Fearing political consequences, Cabinet puts caste data on hold

New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: Keeping in view its political consequence, the finds of the caste census conducted by the central government between 2011 and 2014 will remain under wraps. As the demand for its release gets shriller ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, Union Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday constituted an expert group to be headed by NITI Aayog vice-chairman Arvind Panagariya to further study and analyse the census. The cabinet also empowered the Social Justice and Tribal Welfare Ministries to service it and nominate other members of the group.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had questioned the Centre in a NITI Aayog meeting for releasing only partial data relating to the economic status of the rural India and not the caste data crucial in the matter of the future reservation to the OBCs (other backward classes). Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad organised a march in Patna early this week to protest at the government not releasing the caste data. Congress also demanded release of full data, as current reservation policy was still based on 1931 caste census.

An official spokesman, however, said no use releasing the raw data as it has thrown up as many as 46 lakh castes and sub-castes, with all sorts of synonyms, surnames, gotras and clan names. While constituting the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) to collect data on castes on May 19, 2011, then Cabinet had also decided to set up the group to analyse the data once available, he said.
Though the caste census was carried out by the Registrar General of India who conducts the population census every 10th year, the spokesman claimed the SECC was conducted by the respective State/UT Governments. The field survey on economic data has since been completed and the socio economic data relating to rural areas was released early this month by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD). He described the work on urban data as “under progress.”

The caste data would have revealed actual number of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) put at 54% of India’s population, based on the 1931Census figures used by the Mandal Commission, resulting in granting of 27% reservation to them. However, a careful analysis of the released data suggests the OBC population making upto 66.48% out of the total 17.92 crore rural households. The SECC survey has put the overall population of Scheduled Castes at 18.46% and Scheduled Tribes 10.97%. The rest are clubbed under the head “other households” numbering 12.27 crore which works out to 68.52%. It puts 2.04% of these in the category of “no caste & tribe households. If deducted from the “other households,” it gives a percentage of 66.48%. Overall the SC/ST households have been put at 21.53% of the rural population.

In 2010 when the UPA government decided to conduct the caste survey, it was fiercely opposed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). But those in favour of such a census say it was necessary to find actual figures of castes as far as caste-based reservations are in vogue in the country. The 1931 census, used by the Mandal Commission, Upper Castes comprise 15% of total population. But had 66% representation in politics, 87% in services, 94% in trade and 92% of them as land owners. The rest 85% of population had just 13% share in services, 6% in trade and 8% were land owners.