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Patna HC Permits Caste Survey in ‘big win’ for Ruling Coalition

Political commentators said the judgement will help the Mahagathbandhan consolidate its social support base ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Patna HC Permits Caste Survey in ‘big win’ for Ruling Coalition

Patna High Court. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Patna: The Patna High Court (HC) permitted the Bihar government to complete the much-awaited caste survey and dismissed PILs seeking a stay on Tuesday. 

A Division Bench headed by Chief Justice KV Chandran which gave the order after reserving it for 25 days categorically said that the Nitish Kumar government can conduct the caste survey. In its nearly 100-page order, the HC rejected all the PILs seeking a stay on the survey.

The advocate of petitioner Youth for Equality, an organisation against caste-based policies and reservations, said that they would challenge the judgement in the Supreme Court (SC) soon. He reiterated that the state government’s decision to conduct a caste survey is “arbitrary and unconstitutional” and “violated the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution”.

Earlier, the court had heard the petitions seeking a stay on the survey and the state government’s arguments to conduct it from July 3 to 7.

According to officials, the remaining 20% of the survey will be completed now. The HC stayed the survey on May 4 in an interim order after hearing the PILs, which sought a temporary stay on it. 

Senior leaders of the JD(U) and RJD, two major ruling coalition allies, strongly favour the survey with Kumar and his deputy Tejashwi Yadav publicly expressing the government’s commitment to conduct it. Kumar repeatedly said that the state government had decided to complete a caste survey based on consensus.

State advocate general PK Sahi claimed, inside and outside the court, that the state government has the right to conduct a caste survey as it has the authority to know about the socio-economic conditions of the population to plan welfare schemes.

Sahi also informed the court that the government had allocated specific funds in the supplementary Budget for conducting the exercise. The Legislative Assembly and the Council had unanimously passed a resolution to complete the survey, Sahi said.

According to political commentators, the survey will likely provide an edge to the ruling coalition. “This will be a big issue for the Mahagathbandhan to consolidate its social support base ahead of next year’s crucial Lok Sabha election,” political commentator DM Diwakar told Newsclick.

Diwakar, former director of the AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, said that the opposition BJP was “politically forced to support the survey for public consumption. The BJP-led Central government had ruled out a national caste census countrywide two years ago”.

Another political commentator Arun K Srivastav said that the “survey will be a big win for the coalition and a massive loss for the BJP’s Hindutva agenda in Bihar”. “The BJP will have problems as marginalised sections matter more on the ground than anything else,” he added.

The state government started the survey’s second and final phase in April, ignoring the opposition of some powerful sections of society. The first phase was started in January after the Centre ruled out such a census two years ago.

The survey will likely help the coalition consolidate its social support base by fulfilling a significant promise to OBCs and EBCs. Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav are pro-Mandal and have been demanding a caste census since 2015. They have repeatedly claimed that caste census data will help uplift deprived people as development plans would be made based on fresh socio-economic data.

Kumar supported the survey by saying it would help identify the number of people from poor and marginalised castes. The last caste census was completed in 1931.

In the first phase, enumerators identified the number of households in all 38 districts. In the second phase, caste and socio-economic data of each household were collected. 

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