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Editorials/Opinions Analyses For UPSC 20 August 2021


  1. Is a caste census desirable?

Is a caste census desirable?


At the recently concluded Parliament session, there was a demand to lift the 50% cap on reservation imposed by the Supreme Court through the legislative route. 

With the 2021 Census coming up, several political parties have demanded a nation-wide caste census. They argue that a Socio-Economic Caste Census is the only way to make a case to breach the 50% cap on reservation and rationalise the reservation matrix in the country. 


GS-I: Indian Society (Population and its associated issues, Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India), GS-II: Governance (Government Initiatives and Policies)

Mains Questions:

To what extent will Socio-Economic Caste Census help to rationalise reservation based on data? Discuss if a caste census is actually desirable at the national level today. (15 marks).

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What kind of caste data is published in the Census?
  2. How often has the demand for a caste census been made?
  3. Why Socio Economic and Caste Census in needed?
  4. What are the objectives of the SECC?
  5. What are the Key Findings of the SECC?
  6. Criticism of the SECC

What kind of caste data is published in the Census?

  • Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes. Before that, every Census until 1931 had data on caste.
  • However, in 1941, caste-based data was collected but not published.
  • In the absence of such a census, there is no proper estimate for the population of OBCs, various groups within the OBCs, and others. 
  • The Mandal Commission estimated the OBC population at 52%, some other estimates have been based on National Sample Survey data, and political parties make their own estimates in states and Lok Sabha and Assembly seats during elections.

How often has the demand for a caste census been made?

  • The demand for caste census comes up before almost every Census, as records of debates and questions raised in Parliament show. 
  • The demand usually come from among those belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBC) and other deprived sections, while sections from the upper castes oppose the idea.
  • In April 2021, the constitutional body National Commission for Backward Classes urged the government to collect data on the population of OBCs “as part of Census of India 2021 exercise”.

The current government’s stand

  • In March 2021, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs said that “The Union of India after Independence, decided as a matter of policy not to enumerate caste wise population other than SCs and STs.” 
  • However, in August 2018, it was said that the Census 2021 “is also envisaged to collect data on OBC for the first time.”

Why Socio Economic and Caste Census is needed?

  • The current definition of poverty — which was derived by identifying a basket of essential goods and services and marking the point in India’s income distribution where that basket could be purchased by an individual — was missing too much.
  • For one, the numbers seemed absurdly low — set at Rs.816 per person per month in rural areas and Rs. 1,000 in urban areas by the Planning Commission by updating the Tendulkar methodology, the numbers amounted to a daily expenditure of around Rs.30, which caused public indignation. A new committee was formed which drew a new line, but the Rangarajan methodology too wound up at a poverty line not very different from the Tendulkar line.
  • Thus, a broader and more dynamic definition of poverty seemed important. · Also, while the general census was about individuals, the SECC was based on households and this gives a more accurate picture of the economic status of families.

What are the objectives of the SECC?

  • To enable households to be ranked based on their Socio- Economic status, so that State Governments can then prepare a list of families living below the poverty line.
  • To make available authentic information that will enable caste-wise population enumeration of the country, and education status of various castes and sections of the population.
  • The regular Population Census is carried out under Census Act, 1948. According to this Act, Government must keep individual’s personal information confidential. Besides aim of regular Population Census is to provide overview, it is not concerned with any particular individual / household. Thus, personal data given in Population Census is confidential.
  • On the contrary all the personal information given in the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) is open for use by Government departments to grant and/ or restrict benefits to households. This required the right of verification of socio economic profile.

What are the Key Findings of the SECC?

  • Data addresses multi-dimensionality of poverty, and provides opportunity for a convergent, evidence based planning with Gram Panchayat, as a unit. It is an opportunity for evidence based selection, prioritisation and targeting of beneficiaries in different programs. Some of the findings of the SECC are as under:
  • There are a total number of 24.39 crore households in India, of which 17.91 crore live in villages. Of these, 10.69 crore households are considered as deprived. The economic status of a household was computed through seven indicators of deprivation covering aspects of landlessness, housing, source of income, disability etc.
  • 49% of the households can be considered poor in the sense of facing some deprivation. These households show signs of poverty even though depth of poverty may be not enough to categorise them as poor. These deprivations range from lack housing facility and education, to absence of any male earning member, to households depending mainly on manual labour etc. This finding points to the need to have a comprehensive social security structure.
  • These extremely low income numbers follow from the nature of employment that most of rural India is engaged in. The vast majority – over 90% – of rural India, does not have salaried jobs.
  • Working in anything other than agriculture will be a tough ask, given the level of education – fewer than 10 per cent make it to higher secondary or above and just 3.41 per cent of households have a family member who is at least a graduate.
  • Only 30% of rural households depend on cultivation as their main source of income. Whereas, 51.14% derive sustenance from manual casual labour (MCL). Fragmentation of landholdings has made it difficult for even farmers to support themselves, let alone those dependent on MCL. Therefore, getting people out of farms will spur mechanisation and consolidation of land holdings, leading to increased agricultural productivity in the long run.
  • In nearly 75 per cent of the rural households, the main earning family member makes less than Rs 5,000 per month (or Rs 60,000 annually). In just eight per cent of households does the main earning member makes more than Rs 10,000 per month.
  • 56.25% of rural households hold no agricultural land. The numbers also point to the subsistence level of farming that rural India currently practices. Therefore, creation of gainful non-farm employment should receive top priority in policy making.

Criticism of the SECC

  • SECC 2011 data was criticized by few experts as it was not reliable. The methodology is not full proof and there are many errors and omissions in the draft data.
  • Experts have criticised conduction of the census by the ministry of rural development (MRD) rather than by the Registrar General, Census, or by the NSS. Both organisations have been doing survey/census work for the last sixty-five years; MRD is rather late in this game, and is prone to political compulsions rather than act as an objective, quasi-academic unit.
  • There is criticism that caste related data is deliberately withheld, similar to the religious data of 2011 Census of India, ostensibly because the findings could be politically controversial.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023