Guwahati, Jun 11 (PTI) The opposition Congress and AIUDF along with a minority student body on Friday termed Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma's statement asking the minority community to adopt a decent family planning policy as "unfortunate, frivolous and misleading".

Referring to recent evictions of a number of families from "encroached land" in three districts of the state, the chief minister on Thursday had urged the minority community to adopt the policy saying that increased population leads to poverty, shrinking of living space and consequent land encroachment.

The state Congress claimed that Sarma's remarks on "population explosion" in Assam are "certainly misinformed and misleading", while the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) claimed that the rate of increase in population among some other communities is higher than that of the minorities.

The All Assam Minority Students' Union (AAMSU) said that the population problem can be resolved by ensuring proper education and health facilities for the people.

According to the 2011 Census, Muslims comprise 34.22 per cent of Assam's total population of 3.12 crore and they are in majority in several districts. While Christians form 3.74 per cent of the total number of people in the state, the percentage of Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains is much less than one per cent.

The Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) said that this is highly unbecoming of a chief minister who is expected to be well versed in the demographic facts of his state.

As per the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) undertaken by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and released in December 2020, the total fertility rate (TFR) across most Indian states have declined in the last five years, APCC spokesperson Bobbeeta Sarma said. According to the NHFS, the fertility rate of women in Assam has declined from 2.2 in 2015-16 to 1.9 in 2020-21, which means the future population of the state will be less than what it is now and there is no question of its increase, she said.

"If, however, the chief minister is referring to the population explosion that may happen in future due to immigration of people from Bangladesh and Pakistan because of implementation of CAA, then perhaps his concern is valid," Sharma said.

The Congress, however, would like to assure Sarma that the party will take definite steps in that case and do its best to prevent such encroachments, she added.

The AIUDF, an alliance partner of the Congress, also termed the chief minister's statement targetting only the minorities responsible for population explosion as "unfortunate and not proper for a person holding that post".

Population increase in Assam is lower than the national growth and it is also less compared to some other states, AIUDF spokesperson and MLA Aminul Islam said.

Studies have shown that the rate of growth of many scheduled castes and tribes is higher than that of the minority community, he claimed.

Besides, social scientists have pointed out that poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness were mainly responsible for population increase and the state government should focus on these issues instead of targetting a particular community, he said.

"The people of the community have already supported the government in the case of the two-child norm for election to panchayats and in government jobs," he pointed out.

The chief minister must take all communities into confidence to solve the problem of population and this can be only done if the government takes measures to ensure education facilities, employment opportunities and create social awareness in the 'char' or riverine and other backward areas, Islam added,

AAMSU president Rejaul Islam Sarkar said that the chief minister's statement that minority women have to be educated so that they do not give birth to many children lacks sincerity and is frivolous.

"We have been working to create awareness among the community members for the last five years and nowadays nobody gives birth to 10 to 12 children. The population problem can be resolved by ensuring proper education and health facilities," he said.

Sarma had earlier served as the education minister and "if he really had the intention to solve the issue and ensure development, he could have initiated measures to remove illiteracy and poverty", Sarkar said.

The AMSU chief said that the chief minister should also focus on providing land to more than 30,000 people who have been rendered homeless by erosion caused by the Brahmaputra river.

"If people are provided with land, they will not be forced to encroach temple, forest or any other land to be later again evicted from there. Nobody is in favour of encroachment but they must have land and a home to live in", he added.

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