Patna High Court's Stay on Caste-Based Survey Sparks Political Debate in Bihar

The initial ruling of the Court declared that the caste-based survey would be equivalent to a census, which the State Government is not authorized to conduct.
Photo : Amar Ujala
Photo : Amar Ujala

Bihar: On May 4, the Patna High Court issued an interim injunction to postpone the caste-based census while hearing a petition that challenges the survey's validity and requested an interim stay. The next hearing has been scheduled for July 3.

Akhilesh Kumar, along with others, filed a petition with the government to immediately stop the caste-based survey, and Chief Justice K V Chandran presided over a division bench that heard their plea. The appeal demanded that the government preserve and secure the data that had already been gathered. Further, until the final order is issued, the court requested that the collected data must not be shared with anyone.

The initial ruling of the Court declared that the caste-based survey would be equivalent to a census, which the State Government is not authorized to conduct.

According to the Live Law report, the Court stated that "Prima facie, we are of the opinion that the State has no power to carry out a caste-based survey, as it is presently fashioned, which would amount to a census, thus impinging upon the legislative power of the Union Parliament."

The parties were represented in court by solicitors Dinu Kumar, Ritu Raj, and Abhinav Srivastava on behalf of the petitioners and Advocate General P K Shahi on behalf of the State.

During the court proceedings, Dinu Kumar testified that the State government is misusing the contingency fund and that it is beyond its purview to conduct surveys. However, Mr. Shahi argued that the survey is being conducted to devise plans for promoting general welfare and to enhance the social standard.

The survey was conducted in two phases.

The first phase involved a house listing exercise, which took place from January 7 to January 21. The second phase, which began on April 15, was scheduled to end on May 15.

The opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has criticized the Nitish Kumar administration for failing to convince the court of its stance regarding the caste-based survey. As reported by The Hindu, the BJP has demanded Nitish Kumar's resignation due to this significant failure.

According to Samrat Choudhary, state president of the BJP in Bihar, "I have been saying this since day one: the Nitish Kumar government is a major failure. It is disappointing that the government was unable to persuade the court of its position. Nitish Kumar needs to step down right away since he is the one to blame for this. They purposefully present the weak case so that the court issues a stay order because Nitish Kumar does not want to carry out the caste-based survey in Bihar."

Samrat Chaudhary
Samrat Chaudhary

In addition, Samrat Choudhary also accused Nitish Kumar of enjoying performing "unconstitutional work," which has continued to have consequences.

On the other hand, Upendra Kushwaha, the Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal (RLJD) chief, expressed disappointment at the Court's verdict and held Nitish Kumar accountable. He claimed that the State Government had taken the caste-based survey too lightly.

According to Upendra Kushwaha, the Nitish Kumar administration should have presented compelling evidence to the court but failed to do so due to their dull approach and lack of commitment. The Court's verdict is a result of the State Government's disregard for the legal issue, he argued. Kushwaha added, "Since the beginning, I have made it clear that Mr. Nitish is not at all committed to the job of Bihar's government. While he is traveling to other states to organize the opposition, he has entirely forgotten his home state."

Upendra Kushwaha
Upendra Kushwaha

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Supports Caste-Based Survey, Defends Need for Updated Data

Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, the Deputy Chief Minister, responded to the Court's ruling by emphasizing that it was a temporary order and not the final decision. He remains optimistic that the Government will ultimately be successful in conducting the caste-based survey.

Tejashwi Prasad Yadav questioned the BJP's stance, arguing that all parties in Bihar, including the BJP, had previously agreed on the need for the caste-based survey. He also raised questions about the BJP-ruled state's failure to conduct the survey if the party believes that the Nitish Kumar administration is not interested in it. Additionally, he criticized the central government for rejecting the caste-based census.

Tejashwi further stated that the Government remains confident of prevailing in this conflict since they have the option of appealing to a higher court. He also expressed his disagreement with the BJP's celebration of the court's verdict.

Tejashwi Prasad Yadav
Tejashwi Prasad Yadav

Earlier, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had commented on the situation, saying that he could not understand why people were opposed to conducting the survey. He pointed out that the last headcount took place in 1931 and that updated estimates were necessary. He also highlighted that every ten years, the census accounts for the population of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and other minorities.

Why is Bihar carrying out a caste-based census ?

A caste-based census that would assist determine the actual population of the state's Other Backward Classes could have political advantages for the ruling Mahagathbandhan, supporting calls for policies like increased quotas. The Janata Dal (United) of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal make up the majority of the "Mahagathbandhan" coalition.

A socioeconomic and caste census was carried out in 2011 by the United Progressive Alliance administration at the centre. However, due to enumeration issues, the data from that exercise was never made public.

The Bihar government has previously stated that it is currently difficult to accurately estimate the population of Other Backward Classes because the census does not gather information on every Indian's caste. In actuality, the 1931 census was the final one to formally collect complete caste information.

A caste-based census has long been demanded, and in 2018 and 2019, the Legislative Assembly of Bihar unanimously voted resolutions in support of it.

What information were the enumerators gathering?

In the first phase, which ended on January 21, every household in the state was tallied.

Then, in April, data on people from all castes, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds would have been gathered, along with information on other factors including the number of family members residing inside and outside the state.

According to Nitish Kumar, the effort, which encompasses 38 districts and an estimated 12.7 crore people, will only count caste, not sub-caste.

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