Bihar to hold caste census, says Nitish

Updated on Jun 02, 2022 06:45 AM IST
  • Kumar said the state Cabinet will soon finalise all modalities for holding a “caste-based count” but it wasn’t clear whether the exercise would resemble more a statistical sample survey or a physical hand count, like the census.
Patna, June 01 (ANI): Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar addresses a press conference with RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav after attend all party meeting over the caste Census at Samvad hall in Patna on Wednesday. (ANI Photo) (Aftab Alam Siddiqui)
Patna, June 01 (ANI): Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar addresses a press conference with RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav after attend all party meeting over the caste Census at Samvad hall in Patna on Wednesday. (ANI Photo) (Aftab Alam Siddiqui)
By, Patna

Bihar will conduct a caste-based survey of its population to determine the socio-economic status of all communities, chief minister Nitish Kumar said on Thursday, after all parties backed the politically sensitive demand that has the potential to realign electoral dynamics in the state.

Kumar said the state Cabinet will soon finalise all modalities for holding a “caste-based count” but it wasn’t clear whether the exercise would resemble more a statistical sample survey or a physical hand count, like the census. If it’s the latter, Bihar will become the first state in India to officially count all castes since Independence.

““It will take into account all the aspects related to every castes and sub-castes within all religious groups to get a clear picture of their actual status for help in planning for their uplift. The ultimate objective of the exercise is to ensure development with justice to all,” Kumar said after the two-hour meeting with representatives of nine parties.

“The government will publish advertisements to make everyone aware of it and train personnel for the specific job so that nobody is left out. With the Bihar Vidhan Sabha passing two unanimous resolutions favouring caste-based census, there has always been unanimity on it in the state. We will get it done in the best possible manner and publish the final results so that corrections could also be carried out,” Kumar added, flanked by deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad Singh, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state chief Sanjay Jaiswal and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Since Independence, India has counted its population in a decadal census exercise but only enumerated the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes separately. The last census to count all castes dates back to 1931, though several statistical estimates have been made since then, most notably in the 1990 Mandal Commission report to grant reservation to other backward classes (OBCs).

The population census is a Union subject (Article 246) and is listed at number 69 of the seventh schedule of the Constitution. The Census Act 1948 forms the legal basis for the conduct of census in independent India. States cannot independently order a census “it was also discussed at the meeting and therefore, it was decided to go in for a survey. There is no problem in getting the count,” said deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad.

In 2011, the Centre ordered a socio-economic and caste census to enumerate all castes but its data has never been made public, with the government blaming infirmities and inconsistencies for the botched exercise.

The demand for a caste census is both longstanding and controversial, with some groups arguing that it would deepen caste divisions and others saying accurate data is required for equitable power representation. If the caste survey by Bihar yields caste-wise population estimates, it has the potential to upend electoral politics and social dynamics because lower castes are likely to galvanise in demanding greater political, social and economic space.

The demand has been rekindled in recent years with some states such as Karnata and Telangana conducting caste census, and others, such as Jharkhand and Bihar, sending delegations to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to push for the exercise.

The decision is also important because Kumar is an ally of the BJP, which has not spelt out its stand on the tricky issue. He clarified that the BJP was not opposed to it; but had only expressed its inability to conduct it on the national scale due to certain issues. “The states are free to do it and they have been doing it. Once all the states do it, it will automatically become national,” he added.

Leader of Opposition Tejaswhi Yadav termed it a victory of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and its chief, Lalu Prasad . He said it would have been better had the Centre agreed to a caste census as part of the census, but it was still good that the state government had finally agreed. “With 39 of the 40 MPs in Bihar from the NDA [National Democratic Alliance], we would like the issue to be raised in Parliament for central assistance to carry out this huge exercise, which will have huge cost involved. Had Centre done it, this could have been saved by adding just an additional column in the Census,” he added.

Yadav said that the caste-based census was in the interest of all and he was hopeful the CM would take a decision in the very next Cabinet meeting.

“All the parties in Bihar have collectively initiated the move for caste survey. Before this meeting all the party representatives went to meet the PM. Earlier Bihar Assembly had also unanimously passed resulirions for caste survey twice. So, RJD should not take credit when there is a collective decision by NDA government in the state. BJP has always supported it. RJD should ask the erstwhile UPA government about the fiasco in the name of Socio-economic survey despite siphoning off 5500-crore,” said Nikhil Anand, national general secretary of BJP OBC morcha.

Former director of AN Sinha Institute of asocial Studies DM Diwakar said that the caste has always been an overiroding factor in a state like Bihar and the demand for caste-based census has been there for how long. “Now, the government has to get it done. How it goes about it will determine its success, for past experiences have not been very encouraging due to the complexities and mammoth effort that it requires,” he added.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Arun Kumar is Senior Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times. He has spent two-and-half decades covering Bihar, including politics, educational and social issues.

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