Bhubaneswar, August 24: Close on the heels of Bihar Chief Minister leading a delegation to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi pressing for a caste-based census, the ruling Biju Janata Dal in Odisha announced plans to launch a massive agitation demanding the same on Tuesday.
Two senior BJD ministers, R.P. Swain and A.K. Sahoo, said party activists will carry out the agitation from the village level to the national capital seeking a caste-based census which they claimed will provide justice to people belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
OBCs constitute about 54% of the state’s population.
The regional outfit led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had been demanding a caste-based census and removal of the 50% ceiling on reservation for a long time, one which had earlier been rejected by the Centre.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had led an all-party delegation from the state to meet PM Modi on Monday demanding caste-based enumeration in the upcoming census.
“This census will not only help Odisha, but the entire country,” Swain, a senior BJD leader and state Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Minister, said.
The BJD minister observed that unless there was proper data on the exact numbers of OBC or Socially and Educationally Backward Class (SEBC) people in the coastal state, it would be difficult to formulate welfare schemes for the OBCs, who constitute about 54% of the state’s population.
“The caste-based census will help in collecting information on people belonging to OBCs who have been so far kept away from the purview of development,” Swain said, adding that its implementation will help ensure justice for the backward caste people.
He called upon all political parties, including the BJP, to join Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s clarion call for a caste-based census.
State Agriculture Minister A.K. Sahoo said that the demand for the lifting of a 50% ceiling on reservation and a caste-based census were two sides of the coin.
“The BJP is not opening its mouth on the issue and the silence is deafening,” he alleged.
Noting that the Odisha CM was committed to giving justice to the OBCs, Sahoo said many political parties such as the RJD, JD(U), and the Samajwadi Party have been vocal in support of the caste-based census.
The BJD also demanded the framing of a Central law to remove the 50% cap on reservation.
Though the population of OBCs was more than 50% in the state, they cannot get proportionate reservation because of the ceiling fixed by the court and lack of central legislation, Sahoo said.
“Chief Minister and BJD chief Naveen Patnaik had earlier raised the issue, and today, we are reiterating the same. NDA’s allies also have raised this issue,” the BJD leaders pointed out, saying that the BJD president has already announced that 27% of seats will be reserved for OBC candidates in the ensuing panchayat polls in Odisha.
Earlier, participating in the OBC Bill debate in the Rajya Sabha, BJD members Prasanna Acharya and Amar Patnaik had demanded a caste-based census and a central law to ensure that OBCs get their due share in jobs and education.
The BJD ministers said that though the state government wanted another 27% reservation for SEBCs/OBCs, it could not be implemented as courts have repeatedly struck down the move saying that the total quota would have exceeded 50%, mandated by the Supreme Court.
At present, there is a provision for 22.50% reservation for STs, 16.25% for SCs, and 11.25% for OBCs or SEBCs in Odisha.
The Odisha Cabinet had in January last year passed a resolution for the conduct of a socio-economic caste enumeration simultaneously along with the Census in 2021. This proposal was also rejected by the Centre.
After that, the state assembly passed a resolution unanimously in February 2020 to get a clear picture of the social and educational conditions of people belonging to Backward Classes in Odisha.
A Commission has also been set up for this purpose, which had to postpone its survey due to COVID-19 situation.
However, BJP OBC Morcha president Suratha Biswal rejected the BJD’s allegation and claimed that the saffron party was not silent on the matter. He claimed that the BJD government, though in power for over 20 years, set up a Commission to identify OBC/SEBC people only after the intervention of Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan.