The Centre has told the Supreme Court that coercing people to have a certain number of children would be counter-productive and lead to a demographic distortion, Bar and Bench reported on Sunday.

In its affidavit filed before the court on December 7, the health ministry said that India is a signatory to the Programme of Action of International Conference on Population and Development, 1994, which 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. “The Family Welfare Programme in India is voluntary in nature which enables couples to decide the size of their families and adopt family planning methods best suited to them according to their choice without any compulsion.”

The Centre made the submission in response to a public interest litigation filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwani 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, according to PTI.

The ministry also pointed out “public health” was a state subject and the state governments should lead the process of health sector reforms in a suitable and sustainable manner. It said that the government does not have direct control over the implementation of guidelines and schemes as far as states were concerned.

“It is reiterated that the answering respondent no 1 [ministry] merely acts as a facilitator for providing accessible and affordable health care through state-led reforms in the health sector,” the ministry said. It added that the ministry just allocates funds to state governments for implementation of the approved schemes.

The health ministry also submitted that India was witnessing a constant decline in the Total Fertility Rate. The rate was 3.2 when the National Population Policy 2000 was adopted, the ministry said, adding that it has declined to 2.2.

In its affidavit, Upadhyay had submitted that population explosion is the “root cause of most of our problems”, including a shortage of food, land, drinking water, clothes as well as leads to poverty.