Caste Census

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    Caste Census

    Syllabus: GS1/Population & Associated Issues; Poverty & Developmental Issues; GS2/Government Policies & Interventions

    In News

    • The Union government recently said only the Centre is entitled to conduct a census, in its reply to the Supreme Court on the Bihar government’s caste-based survey.

    Bihar’s caste based survey

    • The State government in Bihar in January 2023 launched a two-phase caste survey in Bihar, stating that detailed information on socio-economic conditions would help create better government policies for disadvantaged groups. 
    • The survey, which will also record the economic status of families alongside their caste, is estimated to collect socio-economic data for a population of 12.70 crore in the 38 districts of Bihar. 
    • The first phase of the survey, which involved a house listing exercise, was carried out from January 7 to January 12th 2023. 
    • The final survey report can be expected in September, less than a year before the 2024 general election.

    Centre’s position

    • The Centre had filed an affidavit earlier which said that “no other body is entitled to conduct the exercise of either census or any action akin to census”.
    • The petitioners have argued that Bihar had no authority to conduct such a survey, which was an attempt to usurp the powers of the Centre.
      • Census is a statutory process and is governed by the Census Act, 1948
      • The subject of census is covered in the Union List under Entry 69 in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
    • The affidavit said the Centre is “committed to take all affirmative actions for the upliftment of SCs/STs/SEBCs and OBCs in accordance with the Constitution and the applicable law”.

    Relevance and need for the caste count

    • A step towards equality:
      • A caste census would help us point out those castes that are not represented in the institutions of this country so that steps towards equality can be established.
      • It would also justify the extension of reservations to various communities.
      • The aim is that every section of society can progress properly.
    • The Last Caste data with the government:
      • last caste census was in 1931 and the government still uses this as a basis to estimate demography and different caste groups. 
      • There have been significant changes in the demography of this country.
    • Data unavailability:
      • The Rohini Commission too, faced difficulties due to the unavailability of data on various communities classified under OBCs.
        • The Commission was set up to examine the issue of sub-categorisation of OBCs.
    • Effective service delivery:
      • A fresh estimate of the population is necessary to ensure more effective delivery of targeted welfare.
    • State actions on caste data collection:
      • Karnataka, Odisha and Telangana had carried out similar counts in the name of “socio-economic surveys”.
    • Popular demand:
      • Along with Bihar, other states like Jharkhand and Odisha are also reiterating their support for the caste census. 

    Criticisms

    • A colonial practice: Every Census until 1931 had data on caste. So it was a colonial practice of divide and rule which drove them toward collecting such data.
      • Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes. 
    • Privacy concerns: Critics argue that the right to privacy of those being surveyed will be infringed due to the queries concerning their religion, caste, and monthly income 
      • The court also referred to the triple-requirement test laid down in Puttaswamy judgment.
    • May increase caste divisions: The 21st century India should be discussing ‘let’s do away with caste’ rather than further divide India on those lines. 
      • Caste census may “rekindle divisive feelings among people.
    • Demand for reservations: Reservations that were implemented for 10 years have continued for 75 years and a caste-based census may lead to a demand for more.
    • No constitutional Mandate: Unlike in the case of the SCs and the STs, there is no constitutional mandate for the Registrar-General and Census Commissioner of India, to provide the census figures of the OBCs and the BCCs.
    • Difficulties in such count: The Union government contended that such an exercise was not feasible given that there are too many castes and sub-castes in each state and Union territory making it difficult to classify them.
      • People use their clan/gotra, sub-caste and caste names interchangeably.
      • The government has cited numerous administrative, operational and logistical reasons.
      • Census data enumerators are part-timers with 6-7 days of training and are “not an investigator or verifier
        • There is a fear that such counting could endanger the census exercise itself.
    • Political agenda: At a deeper level there are politics involved in the matter.
      • Bihar’s politics has been dominated by the Other Backward Castes (OBCs), the numerically powerful social group.
    • Socio-economic caste census (SECC): The Union government cited that the socio-economic caste census (SECC) conducted by the government in 2011 contained too many discrepancies and the data was withheld.

    Way ahead

    • The need for a caste census can also be seen in the vast income disparity in the country. 
    • A 2020 Oxfam report states that 
      • the top 10% of India’s population owns 74.3 % of the total wealth; 
      • the middle 40% owns 22.9%; 
      • and the bottom 50% owns a shocking 2.8 %.
    • Such an unequal distribution of wealth demands a greater understanding of Indian society. 
    • Meaningful policies that address affirmative action as a method of reducing the rich-poor gap are essential and, in order to properly understand the distribution of wealth in the country.
    • The need of the hour is to devise ways and means to concentrate upon the castes and classes who are still deprived, under-privileged and improvised.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Examine the Bihar Government’s constitutional mandate for conducting a  caste-based survey in the state. Signify the need for greater understanding of Indian society to overcome the rich-poor gap.