Bombay — Groups of mothers-in-law are often invited to meetings by the Tata Steel Company in the Indian city of Jamshedpur. Whether related to Tata workers or just part of the community, they are encouraged by the company - in so many words - to refrain from pressuring their daughters-in-law into having more than two children.
Employees at Hindustan Lever celebrate ''family planning week'' once a year, designing their own posters with such slogans as ''Two is Enough.'' The company health plan pays for only two deliveries per worker - and no more.
At a dozen or more private companies, campaigns are picking up to help India slow its population growth.
''Until recently, the companies said, 'Why should we bother?' But more are getting their work forces involved,'' says J.R.D. Tata, India's most eminent industrial leader.
Mr. Tata says the reasons for such programs are purely economic: ''Every new citizen requires $800 more in tax revenues for the government to support him. At present growth rates, each new Indian will be responsible for six births, or $4, 800.''
Within Indian industry, the family planning programs are still quite rare, but leading industrialists like Mr. Tata and government officials have stepped up a campaign to spread them in the past year.
The impetus came in part from the results of the 1981 census. The population growth rate dipped only a small fraction during the 1970s, from 24.80 percent to 24.75 percent, leaving India with a population of 683 million in April 1981.
India's population has doubled in 31 years. By 2012, at present growth rates, its population would be 1.36 billion, ''a figure which no one in the country even wishes to contemplate,'' an official says.
The census figures sent shock waves through New Delhi last year. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had been lying low on family planning since notorious coercive sterilizations were conducted during her 1975-76 emergency rule, came out strongly for a new drive on birth control.
Among government officials, who had prided themselves on being the first developing nation to have family planning (1952), the biggest change was a new humility and willingness to try new approaches.
''Even if the GNP grew 16 percent, we could not help the poor unless we tackle the population problem,'' said Mohammed Fazal, a planning commission member.
The new flexibility includes bureaucrats joining up with the sometimes-scorned private sector. A population advisory council was set up this year, with several business members. At a meeting with officials in June, industrialists shared ideas on company programs, such as providing bonuses to groups of workers if 40 percent of those who are of fertile age join up with a family planning program.
At Tata Steel, a one-hour ballet featuring 35 girls and boys and a family planning message was produced. And the mother-in-law meetings are held because according to Hindu custom, new brides live in their husband's family home and must often do the bidding of their mothers-in-law.
Following government practice, some companies pay employees to be sterilized, by far the most popular method of birth control in India. At Tata, for instance, nearly 1,000 vasectomies were carried out last year, nearly double the year before. Each man got about $45.
The company programs, however, may be preaching to the converted. Industrial workers usually have fewer children by choice, because of their higher pay. And only 22 million of India's 700 million people work in what is known as the ''organized sector.'' Still, it is hoped that they can be ''thought leaders'' for the rest of the population.
A better measure of India's population future is in fertility rates, which stood at 38 births per 1,000 fertile women in 1978. That dropped to about 33 per 1,000 by 1981, says J. S. Baijal, secretary in the Commission on Family Welfare. The goal is to reach 30 by 1985, and 21 by 2000. Since the emergency, when the program came almost to a standstill, the rate of couples accepting sterilization has risen sharply, to 23.5 percent of fertile couples. The goal is 36 percent by 1985 and 60 percent by 2000.
Officials are trying to introduce other methods besides sterilization, which stops births only after a women has had all the children she wants. ''The demographic damage is already done,'' says Rami Chhabra of the Family Planning Foundation.
The most effective family planning, says Dr. J. C. Kavoori, director of the foundation, are ''non-family-planning methods.''
''India keeps wanting to solve the population problem in some easy, magical, and quick way,'' he says. ''It is the elite who say this, who detest the jostling crowds, the cramped buses, the urban slums. They want to solve the problem by numbers.''
''India's program is too contraceptive-oriented. We are seeking a medical solution to a problem that is basically social and human,'' he adds, pointing out that female illiteracy, early marriages, and religious beliefs that a family must have a son must be tackled first.