The Bihar government has finally unveiled the results of its caste survey, following a Supreme Court declaration that the publication could proceed unless there was evidence of constitutional rights infringement or incompetence.
The survey reveals that the Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) constitute 36.01 per cent of the population, Backward Classes make up 27.13 per cent, Upper Castes represent 15.52 per cent, Scheduled Castes (SC) comprise 19.65 per cent, and Scheduled Tribes (ST) account for 1.68 per cent.
Within the Backward Classes (BC) category, the Yadavs constitute 14.26 per cent of the population, while the Kushwaha and Kurmi communities account for 4.27 per cent and 2.87 per cent respectively.
The primary objective of this survey was to advocate for increased reservations for the backward classes.
Last year, the ruling Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal initiated the demand for this comprehensive survey in Bihar, a move later supported by other parties, including the Congress, on a national scale.
The hope was that this caste enumeration will play a pivotal role in addressing the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) influence among backward communities and counter religious polarisation leading up to the 2024 national elections.
The survey was conducted in two phases, spanning from 7 January to 21 January and then from April to August. It encompassed a wide array of socio-economic indicators, including caste, employment, education, marital status, land holdings, and property ownership.
Upon survey completion, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced in August that the data was being meticulously analysed to provide an accurate representation of the socio-economic conditions among various castes.
The opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) has been advocating for nationwide implementation of the survey, extending beyond Bihar's borders.
In response to the Union government's involvement in the hearing of pleas against the Patna High Court's approval of the survey, INDI Alliance in Bihar expressed their discontent with the government's intervention.
The Union government had earlier mentioned to the Supreme Court that the survey had some "ramifications". While the BJP reaffirmed its backing for the survey, emphasising that it was approved by the previous National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar before Janata Dal (United) ended its alliance with the BJP last year.
In August, the Supreme Court decided not to issue any interim orders or stays on the high court verdict unless it is convinced, on a prima facie basis, that the survey was incorrect.
Opponents of the survey argued that it was conducted in a manner akin to a census, which is the exclusive responsibility of the Union government.
They also contended that the survey's request for details on caste, religion, and profession violated the right to privacy, without adequate data protection mechanisms in place.
The high court clarified that while conducting a census is the Union government's prerogative, state governments are not prohibited from gathering data for welfare schemes and affirmative action.
Youth For Equality, an NGO, has argued that the Bihar government's survey violated the Supreme Court's verdict in the Puttaswamy case, which ruled that only through a law can a state carry out an exercise impacting an individual's privacy.
The NGO alleges that the state government conducted the entire survey through an executive order.
Nayan Dwivedi is Staff Writer at Swarajya.
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