The government formed an expert panel headed by NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya on Thursday to analyse 4.6 million entries from independent India’s first caste census that has turned into a charged political issue ahead of the Bihar polls, with parties demanding the data be made public.
The decision was taken in a meeting of the Union cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the ministries of tribal affairs as well as social justice and empowerment to nominate other members of the committee which is expected to file its findings in a year.
About 180 million rural households were surveyed across India for the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011, the provisional results of which were released this month with the aim to identify the root cause of poverty and ensure an efficient delivery system for welfare schemes.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley said that states should send their recommendations for caste consolidation expeditiously to the Panagariya committee instead of politicising the issue.
“The caste data will be made public at the appropriate time after the process of classification is complete,” he told a press conference.
The census has become a political hot potato with the BJP’s rivals, particularly in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh that have complex caste equations, alleging that the government is not releasing the data as it is wary of its electoral fallout.
The CPI demanded on Thursday the data be disclosed so that special programmes can be planned to uplift those who have been maltreated and suppressed in the name of caste, joining a growing clamour from parties like the Congress, SP, RJD and JD(U), that signals a tough monsoon session ahead for the government.
Experts pointed out that the two caste surveys of 1931 and 2011 were conducted in different social scenarios.
P Padmanabha, registrar general of India in 1978, said that in 1931 people preferred to be listed under a higher caste status.
“A number of caste associations were formed and overnight honorific caste names were adopted, showing descent from Brahmins or Rajputs, etc. Various ambitious castes quickly perceived the chances of raising their status,” she wrote in a report as census commissioner.
Eighty years later, the situation has turned around, as claiming to be backward means entitlement to government benefits. This is a major concern for social sector experts looking at the 2011 caste data.