Monday, May 20, 2024

Bihar Caste Survey: Supreme Court adjourns hearing till October 3 

The Supreme Court will hear after October 3, a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the caste-based survey conducted by the Bihar government. 

Despite protest from one of the Counsel representing the petitioners, the Bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice S.V.N. Bhatti relisted the matter for hearing after October 3 in the light of a letter circulated by the Standing Counsel of the State of Bihar, seeking adjournment in the case. 

The Apex Court passed the order on Wednesday on a petition filed by non-governmental organisations Youth for Equality and Ek Soch Ek Prayas against the August 1 verdict of the Patna High Court, which upheld the caste-based survey conducted by the state of Bihar, calling it totally ‘legal and valid’. 

At the outset, the counsel for one of the petitioners contended Senior Advocate Shyam Divan last time made a statement in the open court that the government would not publish.

Justice Khanna corrected him, recalling that the Senior Advocate had said that the survey had already been published. It was already in the public domain and the data was currently being analysed.

The Supreme Court judge further noted that the data has already been uploaded. Only the analysis and break-up of data was going on.

When the counsel sought an early date, the Bench said this was the earliest possible date and adjourned hearing till October 3.

Earlier on August 18, the Apex Court had refused to stay the publication of the caste survey results on the grounds that the exercise has already been completed by the state government and that it would not take a decision without hearing all the parties in the case.

The Bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice S.V.N. Bhatti further contemplated whether the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution would be affected by the caste-based survey since only cumulative data, and not personal data relating to each participant, was to be released by the state government. 

The Apex Court noted that in Bihar, most people were aware of the caste of persons living in the neighbourhood, which might not be the case in a metropolitan city like Delhi.

On August 1, the Patna High Court upheld the caste-based survey undertaken by the Bihar government and dismissed three petitions filed by social outfit Youth for Equality and some individuals.

Apart from questioning the validity of the process, the pleas sought quashing of the June 6, 2022 notification issued by the Deputy Secretary of Bihar 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 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.

On August 1, the Division Bench of Chief Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Partha Sarthy of the High Court upheld the survey, calling it ‘perfectly valid and initiated with due competence’.

The petitioners, including one Akhilesh Kumar from Nalanda, then moved the Apex Court against the High Court verdict, which refused to pass any orders in the absence of a prima facie case. 


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