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Bihar: Court Stays Caste Census, a big Jolt to Mahagathbandhan Government

In response to this development, deputy chief minister Tajashwi Yadav told the media that the government remained committed to a caste census.
Bihar: Fresh Demands For Caste Census Haunts Alliance Partner BJP

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Patna: In a big jot to the Mahagathbandhan government led by Nitish Kumar, the Patna High Court on Thursday stayed the ongoing caste census in Bihar. This interim order of the court will stop the massive exercise of conducting the caste census till July 3, 2023, the date fixed by the court for the next hearing in the case.

A division bench of the court reserved its order on Wednesday after hearing the petition seeking an interim stay on the caste census. It pronounced its interim order to stay the caste census today.

The court directed the state government to ensure the safety of the data collected.

Soon after the court stayed the caste census, the state government advocate general, PK Sahi, told the media that he would say anything on the matter only after going through the judgement. 

Sahi said the state government was fully right to conduct a caste census as it had the authority and the power to know about the socio-economic conditions of the population to plan out welfare schemes.

The government had also allocated specific funds in the supplementary budget for conducting the exercise.

In response to this development, deputy chief minister Tajashwi Yadav told the media that the government remained committed to a caste census.

"Sooner or later, it would be completed. This is not for one specific caste but for all. There is a need for caste census countrywide."

JD-U (Janata Dal-United) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar said the decision for a caste census was taken after a consensus and unanimous resolution was passed in both bouses.

CPI(ML) (Communist Party of India ((Marxist–Leninist) Liberation) termed the court order as unfortunate and asked the state government to challenge it in the apex court.

The Bihar Legislative Assembly and Bihar Legislative Council had unanimously passed a resolution to conduct the caste census, Sahi said.

The advocate of petitioner Youth for Equality, an organisation against caste-based policies and reservations, expressed happiness over the interim order of the court that stayed the caste census for now. He said the decision of the state government to conduct a caste census was arbitrary and unconstitutional. It also violated the right to privacy under Article 21 of the constitution.

Hours before the court's interim order, Nitish Kumar told the media on Thursday morning that most people supported the ongoing caste census except for one or two people. Nitish Kumar said the state government decided to conduct a caste census based on consensus.

The second and final phase of the caste census in Bihar began last month, ignoring the opposition by some powerful sections of the society. The caste census in Bihar was probably the first such exercise in the country, which was considered a significant move of ruling Mahagathbandhan ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The Mahagathbandhan government led by Nitish Kumar conducted the first phase of the caste "survey" in January 2023 after the Centre ruled out such a census two years ago.

The two-phased census was seen as part of the social justice agenda of Mahagathbandhan. It will likely help the grand coalition consolidate its social support base by fulfilling a significant promise to OBCs (other backward classes) and EBCs (economically backward classes).

Nitish Kumar, the de facto chief of the ruling JD-U, and another major ruling ally, RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) chief Lalu Prasad, are pro-Mandal and have been demanding a caste census in Bihar since 2015. They have repeatedly claimed that the caste census data will help uplift deprived people as development plans would be made based on fresh socio-economic data.

Nitish Kumar has repeatedly expressed his support for the caste census by saying that a caste-based census exercise should at least be conducted once. It would help to know the number of people from different poor and marginalised castes in other regions. The last caste census was completed in 1931 before India gained independence from the British.

In the first phase, enumerators marked houses across the state and collected the number of households in all 38 districts. But in the second phase, they will collect caste and socio-economic data of each household or family. Enumerators have been directed to pay door-to-door visits for this enormous task on the ground.

According to officials of the General Administration Department (GAD), the nodal agency for the ongoing caste census, thousands of enumerators were engaged in working on the second phase of the caste census.

Thousands of officials were collecting information about the caste, subcastes, and socio-economic profiles of each of the 2.92 crore families by May 15.

Nearly 4 lakh employees, including senior government officers, clerks, contractual schoolteachers, MGNREGA and Anganwadi workers, and ASHAs, have been engaged to cover the estimated population of 12.70 crores staying in around 2.58 crore households in urban and rural areas across the state, as per the General Administration Department.

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