ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Neither a Survey, Nor a Census

The delay in the census and the stay over the caste survey in Bihar are ominous signs for good governance.

Recently, the Bihar government’s attempt to conduct a caste survey was halted by the Patna High Court. The court observed that the state government lacked the authority to undertake such a survey and that it would infringe on the legislative powers of the Parliament to conduct a census. The writ petition in public interest was filed by a group of citizens who challenged the Bihar government’s attempt to allegedly conduct a caste census under the guise of a “survey.” The petitioners argued that the union government had the exclusive power to conduct a census under the Constitution, and that the state government had no authority or objective to do so. The petitioners further argued that asking citizens about their caste as part of such a survey would violate their right to privacy, which has been recognised as a fundamental right under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in 2017. Although the Bihar government clarified that all disclosures as part of this exercise would be voluntary in nature, the Patna High Court agreed with the petitioners’ argument that a caste survey would amount to a violation of citizens’ privacy. One wonders how being asked to mention one’s caste to government-appointed surveyors would violate one’s right to privacy, but revealing other demographic information such as one’s age, gender, marital status, religion, etc, would not similarly offend the principle of privacy. Neither the petitioners nor the court considered that caste, like religion, is already a marker of one’s public identity, rather than being a private belief.

The state government further justified its decision in the court by arguing that its aim was not to conduct a “census” but only a “survey” to collect data on the socio-economic status of different castes for better welfare measures. This decision was taken by the Bihar cabinet in consultation with other parties in the state in June 2022, after the union government denied the possibility of a national-level caste census. The caste survey aimed to cover information about the socio-economic con­ditions of all the castes in Bihar, which include Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Extremely Backward Classes, and upper castes. The survey was carried out in two phases and was to be completed by May 2023. The Bihar government also approached the Supreme Court to reconsider the Patna High Court’s stay on this measure, arguing that the survey is almost on the verge of completion, and stalling it would cause an immense loss to the financial and human resources already spent on conducting the survey. However, the Supreme Court has declined to lift the stay announced on this measure of the Bihar government, after pointing out that the Patna High Court has listed this case for a final hearing on 3 July.

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Updated On : 3rd Jun, 2023
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