Centre trying to obstruct Bihar’s caste survey, says RJD MP Manoj Jha

The collection of caste data in Bihar is over and the data has been ‘uploaded’, the Supreme Court had pointed out on 21 August

RJD leader Manoj Jha (photo: IANS)
RJD leader Manoj Jha (photo: IANS)

NH Political Bureau

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) member of the Rajya Sabha, Manoj Jha, alleged on Tuesday, 29 August, that the Centre was trying to block the caste-based survey in Bihar.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the Patna High Court’s 1 August ruling in favour of the caste survey, which the high court had held was ‘perfectly valid’.

The Supreme Court too has so far shown no inclination to grant a stay on the survey, as prayed by the petitioners.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna pointed out in the course of the hearing that the caste data had already been collected. What remained was the analysis and the court did not see any reason to block it.

Lawyers arguing for the petitioners pleaded that there would be a breach of privacy and sought an injunction on publication of the data and any further action on it.

Justice Khanna had then quipped that everybody in Bihar knew his neighbour’s caste; so how would privacy be affected if the caste identity were to be revealed?

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had told the Supreme Court on 21 August that the government was neither supporting nor opposing the petitions which have challenged the Patna High Court’s ruling in favour of the caste survey in Bihar. He, however, had sought permission to file an affidavit on behalf of the Union of India and was given time till 28 August to file it.

The affidavit was duly filed on Monday morning. Later in the day, however, the affidavit was withdrawn on the grounds that a paragraph had ‘inadvertently crept into the affidavit’.

The earlier affidavit had stated that "No other body under the Constitution or otherwise is entitled to conduct the exercise of either census or any action akin to census". In a second affidavit filed on Monday evening, the Centre said that the above paragraph had "inadvertently crept in".

The second affidavit, however, retained the submission that a census is a statutory process governed by the Census Act of 1948, which was enacted in the exercise of the powers under Entry 69 of List I of the Constitution's Seventh Schedule, and that the said act empowered only the Central government to conduct the census.

The affidavit also stated: 'The central government is committed to taking all affirmative actions for the upliftment of Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India and the applicable law.'

Why did the Centre find it necessary to withdraw the paragraph, then? This is still not clear; though one hopes it shall become clearer during the ongoing hearing.

The RJD MP on Tuesday alleged that the error in the affidavit was not "inadvertent but was deliberate". He alleged: “On the instructions of the PMO, the caste census process which has been completed in Bihar is being blocked with several excuses.” He said that there was a conspiracy by the BJP and the RSS to block the caste census so that people do not get the benefits.

The solicitor general’s intervention indicated that the prime minister's office (PMO) is directly involved in blocking the caste census, he maintained.

Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel also weighed in on Tuesday and wrote to the prime minister with a request to get the census conducted.

The decennial census, due in 2021, was skipped by the Union government on the pretext of the pandemic, although most other countries went ahead with their decennial census.

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