted a comprehensive and holistic National Population Policy (NPP), 2000, with clearly articulated objectives, strategic themes and operational strategies.
The National Health Policy (NHP), 2017 provides for a policy guidance to inform, clarify, strengthen and prioritise the role of the government in shaping health systems in all its dimensions, it said.
The NHP sets out indicative, quantitative goals and objectives which includes the achievement of total fertility Rate (TFR) of 2.1 by 2025.
The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994, to which India is a signatory, is unequivocally against coercion in family planning.
‘In fact, international experience shows that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter-productive and leads to demographic distortions,’ the ministry said.
India is witnessing a constant decline in TFR, the ministry said, adding that the fertility rate which was 3.2 at the time when NPP was adopted has declined substantially to 2.2 as per the Sample Registration System, 2018.
The apex court had earlier sought the Centre’s reply on a plea challenging a Delhi high court order that dismissed a PIL seeking certain steps, including two-child norm, to control the country’s rising population.
The appeal has challenged the September 3 high court order, which said it was for Parliament and the state legislatures to enact laws and not for the court.
The PIL said the high court failed to appreciate that the right to clean air, drinking water, health, peaceful sleep, shelter, livelihood, and education guaranteed under Articles 21 and 21A of the Constitution could not be secured to all citizens without controlling the population explosion.
The plea in the high court had claimed that the population of India had ‘marched ahead’ of China, as about 20 per cent of Indians did not have Aadhaar and therefore, were not accounted for, and there were also crores of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis living illegally in the country.
It claimed that ‘population explosion is also the root cause of corruption’, apart from being a contributory factor behind heinous crimes like rape and domestic violence.
It also held population explosion responsible for pollution and the dearth of resources and jobs.