Bombay High Court refuses to add caste column in Census questionnaires

Observing that no courts have powers to interfere with what question must be included in questionnaires for the Census, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court recently refused to direct the Ministry of Home Affairs to include a new column to the Census questions.

A bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Avinash Gharote refused to order the Directorate of Census Operations to include a column in the questionnaires to enable citizens to mention their castes for the Census.

The judges were dealing with a plea filed by two advocates, an educationist and also the office bearers of the National OBC Mukti Morcha. The plea sought quashing of the present questionnaires for the Census and urged the judges to direct the authorities to include one additional column, wherein citizens can mention their castes.

The petitioners did not contend that the present questionnaires were in contravention to the Census Act.

"We seek the directives on the premise that as certain castes have now been recognized as belonging to reserved class known as Other Backward Class, details about such castes must also be collected during the course of the census," the petitioners argued.

The bench noted that the petitions sought inclusion of additional column, which would mandate the citizens to give details regarding the class/caste to which they belong, for example, Other Backward Class, N.T. and V.J.N.T. etc.

The bench further noted the submissions made on behalf of the ministry of home affairs that the prayers as sought would amount for policy making by the court and therefore not permissible under the law. It further noted that the Supreme Court has already held that the format for questionnaires of the Census would be a matter of policy and interference with any policy decision and also a directive to frame a policy in a particular manner, is not within the jurisdiction of the Court.

"No Court in India can direct the authorities to also include in such questionnaire any columns, whereby information relating to additional castes could be sought," the judges held.

The judges accordingly, refused to issue any directives to the home ministry to include additional columns and dismissed the petitions.

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