New Delhi : The Government is painting the Opposition as anti-OBC for blocking a Bill for granting the constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes, but it is itself sitting tight over the findings of a caste census conducted in the country after eight decades.
The government is apparently fearing that the census, ordered by the previous UPA regime in 2011, may throw up a higher OBC percentage of total population, triggering the demand for a higher quota to the OBCs in education and government jobs.
There is otherwise no reason why a decision of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Modi in July 2015 to set up an expert group to proceed further for action to be taken on the findings of the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC)-2011 was put in the cold storage.
The census data was published in 2015 but there is no action on it since thereafter except for the expert group that never materialised.
The expert group was supposed to be headed by the chairman of the Niti Aayog while the Cabinet had decided that the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, in consultation with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, will recommend names of the group members.
Notwithstanding the Cabinet decision, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot on Monday wriggled out at a press conference when asked why his department has blocked constitution of the expert group. He even claimed that it is the Home Ministry’s baby and does not fall in his jurisdiction. Basic task of the expert group was to classify the caste names returned in the SECC-2011 survey. The task was, however, gigantic as the census had thrown up names of 46 lakh castes, sub-castes, synonyms, surnames, clans and gotras.
Still the group would have completed it by now, but for nobody bothered about its actual constitution even after 30 months of the Cabinet decision. Softwares are available to sort out even 46 lakh names of the groups. The objective of the census was to get a picture of the caste structure and work out targeted welfare schemes for the backward groups in terms of their economic and social status.
The Socio-Economic Caste Census was ordered by the UPA government to get exact and latest data on the caste and economic status of every household in the country. The Registrar General of India (RGI) and the ministries of rural development and housing and poverty alleviation were involved in the survey.
Importance of the census lies in the fact that there is no estimate of the OBCs and other categories enjoying reservation in government jobs and education.
The last caste census was conducted in 1931 during the British rule that had put the OBC population at 52% of the country’s population, Scheduled Castes at 15.5% and the Scheduled Tribes around 7%. It was on the basis of the 1931 that the SCs and STs were given reservation of 15% and 7.5% respectively as approximately proportionate to their percentage in the population.
The reservation of 27% was extended to the OBCs only in 1993 and it has been a bone of contention since then as it amounts to only half of their percentage in the total population. The government could not help because of the Supreme Court rider that all reservations could not exceed 50% of the population. Already 49.5% of the population enjoys the reservation.
Former National Commission for Backward Classes secretary P S Krishnan says the Census threw up the astronomical data because the format for the data collection was wrong. Scope would have been limited if the people were asked to choose their caste from the government’s list of the backward castes instead of letting them feed the enumerators with their gotras, clans, surnames and what not, he added.
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