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Andhra Pradesh Launches Caste Census

Why is it in the news?

  • Andhra Pradesh recently initiated a caste census, following in the footsteps of Bihar, to comprehensively enumerate all communities in the state.
  • The method involves deploying the village secretariat system and volunteers for data collection.
Historical Context

·       Caste-wise enumeration was first introduced by the British colonial administration in 1881 and continued until the 1931 census.

·       Independent India abandoned caste enumerations, citing concerns about potential social division and strengthening caste hierarchies.

·       Subsequently, census data from 1951 to 2011 focused on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes only.

Arguments for a Caste Census

  • Effective Governance: A caste census provides a comprehensive picture of India’s caste composition, aiding in effective governance by including marginalized communities and sub-castes.
  • Tracking Progress: The absence of official data hinders tracking progress in affirmative action, addressing caste-based discrimination, and allocating resources effectively.
  • Certainty in Policy Making: Lack of clarity on the progress of various caste groups impedes effective policy formulations.
  • Social Justice: A caste census enables better targeting of affirmative action programs, addressing persistent discrimination and extending welfare schemes to overlooked castes.
  • Resource Allocation: It facilitates equitable distribution of resources based on the needs of different caste groups.
  • Social Reforms: Data-driven evidence supports social reform initiatives aimed at addressing caste-based disparities.

Arguments Against a Caste Census

  • Social Division: Critics argue that a caste census could solidify caste identities, exacerbate tensions, and lead to renewed claims of dominance and hierarchy.
  • Unconstitutional: Some argue that states conducting a caste census violate constitutional provisions, as the Union Government has the sole right to conduct a census.
  • Data Misuse: Concerns exist about potential misuse of caste census data for political gains or discrimination against certain caste groups.
  • New Issues: The survey data may reignite debates over the 50% ceiling on reservations imposed by the Supreme Court.
  • Logistical Challenges: Conducting a nationwide caste census is a complex and expensive undertaking, requiring careful planning and implementation.
  • Alternative Data Sources: Some argue that existing databases and surveys can provide sufficient data on caste and socioeconomic conditions.
Related Supreme Court Rulings

·       Indra Sawhney v Union of India, 1992: Emphasized the need for a “reasonable and adequate” data-driven approach to identify backward classes.

·       Janhit Manch vs. Union of India, 2020: The court ruled that the government is not obligated to conduct a caste census at present, relying on existing data.

·       Bihar Caste Census Case 2023: The Supreme Court is currently hearing challenges to the validity of Bihar’s 2023 caste census.

Way Forward

  • Caste data is crucial for understanding the labour market, wealth inequality, and policy scheme implementation.
  • Rather than politicizing the caste census, every political party should embrace the idea to ensure the welfare of the most marginalized sections of the citizens.

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