The High Court of Patna on Tuesday, while asserting that the caste-based survey being undertaken by the state of Bihar was totally legal and valid, dismissed all the petitions questioning the validity of the process.
The Bench of Chief Justice K Vinod Chandran and Justice Partha Sarthy passed the order on three petitions seeking a stay on the survey being conducted on the basis of caste.
Earlier on July 8, the High Court had reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions that challenged the Bihar government’s decision to conduct a two-phase survey in the state based on caste.
After hearing detailed arguments for five days, the Bench of Chief Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Partha Sarthy on Friday reserved its verdict on eight pleas, which challenged various aspects of the survey.
The state government rolled out the first phase of the survey on January 7, under which a household counting exercise was taken up. It ended on January 21.
The second phase of the survey started on April 15, wherein information was collected about the caste of people and their socio-economic conditions. The entire exercise was scheduled to end by May this year.
However on May 4, the High Court of Patna ordered an immediate stay on the second phase of caste census till July 3. The Bench of Chief Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Madhuresh Prasad directed that the data collected so far be preserved.
The High Court had passed the order on three petitions filed against the caste-based census in the state by social outfit Youth for Equality and some individuals.
Earlier on January 20, the Supreme Court had dismissed the petitions challenging the caste-based census in Bihar. The Bench of Justice B.R. Gavai and Justice Vikram Nath had referred the matter back to the High Court with directions that the petitions be decided expeditiously.
The petitions before the Apex Court sought quashing of the June 6, 2022 notification issued by the Deputy Secretary of Bihar government in respect to conducting a caste-based survey in the state.
The Nitish Kumar-led government had kickstarted the caste-based Census on January 7 this year, claiming that the exercise would provide scientific data for carrying out welfare schemes for weaker sections of the society.
The state government planned to compile data on each family digitally through a mobile application in the survey, from panchayat to the district level.
Suspecting the motivation of the petitioners, the Apex Court disposed of the pleas, terming them as publicity interest litigation.
It asked the petitioners that if the relief sought in the pleas was granted, how would the state government determine on how to grant reservation.
The top court of the country directed the Counsels appearing for the petitioners to file an application before the High Court. The Bench dismissed all the petitions as withdrawn granting ‘liberty to seek appropriate remedies in law’.
One of the petitions was filed by Nalanda resident Akhilesh Kumar, saying that such exercise violated the basic structure of the Constitution.
The petition further sought directions to the authorities concerned to refrain from conducting the exercise, calling it both ‘discriminatory’ and ‘unconstitutional’.
As per the plea, the notification violated Article 14 of the Constitution, which provided for equality before law and equal protection of the law, adding that it was “illegal, arbitrary, irrational and unconstitutional”.
The PIL pointed out that if the proclaimed purpose of the caste-based survey was to accommodate the people of state suffering from caste persecution, the distinction on the basis of caste and country of origin was both irrational and unjustified.
It added that none of these distinctions corresponded with the ostensible purpose of the law.
The petition raised six important points, which are:
– Whether the Constitution of India gave a State Government the right to conduct caste census?
– Was the notification issued by the Deputy Secretary of Bihar Government on June 6, 2022 against the Census Act 1948?
– Did the Constitution legally permit a state government to issue notification of caste census, in the absence of law?
– Whether the decision to conduct a caste-based census was taken unanimously by all political parties of Bihar?
– Was the decision of political parties for Bihar to conduct a caste census binding on the government?
– Whether the June 6 notification of Bihar government was against the verdict delivered by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on January 2, 2017 in the Abhiram Singh vs C.D. Commachen case.
(Case title: State of Bihar and Ors vs Youth for Equality and Ors)