The Post-Independence Period (till 1975) and Population Control—India was among the first nations of the world to adopt policies to control the growth of its enormous population in the post-independence period. India saw the rapid population growth as an obstacle to its economic growth hence chose to adopt a population policy as a part of its first five-year plan of 1951 which emphasised the family as a whole and stressed the use of natural devices for family planning. In the following five-year plans, population control policies common to both men and women were adopted which included working in the direction of education, adoption of a clinical approach, sterilization technique for both men and women, and encouraging all kinds of birth control measures (both conventional and modern).

Target-Oriented Population Control during the Emergency Period (1975-1977)

A major breakthrough in the population control process took place when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced a nationwide emergency in 1975 and rigorously enforced mass sterilization programmes to bring down the population growth rate. About 6.2 million Indian men were sterilised in just a year which, according to a 2014 BBC news report, was 15 times the number of people sterilized by the Nazis. Vasectomy was a safer procedure than tubectomy, especially at that time, as it required less recovery time and follow-up hence poor men became the main targets of this gruesome campaign. The campaign to sterilise men involved many levels of harassment. There were even reports of police dragging the men to mass vasectomy camps. Men were considered easier targets for threats like job loss or fines, since they were more likely to be employed outside the home, to take public transportation and to go out or pick up government food rations.

Incentives and disincentives were given on a large scale for acts such as getting oneself sterilized or convincing other citizens to get sterilized. From offering plots of land in return for sterilization to threatening the loss of a government job for those who refused the procedure. While both men and women could be sterilized, the medical system was equipped to do many more vasectomies than tubectomies. Records have shown that the sterilization process mostly targeted the poor citizens and that wealthier Indians were able to buy their way out of the system. The coercive measures and the sterilizations caused a great deal of anger among the people. This unrest caused in the country is also considered as one of the reasons why Indira Gandhi’s government was voted out in the 1977 elections.

Voluntary Period since 1997

The next major breakthrough happened after the emergency period where the Indian government took a 180° turn and began to turn its family planning policy towards women. Female sterilizations became by far the most popular method of contraception. Family planning programmes further extended to rural areas through the network of primary health centres. The most fundamental change of the Indian population policy since 1977 was that family planning became mostly voluntary. The Indian government now put more emphasis on incentives to attract people to accept family planning voluntarily instead of forceful measures. During the Seventh Five Year Plan period between 1986 and 1991, the Indian government’s population control policy extended to including both long term and short term as well as specific goals. The long-term goal was to fix the net reproduction rate to be achieved by 2001 and the short-term goal focused on the female minimum age of marriage and the practice of contraception. The specific goal was to promote a two-child norm by increasing awareness among the people about family planning and responsible parenthood. The government efforts in population control now also extended to increase the literacy rate of the population and especially women.

Formation of the ICPD (1994)

The year 1994 is considered to be a noteworthy one in the history of family planning programmes in the world since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) convened under the United Nations at Cairo in 1994 made some recommendations that were accepted by many developing countries including India that changed the direction of family planning programmes. The conference recommended that family planning programmes should not be driven by demographic goals but instead, they should be based on women’s reproductive rights and reproductive health, keeping in mind the well-being of everyone (International Institute for Population Sciences, 2016).

Adoption of NPP in the year 2000

India adopted the National Population Policy (NPP) in the year 2000 which decentralized the decision making to local government and improved the coordination between the government and the local and non-government organizations. Stress was given to improve the status of mothers and children. The programme focuses on the improvement of health care infrastructure and services and the empowerment of women. It also gives more emphasis to use of contraceptive methods like IUCDs, promotes delayed marriage for girls, provides a policy framework for imparting free and compulsory education up to 14 years of age, seeks to achieve universal immunization of children against all vaccine preventable diseases and to reduce infant mortality rate to below 30 per 1000 live births. Insurance is provided for the deaths, complications and failures caused by sterilization; compensating those who accept sterilizations and increasing male participation in family planning. Family welfare is now promoted as a people-centered program.


Overpopulation is the root cause of numerous problems like low per capita income, unemployment and overburdened natural resources among many others. Therefore, the need of the hour today is a more effective measure to reduce the population growth in Indian society. Importance has to be given to population education, achievement of equal status for women and lower caste people, development of economy, urbanization, and modernization of the whole society. When socioeconomic conditions improve, the birth rate will be lower and the overpopulation problem will be reduced (Population Control Policies and Implementations in India, 2019).


Arati Jose

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