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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Gujarat moves to limit family size
Children at desk
Population control is a problem throughout India
By Rathin Das in Ahmedabad

The authorities in the western Indian state of Gujarat have taken the first steps towards introducing legislation to limit the size of a family to a maximum of two children per couple.

The plans, currently at committee stage, are the first of their kind in India.

They have been drawn up because the recently conducted national census showed there had been a rise in population growth in the state.

The authorities estimate that the new law will come into effect one year after the legislation has been approved by the Gujarat parliament.

They say a ministerial committee was formed this week to suggest a package of incentives and disincentives to encourage couples to have two or less children.

Gujarat's Chief Minister, Keshubhai Patel, said the initiative was being taken in view of the alarming rise of the state's population during the last decade.

The recently conducted census showed that Gujarat's population grew by over 22% in this time period, compared to just over 21% in the previous decade.

The state's population now stands at over 50 million and it ranks tenth in the population chart of Indian states.

The ministerial sub-committee chaired by Health and Industries Minister Suresh Mehta is expected to submit its proposals by the end of June, after consulting voluntary agencies.

Minority tensions

Although the proposed legislation on family size is nominally applicable to all communities, political observers say it is primarily aimed at the minorities whom the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party view as responsible for the population explosion.

Indian baby
This baby was said to bring India's population to one billion
The voluntary agencies have expressed their reservations that the legislation might lead to increased cases of female foeticides due to people's preference for male children.

Gujarat has one of the lowest female to male sex ratios in the country - the proportion of women has decreased over the last decade from 934 to 919 for every thousand men.

Observers say the new law will have to initiate changes in social attitudes if it is to become successful.

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See also:

04 May 00 | South Asia
Plea to save girl babies
26 Apr 00 | South Asia
Blow for Indian birth control
12 Oct 99 | World population
World population: Special report
11 Jul 00 | South Asia
India's unwanted girls
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