The Bihar Govt Gearing Up To Conduct Caste-Based Census
The Bihar Govt is gearing up to conduct caste-based census after cabinet’s nod in all-party meeting unanimously backed by the BJP. All parties which have representation in the Legislature attended the meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The meeting attended by representatives of BJP, JDU, RJD, Congress, CPIML, CPIM, CPI, AIMIM and HAM. Chief Secretary Amir Subhani said a budgetary allocation of ₹ 500 crore has been made for the exercise and the survey shall be completed by February 23 next year. A caste-based “count” instead of a “census” will be carried out to avoid legal complications cited by the CM.
The Census will be conducted by the general administration department at the state level. District magistrates will be nodal officers and engage employees in their districts as enumerators. The economic status of families would also be studied during the census. Earlier, the Bihar Legislature passed resolutions twice for caste-based census and an 11-member all-party delegation too had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to demand the exercise. However, the Central government had rejected their demand saying it would be a “divisive exercise” but said “States can hold caste census on their own”.
Caste is a social reality in India and differences and even rivalries between them exist but no census has captured the caste diversity in India since 1931. A caste census is a legacy of British India, and perhaps the only one that many caste-based political parties want revived for their political ends. They argue that 52% Indians will be accounted for in a caste enumeration which is expanded beyond scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
A national caste census took place when the Congress-led UPA was in power, but the data was not released on technical grounds. The BJP government refused to carry out a caste-based census but left it to states to go for a caste count. After the Centre's refusal to take a headcount of any social group other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Nitish Kumar government offered to invest in a survey on its own.
To find a way around the caste census conundrum, many states have gone ahead with their own caste counts dubbed “socio-economic surveys”. State governments have often had run-ins with courts over reservation of seats for OBCs in local body polls. The Supreme Court said in January 2022 that all states must follow the “triple test condition” laid down by it for OBC reservation in polls. The rules laid down require a rigorous, empirical study of OBCs by a state commission, the proportion of reservation should be specified local body-wise based on the data and the total quota should not exceed the aggregate of 50% of the seats.
Many advocates and politicians are of the opinion that a caste census in India would only benefit the country. The rationale is simple, according to them. A modern State cannot but count every category of citizens that it recognizes for purposes of any social policy.India's social equality programmes cannot be a success without the data and a caste census would help fix that. Due to the lack of data, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, groups within the OBCs and more. The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52% while some others have pinned the OBC population from 36 to 65%.
Bihar’s politics has been dominated by the Other Backward Castes (OBCs), the numerically powerful social group to which both Kumar and Yadav belong and they are of the view that a fresh estimate of the population is necessary to ensure more effective delivery of targeted welfare. Caste divisions have united Bihar’s politicians, including the state BJP, to press forward with a caste “count” that can inform policies for the upliftment of backward social groups. Now, murmurs over conducting the caste-based census are also being heard from other States. Once this exercise will be over in Bihar, the other States too may follow suit and the whole nation will be covered.