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No caste-based data available due to inherent Census flaws: Centre on Maharashtra plea on OBC quota

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The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has filed a short reply on a petition filed by the state of Maharashtra seeking Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 (SECC-2011) with respect to OBCs within state, stating that there were inherent flaws in the manner of conducting Census and therefore, no reliable caste-based census data was available, which could be the basis of any constitutional or statutory exercise like reservations in admission, promotion or local body elections.

The Ministry in its reply stated that the SECC-2011 survey was not an ‘OBC survey,’ as alleged by the State of Maharashtra. It was a comprehensive exercise to enumerate the caste status of all the households in the Country. The reply affidavit further stated that the survey was done to identify the poor households based on the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and used in the implementation of anti-poverty programmes by the Central Government Ministries.

Attention was further drawn by stating that the castes, other than ST/SC, have not been enumerated in any of the Census since 1951 till today since the government decided on the policy of official discouragement of caste. It was decided that in general, no race/ caste/ tribe/ enquiries should be made and such enquiries should be restricted to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes notified by the President of India in pursuance of Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution.

The Centre further stated that since there were demands from various sections including MPs for enumeration of Castes in Census 2011 and the matter being discussed in the Lok Sabha, the Union Cabinet in 2011 decided to conduct Census 2011, wherein the caste of the household, along with the social economic status on the identified parameters, was directed to be collected. The Ministry of Rural Development was given the responsibility for conduct of SECC in rural areas and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty was responsible for alleviation of urban areas.  

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The Centre further brought to light the failure of the two ministries, the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, who were given the charge to constitute an expert group to classify the caste/tribe returns after the enumeration was completed by the Office of Registrar General of India, in consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice. The said expert group committee never met and the task given to the committee to check the infirmities in the data was never accomplished.

The data available and mentioned in the said affidavit stated that there were as many as 4,28,677 castes in the state, out of which only 494 OBC categories were in the state and it was apparent that the caste enumeration in SECC 2011 was fraught with mistakes and inaccuracies. The data was so out of commission that it showed that there were not more than 100 persons in 99 percent of the castes enumerated.

Several reasons stated by the Centre were that during the survey, every enumerator who visited each household spelt each caste separately. For example, ‘Pawar’ and ‘Powar’ would be grouped together as they are phonetically similar, though only Powar are OBCs. Many households refused to divulge their caste, while in several hundred cases, a number or symbol was mentioned instead of caste.

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The Centre stated that Population Census was not the ideal instrument for collection of details on caste. There was a grave danger that basic integrity of the census data may be compromised. It further stated that there were two separate OBCs lists viz Central and State lists and this was not exclusively the Centre’s subject. In some states, orphans and destitute children were included as OBCs and “Scheduled Caste Converted to Christianity” was listed as an OBC entry. Furthermore, there was segregation like clan/ gotra, sub-caste and caste names used interchangeably by the people.

The petition was filed by the State of Maharashtra, pursuant to its decision to conduct socio-economic and caste census across the state by Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC). It stated that even after repeated demands, the data was not provided by the Central government. Further, the state requested the apex court that if the Central government is unable to furnish the Census-2011 OBC data, then permission should be granted to the state to collect such empirical data regarding the OBC within the state. The petition further prayed for direction to the Union that while conducting Census-2020 to gather the data of Socio-Economic to the extent relating to the caste of the citizens of Rural India, to enable the States to calculate population belonging to castes that make a part of BCC in the state.   

Case Name- The State of Maharashtra Vs Union of India & Ors

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