Two-Child Policy in India – A Glance at the Past and Present

Two child policy - law insider

By Athik Saleh

Published On : September 3, 2021 20:20 IST

India is the second-most populous country in the world with over 1.3 billion and counting. It is touted to replace China in this decade by various studies and reports. However, India’s population problem never received the kind of coverage it receives now since the infamous 70s when the erstwhile Indira Gandhi Government tried to forcefully sterilize Indian men.   

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the term “population explosion” during his Independence Day speech on August 15th, 2019, and equated population control with patriotism, an idea that was once a political pariah gained much more traction than it ever could. The Prime Miniter’s speech wasn’t the first time concerns about the country’s population were brought to the forefront by its politicians.   

Since independence, there have been over 30 private member bills brought in the Parliament by MPs belonging to various parties seeking the Government to formulate a nationwide policy for population control. The last decade saw an increase in attempts to pressurize the Government to formulate a policy that controls the population in the country.   

In a country that houses 16 percent of the world’s human population, debates regarding population control and “population explosion” are bound to happen. Add to that, India is only responsible for about 2.45 percent of the surface area. A look at statistics shows that India’s population did go through an explosion from 1930 till 1980 – and increase from a decadal growth rate of 11 percent in 1931 to 25 percent in 1981.  

It is no surprise that India is the first country to make family planning a policy. However, being a signatory to International Conference on Population and Development Declaration in 1994, India has never had central legislation to control a family’s right to determine the number of children they should have.  

All the population control outcries by politicians and their supporters tend to favour a two-child policy. According to them, those who decide to have more than two children must face the consequences of such decisions. Some suggest punitive measures while others suggest that they must be stopped from enjoying certain government perks or government jobs or both.  

Several states in India follow the two-child policy and their implementation varies from state to state. Uttar Pradesh and Assam are two new states to enter into the fray. There are various reasons why certain sections of the political spectrum support population control measures in general and the two-child policy in specific. Reasons that are mostly political rather than factual.  

This article is an attempt at understanding the two-child policy in India. Beginning from the forced sterilization campaign of Sanjay Gandhi till the existing two-child norms present in different states. Such a discussion will not be complete without addressing whether the two-child policy is a requirement or not.  

Two-Child Policy in India Over the Years 

Centre –

As a policy measure, family planning has been in existence in India since the early 1950s. However, the massive increase in the next twenty years shows that policy was one that existed only on paper. Family planning in India received an impetus when Indira Gandhi came to power.  

With her catchy slogan “hum do, humare do”, Indira Gandhi laid the foundation of what was to become an atrocity of great proportions. The national emergency declared in India in 1975 is remembered for various violations of basic human rights. However, the one that we are interested in is the mass sterilization campaign carried on by Sanjay Gandhi.  

Indira Gandhi declared a 20-point programme during an emergency. It did not contain anything about family planning. However, Sanjay Gandhi’s shortened 5-point programme had family planning and his way of implementing was to sterilize Indian men forcefully. This measure of Sanjay Gandhi came against the backdrop of China implementing the one-child policy.  

Men belonging to different categories were snatched and forcefully sterilized during this time. Every government official had a target of sterilizations that they must be responsible for and everyone worked towards that goal. Sanjay Gandhi’s vision was to reap results of population control quickly and for that, he pushed everyone to attain the goals assigned to them.  

The results of sterilization were impressive as well. In 1975, 1.3 million were sterilized. The year 1976 saw 2.6 million sterilized and in 1977, over 8 million were sterilized. Sanjay Gandhi’s sterilization programme was part of an elaborate poverty reduction programme where he thought that population reduction will lead to economic development. This was also his way of gaining national and international recognition in a short span of time.  

It is a different story that Sanjay Gandhi’s actions to gain recognition resulted in him being a footnote in Indian political history after his demise.  

States –

Several states in India have implemented the two-child policy in various forms and measures. The states draw their power to bring forth laws on family planning and population control from Entry-20A in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. Various states in India with a two-child policy along with the form of implementation are as follows.  

  • Rajasthan made it a rule for government employees to not have more than two children in 2001. Accordingly, persons with more than two kids were barred from government employment since June 2001. Similarly, those who had a third child after being a government employee after June 2001 were barred from promotions.  

The Vasundhara Raje government later relaxed these norms for those employees who decide to marry again. Accordingly, if the government employee who already has two children from a previous marriage decides to marry again, they will be permitted to have a third child with their new spouse. Twins or triplets will be counted as a single unit for this rule 

The Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act 1994 similarly prohibits people with more than two children from contesting in local body elections in rural areas. The BJP government led by Vasundhara Raje relaxed this rule by introducing provisions for those with a disabled child. 

Until 2018, it was also mandatory for government employees to retire after the birth of a third child. 

  • Madhya Pradesh has been following the two-child rules since 2001. Madhya Pradesh Civil Services (General Condition of Services) Rules states that those with a third child born on or after January 26 2001 will be ineligible for government employment. This was also applicable in the case of appointments in the higher judiciary. 

This policy was applicable in local body elections until 2005. The Government had to scrap it after it received severe objection. The main criticism was that such a rule was not applicable in assembly or parliamentary elections.  

  • Maharashtra is another state with two-child norms. Persons with more than two children are barred from contesting in local body elections. The Maharashtra Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis Act disqualifies such people from contesting for posts in local bodies ranging from gram panchayats to municipalities.  

Similarly, The Maharashtra Civil Services (Declaration of Small Families) Rules, 2005 bars persons with more than two from holding a post in the state government.  

The two-child policy in Maharashtra is even implemented in the PDS system. Accordingly, women with more than two children are not allowed to avail the benefit of the PDS system.  

  • Gujarat amended its Gujarat Local Authorities Act in 2005 to bar those candidates with more than two children from contesting local body elections, both gram panchayats and municipal corporations. Those with a third child born before 2005 or one year after the amendment came into force are exempted from this rule.  
  • Assam is one of the new entrants into states with a two-child policy. It has been gradually implementing such a policy. Beginning with the ‘Population and Women Empowerment Polic’ of 2017. According to this policy, Government employees were mandated to follow the two-child policy.  

The Government in 2021 announced that such a policy will be gradually made a yardstick to determine the eligibility for government schemes such as loan waivers, etc. The Government, however, claimed that such a policy will not be applicable to Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes, and tea garden workers.  

  • No state has created a spectacle with a two-child policy as Uttar Pradesh has. Another new entrant to the fray, India’s most populous state has found supporters and detractors of its new two-child policy.  

The draft Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization, and Welfare) Bill, 2021, in Uttar Pradesh’s take on tackling Uttar Pradesh’s population issue. The bill, like legislation in other states, prevents people with more than two children from contesting in local polls or government jobs or government subsidies.  

Unlike other legislations, the Uttar Pradesh government makes choosing to follow the two-child policy a lucrative one. Accordingly, public servants who choose to follow the two-child policy will be eligible for additional increments, maternity or paternity leave for 12 months with full pay, etc.  

Additionally, there are states such as Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand that have enforced disqualifications for those with more than two children. 

Does India need a Two-Child Policy?

Earlier in the discussion, it was mentioned that the two-child policy is more politically motivated than by reason or statistics. It is true as well, to an extent. From Sanjay Gandhi to Yogi Adityanath, politicians have used India’s large population to create an image of superiority for them. The Congress Party, though the creators of family planning and two-child policy in India, and the implementers of the same in many states have distanced themselves from this idea. It is mainly because of how the right-center has made the two-child policy their own in recent times.  

One mustn’t, however, have a false impression that the two-child policy is a brainchild of politicians. Although it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that but this policy has found favor with the Indian judiciary as well. The Supreme Court in Air India Vs. Nargesh Mirza[i] held that third pregnancy can be considered as a ground of termination of service in the case of an air hostess. In the judgment, the court spoke about the importance of family planning as well.  

The question regarding the two-child policy made it to the Court for the first time in Javed & Ors. Vs. The state of Haryana[ii]. It was a writ petition challenging Section 175(1) of the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act, 1994 that disqualified persons with more than two children from holding certain positions in the Panchayat. The Court upheld the validity of the law stating that such a classification is valid as it was based on ‘intelligible differentia’ and was not in violation of Articles 14 and 21.  

The aforementioned instances prove that coercive action by the state to control the population has found a supporter in the highest judiciary as well whenever state action was called into question. The question remains though – does India really need coercive population control measures such as the two-child policy?  

India’s population growth rate has shown a declining trend since the 80s. In a study conducted by lancet, it was shown that India’s population will peak at halfway mark of this century and will start declining. Similarly, the total fertility rate (TFR) that shows the number of children a woman must have to keep the population stable of India is very close to the desired TFR of 2.1. Many states already have a TFR lower than 2.1. 

When all the statistics point towards an imminent decline in population in the country, why do certain sections of the society make it a point to use population as their election agenda or campaign tool?  

Indian cities are overcrowded. One glance at them will make anyone believe that the population is still “exploding” in the country. What people tend to forget is that Indian cities are ill-planned at the best and not planned at all at the worst. What exists in India is an illusion of population explosion that politicians use for their benefit. Their failure to fulfill promises can be easily attributed to overpopulation and add a little bit of religious insecurity that is persistently pervading Indian masses, one gets the perfect concoction.  

According to the 2018-2019 Economic Survey, the population in the 0-19 age group already peaked due to declining TFR across the country. May have suggested that the TFR will soon be below replacement level. What this means is that any more coercive control will take it even low and India will be staring at a problem that many developed counties are facing now – an aging society.  

Apart from being statistically and factually unsound, coercive family planning measures place a large impetus on women. Although Sanjay Gandhi targeted men, the trend began to change since then. being statistically and factually unsound, coercive family planning measures place a large impetus on women. Although Sanjay Gandhi targeted men, the trend began to change since then. In India, women carry most of the burden when it comes to sterilization or family planning in general. Men are usually out of the purview of this conversation.  

What we have seen so far is a clear depiction of how India doesn’t need a two-child policy or any coercive family planning measures. As far as the statistics go, we are fast approaching the desired TFR and replacement level. Political gimmicks such as coercive family planning will have far reaching consequences than the usual corruptive practices of politicians. Such acts will affect the roots of the civilization. It is high time that both people and politicians realise this. If they don’t, such policies will be our boon.  


[i] Air India Vs. Nargesh Mirza, AIR 1981 SC 1829

[ii] Javed & Ors. Vs. State of Haryana, AIR 2003 SC 3057

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