Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma today called for delinking the population control issue from politics and adopting a realistic solution with emphasis on education, health, ending child marriage and financial inclusion to solve the problem among the Muslims of the state. The problem is more pronounced in Muslim majority districts, he said.
It has been accepted by all members of the assembly that population increase among the minority community of Lower and Central Assam is a matter of concern, he claimed during a discussion in the House initiated by opposition Congress MLA Sherman Ali Ahmed on various issues related to the Muslims living in the ''Char-Chaporis'' (sand bar areas).
Opposition members who participated in the discussion said that using the issue politically would not solve the problem but asserted that there should not be a population control policy for Muslims alone.
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.
To bring down the population growth rate among the Muslims, particularly those settled in the ''Char-Chaporis'', Mr Ahmed proposed establishing educational institutes, stopping child marriages, improving health and communication services, providing jobs in government and private sectors based on population representation and facilitating easy availability of birth control measures among women.
The Chief Minister said that his government has no objection to the proposals, except those related to providing jobs as this has to be based on merit and not population representation.
The House will adopt this resolution without any further debate on Tuesday, he said.
"I am glad that this proposal has come from a Congress MLA. If it had come from me, people would have said I am doing politics. I thank the opposition member for initiating the discussion as our population policy is not anti-Muslim but anti-poverty," Mr Sarma said.
The government has already planned to appoint 10,000 ASHA workers to distribute contraceptives among Muslim women and set up a population army of 1,000 youths to create awareness among the members of the community, he said.
The government is also deliberating on increasing the marriageable age of girls to check child marriages while it has initiated measures for expansion of educational institutions for girls and measures would be taken for improving health facilities, communication network and increased financial inclusion of women, he said.
According to the census data of 2011, the population growth among the Muslims in the state has declined to 29 per cent from 34 per cent earlier while that among the Hindus has come down to 10 per cent from 19 per cent.
Mr Sarma said that with the decline in population growth of the Hindus in the state, there has been an improvement in their lifestyle and education level but, with a 29 per cent growth rate, the Muslims are currently in a state of crisis.
"In recent times, we have seen that due to lack of living space, many people move to vacant lands, mostly in forest areas, out of compulsion and consequently come into conflict with the law. Migration to Kerala has also increased within the community and women are lured and forced into the flesh trade.
"There is social tension within the community in Lower and Central Assam but we cannot blame the poor. If the growth rate decreases by another five to six per cent, there will be no problem," he said.
On Mr Ahmed's allegation that Bengali-speaking minority community members were not invited to the recent discussions that the Chief Minister held with members of the indigenous Muslim community, Mr Sarma said that religion is the only factor common between them but they are different so far as their linguistic and cultural traditions are concerned.
"We have decided to meet both the groups separately and we will hold discussions soon with the intellectuals and socially conscious people, not political persons, of the Muslim-dominated districts," he said.
He proposed that a seven-day study tour of the MLAs of Upper Assam to Lower and Central Assam and those from the latter areas to the former should be organised so that they understand the problems of each other.
Earlier, Mr Ahmed said that the population growth among the Muslims in the state is higher but there has been a fall in the fertility rate in the last 14 years from 3.6 per cent to 1.3 per cent while for the non-Muslims, it has dropped by only .4 per cent.
Participating in the discussion, the Congress's Jakir Hussain Sikdar said that the problem should be tackled with utmost sincerity.
"There should be a strict law for population control but it should not be for Muslims only," Mr Sikdar said.
AIUDF MLA Aminul Islam said the issue should not be used as a political weapon to target a particular community as it will demoralise people and the problem of underdevelopment will continue.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)