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Bihar Caste Survey


At a time when the political parties are vying with each other for the OBC vote in the coming elections, Bihar government revealed the results of its caste survey on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2). 

GS I: Society

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Findings of the Bihar Caste Survey
  2. Survey Methodology and History
  3. Key Takeaways from Bihar Caste Survey
  4. Challenges Ahead for the Bihar Caste Survey
  5. About the Census

Findings of the Bihar Caste Survey

Population Distribution

  • “Forward” castes or the “General” category constitute only 15.5% of the population, according to survey data released by the state Development Commissioner.
  • Scheduled Castes (SCs) make up about 20% of the population, totaling 2.6 crores, while Scheduled Tribes (STs) account for just 1.6% of the population, amounting to 22 lakhs.
  • Muslims represent 17.70% of the population, while other religious minorities have a minimal presence.

Survey Methodology and History

Survey Phases

  • The survey was conducted in two phases:
    • The first phase involved counting the total number of households in Bihar, taking place from January 7 to January 21, 2023.
    • The second phase aimed to collect data on people from all castes, religions, and economic backgrounds, as well as information about the number of family members living in and outside the state.
  • The second phase was temporarily halted due to a stay order by the Patna High Court, which questioned the state government’s competence to carry out the survey.
  • On August 1, the High Court declared the survey “perfectly valid,” allowing it to resume.

Key Takeaways from Bihar Caste Survey

OBC Population Insights

  • The survey revealed that the share of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) population is substantial, with their combined strength in the state being 63%.
  • This figure significantly surpasses the OBC population estimate from the 1931 census, which was the last time caste enumeration was conducted in the country.
  • The findings may reignite demands for a reevaluation of the OBC quota, especially as OBCs argue that forward castes have disproportionately secured government jobs despite reservations.

Political Significance

  • The caste survey holds significant political implications, as it is a vital component of Bihar’s current government strategy.
  • The data may be used to advocate for “social justice” and “development with justice” and bolster the Bihar government’s role in national opposition politics.
  • The findings could also energize demands for a nationwide caste census and an OBC quota within the 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.

Challenges Ahead for the Bihar Caste Survey

Legal Challenges

  • The caste survey has faced legal challenges, and its final outcome is still pending before the Supreme Court.
  • Critics argue that the survey violates the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment in the case of K S Puttaswamy vs Union of India (2017).
  • Petitions against the survey contend that it is essentially a census disguised as a survey, which falls beyond the legislative competence of the state government. They argue that it encroaches upon the legislative authority of the Union Parliament.
  • The Census Act of 1948 explicitly empowers only the central government to conduct a census.
Impact on Reservation Policy
  • The caste survey could reignite debates regarding the 50% quota ceiling set by the Supreme Court.
  • In the 1992 case of ‘Indra Sawhney vs Union of India,’ the Supreme Court established the 50% ceiling for reservations, allowing breaches only under “exceptional circumstances.”
  • In 2021, a unanimous Constitution bench of the Supreme Court struck down a Maharashtra law providing reservations to the Maratha community as unconstitutional. The court argued that the total quota limit would exceed 50%.
  • However, a subsequent five-judge bench (in a 3:2 majority) of the Supreme Court upheld the 10% Economic Weaker Sections (EWS) quota, which also exceeded the 50% ceiling. The court clarified that the ceiling applied to backward classes.
  • The Bihar caste survey may lead to discussions about whether it necessitates reconsidering the 50% reservation limit in the context of evolving caste demographics and demands for social justice.

About the Census

  • The census provides information on size, distribution and socio-economic, demographic and other characteristics of the country’s population.
  • The first synchronous census in India was held in 1881, and since then, censuses have been undertaken uninterruptedly once every ten years.
  • India’s last census was carried out in 2011 when the country’s population stood at 121 crores.
  • The Census 2021 will be conducted in 18 languages out of the 22 scheduled languages (under 8th schedule) and English, and the option of “Other” under the gender category will be changed to “Third Gender”.
  • For the first time data is proposed to be collected through a mobile app by enumerators and they will receive an additional payment as an incentive.
  • The last caste-based census was conducted by the British in 1931.
  • Arthashastra by ‘Kautilya’ written in the 3rd Century BC prescribed the collection of population statistics as a measure of state policy for taxation.
  • In India, a census is conducted every decade and Census 2021 will be the 16th national census of the country.

Key facts about India’s census

  • In India, the census was first started under British Viceroy Lord Mayo in 1872 and the first synchronous census in India was held in 1881. 
  • It is being conducted at an interval of 10 years. 
  • The decennial Census is conducted by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Census is conducted under the provisions of the Census Act, of 1948.
  • The population census is a Union subject under Article 246 of the Indian Constitution.
  • It is listed as serial number 69 of the seventh schedule of the constitution.

-Source: Indian Express

December 2023