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Supreme Court saying ‘Publicity’ Litigation dismisses Pleas against Bihar caste census

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Published on: 20 January 2023 at 17:51 IST

Supreme Court dismisses a batch of Pleas challenging the ongoing caste census in Bihar, calling the pleas “publicity interest litigation” and wondering how can reservation benefits be determined without carrying out such an exercise.

Petitions challenging the Bihar government’s June 6 notification filled by NGO Ek Soch Ek Prayas and two individuals Akhilesh Kumar and Vishnu Gupta for the census on the grounds that it does not have the power to conduct it.

Petitioners claimed that the notification unconstitutional and violates several provisoons of it.

Ruling Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have been vocal in demanding the caste census for years. The demand was considered among the reasons that created divisions between chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and eventually led to their split last year.

In 2010, the Congress-led government at the Centre agreed to the demand for a caste census at a national level. But the data collected during the last census was never processed.

Supreme Court bench of justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath allowed the petitioners to withdraw the pleas and approach the high court. “We do not wish to entertain such petitions,” the bench said. It said the petitions are dismissed as withdrawn with the liberty to seek appropriate remedies after the petitioners agreed to withdraw them.

The petitions cited Section 3 of the Census Act, 1948, and argued the Union government alone is empowered to undertake census in the whole or any part of India. The petitioners said states are not empowered to conduct a census. They argued the power to legislate law for the census was on the Union list and Parliament alone can amend it.

The petitioners said a state government cannot initiate action on the subject in the exclusive domain of the Union government and the Parliament.

The petitions said the Bihar government’s move on the census was contrary to the Constitution’s basic structure. They claimed such an exercise promotes the caste system and social disharmony thus affecting India’s unity and integrity.

The petitioners argued the move was political as the decision for conducting the caste census was taken at an all-party meeting in June last year. They said a similar exercise was conducted in 2011 but its results were never published.

The petitions said the information on castes is well documented and there was no evidence by way of any study or report to show that lack of data on them was a stumbling block for rolling out welfare schemes provided to socially and educationally backward castes.

It is reported that the government of Bihar has launched the exercise on January 7 to compile data on each family digitally through a mobile application as part of the eight-level survey from the panchayat to the district level. The exercise will be completed in two phases. In the first phase scheduled to end on January 21, the number of households in the state will be counted.