Maharashtra government may go for caste-based census | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Maharashtra government may go for caste-based census

Hindustan Times, Mumbai | By
Feb 29, 2020 01:56 AM IST

Deputy CM Ajit Pawar said a delegation led by CM Uddhav Thackeray would meet PM Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah to press the state’s case for a caste-based census.

Cutting across the political divide, the Maharashtra Assembly on Friday unanimously demanded a caste-based census to calculate the exact population of Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the state to ensure a fair allotment of quotas in government jobs and educational institutions for underprivileged communities. Maharashtra becomes the third state, after Odisha and Bihar, to back a caste-based census.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis during the State Assembly session.(PTI)
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis during the State Assembly session.(PTI)

Senior ministers of the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition, joined by the speaker of the Assembly, said a caste-based census should be conducted by the state government if the Centre wasn’t willing to accept the demand for the same.

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Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said a delegation led by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah to press the state’s case for a caste-based census when the 2021 population census is undertaken .

The Bihar Assembly on Thursday passed a resolution demanding a caste-based census. And in January, Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government decided to conduct its own caste-based census to along with the national population enumeration exercise.

On Friday, Opposition party leaders in Uttar Pradesh also called for a caste-based enumeration in India’s most populous state. The issue was raised during zero hour in the Maharashtra assembly on Friday against the backdrop of the Centre rejecting the state’s demand for such a census.

The state legislature had passed a resolution unanimously, on January 8, demanding a caste-based census to arrive at an estimate of the population of OBCs.

The Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India informed the state legislature that a caste-based enumeration was not possible.

“As per the central list the total number of OBCs in the country is 6,285, while the numbers go up to 7,200 if the lists prepared by states and union territories are taken into account. Since people use their clan, gotra, sub-castes and caste names interchangeably and due to the phonetic similarities in the names, it may lead to the mis-classification of the castes. As such, it will be difficult to meaningfully tabulate and classify caste returns. Social and political movements and change in the names of traditional castes will lead to problems. Similarly, the organised surreptitious means adopted by some during the counting of OBCs and SEBCs cannot be ruled out. This would seriously influence the census results and may put the census process in jeopardy,” the Registrar General wrote in a letter received by the assembly. SEBC is short for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes.

The first caste census in India was conducted in 1931, which became the basis for implementing 27% reservation for OBCs in admissions in higher education institutions and in government jobs.

According to the Census website, the rationale for not conducting a caste census was cited by India’s first home minister Vallabbhai Patel in a speech in Parliament in 1950. He said, “The decision to discourage community distinction based on the Caste was in keeping with the spirit of the secular State enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India.”

A decision to conduct a caste census in 2011 was taken by a group of ministers headed by then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee following demands made inside and outside Parliament.

The socio-economic caste census (SECC) was conducted in July 2011. While the socio-economic data was released in 2015, the government constituted an expert committee under then vice-chairperson of NITI Aayog, Arvind Panagariya, to classify the castes. The committee met a few times but did not submit its report.

Food and civil supplies minister and Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal said the Rajnath Singh, former Union home minister who now leads the defence ministry, and Mukherjee had backed such census. “When a caste based census could be conducted in 1931, why cannot it be held now? The Centre has even conducted the caste-based census by the rural development department in 2011, but the data was not published. If the Centre decides, it is not difficult for the Centre to do it,” he said, asking the state government to push for a caste-based census at meetings with the prime minister and the Union home minister.

Assembly speaker Nana Patole said that besides a resolution passed by the Bihar legislature, the Maharashtra government could consider a caste survey conducted by Tamil Nadu to make reservations for OBCs. He said Maharashtra had already set an example of reservations for Marathas by collecting quantified data on the community.

Housing minister and NCP leader Jitendra Awhad said that if the Centre was dragging its feet on the demand, the state government should conduct such a census on its own.

“In the absence of substantive data of the castes under the OBCs, the reservation {policy} has come under threat. The caste-based census is necessary to safeguard the existing reservation too. The state government can go ahead with its own enumeration with the help of the state government employees utilised for the Census exercise,” he said.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too extended its support to the demand.

Former chief minister and leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis said that his party too supports a scientific census of the OBCs and he would be part of the delegation meeting the PM with the demand. “The Socio Economic and Caste Census was conducted in 2011 by the rural development department, but its findings have many errors and cannot be referred to for reservation or any such decision. The enumeration of the castes needs to be more scientific and can be part of the census exercise,” he said.

Speaker Patole directed the state government to immediately intervene and push to widen the scope of the census by including a column related to caste in the forms designed for the exercise beginning from May 1. “Chief minister and deputy chief minister should lead an all-party delegation to meet the prime minister and Union home minister to convince them to go for the caste-based census. If the Centre is not ready for the same, the government should take a firm stand on conducting such census on its own,” he said.

Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said that after the budget session’s completion on March 20, a delegation led by chief minister Thackeray would meet PM Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah to raise the demand.

Political analyst Hemant Desai said, “The OBC leaders like late Gopinath Munde and Chhagan Bhujbal have always believed that they are not getting the benefits of the reservation in the ratio of their population. Secondly, a section of the OBC community feels that the Maratha community has got much more reservation than their actual population. The demand of the caste-based census has hidden intent of getting the reservation to OBC revised. The political parties like NCP are pushing the demands to reach out to the community which has dominance in the state.”

Another analyst, Sanjay Sonawani, said the demand won’t help the OBC community in getting more reservations. “If the OBC leaders are thinking that the caste-based census will help them in revising their reservation, they are fooling themselves. There is no room to increase the reservation for any community on the basis of their population.”

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    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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