Supreme Court to hear plea over Bihar caste census on Jan 20
There are at least two petitions pending before the Supreme Court that have challenged the June 2022 notification of the Bihar government for conducting a caste-based census.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear on January 20 a petition challenging a caste-based census being undertaken by the Bihar government, Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud indicated after the matter was mentioned to him in court on Wednesday.
Though the lawyer for one of the petitioners tried to persuade the CJI for an earlier date, submitting that only the Union government is empowered under the Constitution to carry out a census, the CJI declined the request.
“That’s on merit. You argue this point when the matter is taken up. This will be listed on Friday next week,” CJI Chandrachud said.
There are at least two petitions pending before the Supreme Court that have challenged the June 2022 notification of the Bihar government for conducting a caste-based census. Both the petitions, filed separately by Bihar residents, have complained that the state government lacks the legislative and executive competence to conduct the exercise.
They have cited the 7th Schedule of the Constitution, which deals with the division of powers between the Centre and the states, and the Census Act to contend that only the Union government is authorised to take census in the whole or any part of the territory of India.
The Bihar government launched the caste survey exercise on January 7. It plans to compile data on each family digitally through a mobile application as part of the eight-level survey — from the panchayat to the district level. The exercise will be completed in two phases. In the first phase, which is scheduled to end on January 21, the number of all households in the state will be counted. In the second phase, set to begin in March, data pertaining to people of all castes and religions will be collected.
For the survey, an estimated population of 127 million in over 25 million households across 38 districts, which have 534 blocks and 261 urban local bodies, will be covered.
The Bihar cabinet on June 2 last year decided to conduct the caste-based census in the state, months after the Centre ruled out such an exercise at the national level. The normal decadal census counts religious groups and Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) separately.
The caste-based census has been a major issue in Bihar’s politics. Both the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — the ruling alliance in the state — have been vocal in their demand for the caste census for years. The demand for a caste census was considered as one of the reasons that created sharp divisions between chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and eventually leading to a split.
In 2010, the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre had agreed to the demand for a caste census at a national level. But the data collected during the last census was never processed.