The government will soon set up an expert panel, led by Niti Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya, to start allotting a number to each caste in the country.
The cabinet had announced its decision to set up the panel in July last year.
The panel is crucial to making sense of the 4.6 million names of castes, sub-castes and surnames thrown up by the first caste census in Independent India through 2010-11.
A senior government official told HT that the formalities to set up the panel would be completed soon.
“The cabinet secretariat had sought nominations for members to the panel from the ministries of social justice, tribal affairs and minority affairs. The order should be issued soon,” the official said.
The official confirmed that next year’s Uttar Pradesh election appeared to have goaded the government to revive action on the panel.
Politics have usually influenced every decision taken by the government on caste census. It was in the run-up to the Bihar assembly elections, way back in 2010, that the Congress-led coalition government commissioned the caste census in the first place.
The Congress wanted the caste head count but did not wish to run the risk of antagonising the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The Manmohan Singh-led cabinet eventually cleared the caste census, weeks before the 2010 elections in Bihar.
Last year, it was the NDA government’s turn to play to the gallery when it hurriedly announced the decision to set up the Panagariya panel.
If nothing else, the cabinet approval last year — and the notification to be issued — would insulate the government from attacks by OBC leaders.
OBC leaders expect the census to peg the their population at a much higher level than the 27% quota in jobs and education that the backward classes are entitled to.
Once the results come in, political parties targeting OBC votes are expected to agitate for a higher quota.
National sample survey reports in the past have estimated OBC population to be in the 38-42% range. But putting a number to each caste is not going to be an easy task.
The expert group has to carry out the mammoth of matching each of the 4.6 million entries with the correct caste, an exercise that could take years.
British census commissioners in pre-Independent India — the only ones to have attempted the census — had advised against repeating the exercise ever again. The last such census was attempted in 1941 but the caste data was never compiled.