The Centre has opposed the Maharashtra government's plea in the apex court for census data on Other Backward Classes (OBC). It has cited "administrative difficulty" in conducting such a census, which will ‘‘suffer because of completeness and accuracy.’’
In its affidavit, the Centre has justified inclusion of information only about the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in in the upcoming 2021 Census. It says the exclusion of information regarding any other cases was a "conscious policy decision" taken by the government.
It has urged the court not to issue any directions to the Census Department to enumerate the socio-economic data relating to the backward castes of rural India as prayed for by the Maharashtra government "since it would tantamount to interfering with a policy decision as framed under Section 8 of the SC-ST Act."
The affidavit says unlike the mandate authorising collection of the census data on SCs and STs, "there is no such constitutional mandate for the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, to provide the census figures of OBCs/BCCs." It says the population census is not an ideal instrument for collection of details of castes.
As the exercise of collection of OBC data is tedious, the State of Maharashtra had approached the top court seeking information about OBCs in Maharashtra that was available with the Centre during the 2011 Census, the affidavit states.
The State government invoked the extraordinary jurisdiction of the Supreme Court after having decided to conduct a socio-economic and caste census across the state by the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes (MSCBC).
The Maharashtra legislative assembly had this year passed a resolution in the House to approach the Centre for 2011 census data in order to compile empirical data on the OBC population in the state. The 2011 census data has not been released till date by the Centre citing errors.
"The operational difficulties are so many that there is a grave danger that the basic integrity of the census data may be compromised and the fundamental population count itself could get distorted if any attempt is made to count the castes," the Centre said in its affidavit.
It also pointed out that many high Courts as well as the Supreme Court have in the past declined similar relief to states seeking the caste-wise data. Citing inherent flaws, the Centre says no reliable caste-based census data is available that can be the basis of any constitutional or statutory exercise like reservations in admissions, promotions and local body elections.
The affidavit cites issues with regard to collection of OBC data, claiming that in many States, Scheduled Castes is listed as an OBC entry.
"One reason which appears to be the cause of this confusion is that every enumerator who visited each household spelt each caste separately. For example,. with respect to the caste of Mappilas in the Malabar region of Kerala, the said caste has been spelt in 40 different ways by different enumerators resulting in counting of 40 different castes. In a further example, "Pawar" and "Powar" would be grouped together as they are phonetically similar, though only "Powar" are OBCs," the affidavit said.
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