No caste census, conscious political decision: the government at the Supreme Court

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EFFECTIVELY ELIMINATING a caste census in 2021, the Center told the Supreme Court that such an exercise “would not be feasible” and that “the exclusion of information regarding any other caste”, except for SCs and ST, “the scope of the census is a conscious political decision”.

This was the main submission of the Department of Social Justice in an affidavit filed with the highest court in response to an appeal by the government of Maharashtra for an instruction to the census department to collect information on the class of backward citizens. (BCC) in the 2021 count.

The Center told the court that “a caste enumeration in the census was abandoned by policy from 1951 and that castes other than SCs and STs were therefore not enumerated in any of the censuses from 1951 until. ‘until today “.

His affidavit stated that “as preparations for the 1951 census, the first after independence, were underway, the Indian government had decided on the policy of official caste discouragement. It was decided that in general, no race / caste / tribe surveys should be carried out and that such surveys should be limited to those listed castes and tribes notified by the President of India in accordance with Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution ”.

The Center’s submission to the Supreme Court comes at a time when it is faced with demands for a caste census from opposition parties, and even from allies such as JD (U). On July 20, in a written response to a question posed to Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai said:

“The Indian government has made a policy decision not to enumerate populations by caste other than SCs and STs in the census. “

Before the Supreme Court, the Center discussed the feasibility and declared that “the population census is not the ideal instrument for collecting caste details”. He said that “the operational difficulties are so numerous that there is a serious danger that the basic integrity of the census data will be compromised and that the basic population will itself be distorted.”

The government said that, unlike the SC and ST lists, which are exclusively central subjects, there are several lists of state and union territories of other backward classes (OBCs). In some states, orphans and the indigent are included in OBCs, he said. In some other cases, SCs converted to Christianity are listed as OBC – this would require the enumerator to check both the OBC and SC lists, which is beyond their capacity, according to the affidavit.

The Center said that although there are 2,479 CBOs in the country according to its list, the number according to the lists of states and Union territories is 3,150. examined, it will return the names of hundreds of thousands of castes, of sub-castes. And it might be difficult to properly classify such unspecified returns, ”he said.

Highlighting other issues that may arise due to the phonetic similarity of caste names, the use of ‘gotra’ etc., the government stated that ‘the collection of data regarding backward classes in the next census will pose a problem. serious challenge to the investigators ”who were for the most part from a pool of teachers“ who do not have the means to verify the authenticity of the information… ”.

He also said that “since caste / ESCB / BC / OBC have become an integral part of politics, returns motivated by organized and surreptitious means cannot be excluded” and that “such motivated returns can seriously influence people. census results and even put the census process at risk ”.

In addition, he said, the phases of the 2021 exercise “have been finalized after extensive discussions” and almost all the preparatory work is in place, and “the census questions have been finalized after a pre-test in the field in August-September 2019 “.

He said preparations for the census start 3-4 years in advance and the central government issued the required notification on January 7, 2020 on questions to be asked – 31 in total – and “the inclusion of any additional questions. in the consensus timeline at this point is not feasible “.

The Center pointed out that many high courts and the Supreme Court had in the past rejected requests for a caste census.

In 2010, the Madras High Court asked the Census Department to conduct a caste census, but the Supreme Court found this “totally untenable” on appeal and found that the High Court’s action was “a colossal transgression. of the power of judicial review ”.

The Maharashtra government had also urged the court to order the release of OBC data collected by the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) 2011. But the Center told the Supreme Court that SECC 2021 was not an OBC investigation.

Pointing out “technical flaws” in the data collection, he said the exercise had generated 46 lakh from different castes – and that “the total number cannot be exponentially high to this extent.” The Center said an analysis of the data showed “that the caste count … is riddled with errors and inaccuracies” and “is unreliable.”


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