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Collection Of OBC Information In Census 2021 Not Feasible : Centre Tells Supreme Court Opposing Maharashtra's Plea

The Centre has said that the case enumeration in the 2011 SECC exercise was "fraught with inaccuracies".

Update: 2021-09-23 13:59 GMT

Collection Of OBC Information In Census 2021 Not Feasible : Centre Tells Supreme Court Opposing Maharashtras Plea

In response to Maharashtra Government's petition for sharing of census data of OBCs collected by Centre in 2011-2013, the Centre has informed the Supreme Court that the exclusion of any caste other than Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe from purview of Census is a conscious policy decision taken by Central Government.

In an affidavit filed through Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Centre has argued that in such a situation any direction from Court to Census Department to include enumeration of Socio Economic data to extent relating to Backward Class Of Citizens (BCCs) of Rural India in Upcoming Census 2021 as prayed by the State of Maharashtra would tantamount to interfering with a policy decision.

The Central Government issued a notification on 7th Jan 2020, prescribing a series of information to be collected during Census 2021 and it includes information relating to Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe, it does not refer to any other caste.

The Central Government has argued that the enumeration of OBCs/ BCCs has been always adjudged to be administratively complex. Further, it has been a consistent view that Caste census of Backward classes is administratively difficult and cumbersome, it has suffered and will suffer both on account of completeness and accuracy of the data.

According to Centre, the inaccuracy of the data is evident from the infirmities of the Socio-Economic Caste Census(SECC) 2011 data making it unusable for any official purpose and can therefore not be mentioned as source of information for population data in any official document

Centre's affidavit has been filed in a writ petition filed by the State of Maharashtra, seeking directions to the Union of India to disclose the Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC-2011), raw caste data of Other Backward Classes and to gather data of socio economic to the extent relating to caste of citizens of Rural India in its 2020 Census

A Bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar on Thursday adjourned the matter till 26th October 2021. On last occasion (24th August 2021) the Bench had granted three weeks time to the Union of India to respond to Maharashtra's petition.

Caste Enumeration In SECC 2011 was fraught With Mistakes And Inaccuracies

Citing result of the analysis of SECC data pertaining to State of Maharashtra, the Centre has stated that the caste data was fraught with mistakes, and details available in record of the Census is not reliable either for purpose of any reservation, whether in admission, employment or elections to local authorities.

No Reliable Or Dependable Caste Census Available To Be Basis Of Constitutional Exercise:

The Union of India has submitted that considering the mistakes committed by the enumerators, inherent flaws in the manner of conducting census and several other factors, there is no reliable or dependable castes based census data which can be the basis of any Constitutional or statutory exercise like reservations in admission, promotion or local body elections.

Socio Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC-2011) Was Not An OBC Survey:

The Centre in its affidavit has submitted that contrary to what has been alleged, the SECC 2011 was not a survey of the Other Backward Classes, but a comprehensive exercise to enumerate caste status of all households in the country.

Further, the socio economic data of the households including their 'deprivations' were used to identify poor households and used in anti-poverty implementation programmes by the Central Government Ministries, the caste data has not been disclosed and has been kept with the Office of the Registrar General India for various reasons but primarily for the technical flaws that were noticed in the raw caste/tribe SECC data which makes it unusable. Therefore the said data has not been made official for any purposes and cannot be mentioned as a source of information for population data in any official document.

Caste Wise Enumeration In Indian Census Given Up As Matter Of Policy 1951:

Centre has stated that Indian census is the largest administrative and statistical exercise in the world, a caste wise enumeration in census has been given up as a matter of policy from 1951 onwards and thus castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have not been enumerated in any of the census since 1951 till today.

Centre Decided To Conduct SECC 2021 After Numerous Demands For Enumeration Of Castes Other Than Scheduled Castes:

According to the Centre, in view of numerous demands for enumerating castes other than scheduled castes in population census 2011, the Union Cabinet in 2011 decided to conduct the SECC, wherein caste of the household along with social economic status on the identified parameters was directed to be collected. 

The SECC was therefore to be conducted as a separate exercise after population enumeration phase was over and it was decided to collect the 'caste' of all persons as returned by households and formulate a suitable legal regime for collection of data on castes in consultation with Ministry of Law and Justice.

No Action Taken On Caste Data Collected In SECC 2021 As Expert Committee Constituted Never Met:

It was decided that after the field operations of caste enumeration were conducted, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Ministry of Tribal Affairs may constitute an Expert Group to classify the caste returns after completion of enumeration. After completion of the exercise, the data so collected has been stored with Office of Registrar General Of India, and shared with the Ministries as per decision of the Cabinet for taking suitable decision on its use.

However due to several infirmities found in the data, it was decided by the Cabinet to constitute an Expert Committee, but the Committee never met and no action has been taken in past 5 years

SECC 2011 Wasn't Subject Matter Of SC's Judgement In Case Referred To By State:

Centre has argued that in Supreme Court's judgement dated 4th March 2021 in the case of Vikas Kishanrao Gawali vs State of Maharashtra, which has referred to by the State in its petition, no specific direction was passed by the court to disclose the SECC 2011 raw caste data of OBCs as alleged by the State.

Further, the matter pertained to challenge to notifications issued by State's Election Commission providing reservation exceeding 50% in certain zilla parishads, and SECC 2011 was neither the subject matter of the case nor was adjudicated upon by the Court.

Collection Of Information on Backward Class Of Citizens (BCC) through Census 2020(21) Not Feasible:

Centre has pointed out the following difficulties in collection of information on BCCs:

  • Danger To Compromise Integrity Of Census Data: According to the Centre, Population Census is not the ideal instrument for collection of details on Caste, and the operational difficulties are so many that there is a grave danger that basic integrity of Census data may be compromised and fundamental population could itself get distorted.
  • Lists Of OBC's Not Exclusively Central Subject: Centre has stated that there are two OBCs lists, Centre and State Lists. While 5 States are without OBCs, four states/ UTs have only the 'central list'
  • Determination Beyond Capacity Of Enumerator In Some Cases: According to Centre, in some States Scheduled castes converted to Christianity is listed as an OBC entry, requiring the enumerator to check both OBC and SC list to establish list which is beyond their capacity.
  • Inadequate Knowledge Of Sub Castes: Centre has stated that knowledge  of sub castes is highly inadequate making it difficult to tabulate and classify SEBs/OBCs returns, and phonetic similarity in name of Castes may also lead to their misclassification. Further, social and political movements and change in the names of traditional castes will also lead to problems of classification.
  • Inclusion Of Additional Questions To Questionnaire For Next Census Not Feasible At This Stage:

Centre has stated that through notification dated 7th Jan 2020, it has already issued the questions to be asked by Census Officers, which will also include a question as to whether the head of the household belongs to Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe/Other"

Further, Census Operation begins 3-4 years prior to commencement of Census and questionnaire are formed and approved by the Government, therefore after the entire process having been followed, inclusion of additional questions is not feasible at this stage.

Details of the Petition:

The plea has sought directions to the Union of India to disclose the SECC- 2011 raw caste data of Other Backward Classes, and in case they are unwilling or not in a position to do the same, permit the State to collect such empirical data regarding OBCs within the State.

A Direction has also been sought to Union of India to gather data of socio economic to the extent relating to caste of citizens of Rural India in its 2020 Census, to enable the States to calculate population belonging to castes that make a part of Backward Class Of Citizens(BCC) in the State.

The State has stated that the Supreme Court through its judgement dated 4th March 2021 in case of Vikas Kishanrao Gawali vs State of Maharashtra had directed it to constitute a dedicated Commission for conducting a contemporaneous rigorous empirical inquiry into nature and implications of backwardness qua local bodies, for purpose of providing reservation to the OBCs.

It has been argued that while the State has constituted the Commission, since the Central Government is not sharing the census data of OBCs collected by them during year 2011-2013, the State has been unable to place the SECC 2011 raw caste data before the Commission.

Case Title: State of Maharashtra vs Union of India | WP(c) 841/2021

Click here to read/download the affidavit


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