Why is it in the news?
- Recently, the Bihar government has released the results of its survey of castes in the state.
Major Take Aways from the Survey
- EBCs (Extremely Backward Classes) are the largest social group in Bihar, comprising 36.01% of the state’s population.
- OBCs (Other Backward Classes) make up 27.12% of the population, while Scheduled Castes (SCs) account for 19.65%.
- Scheduled Tribes (STs) constitute only 1.68% of Bihar’s population.
- The “unreserved” category, often considered “forward” castes, comprises 15.52% of the population.
- Bihar’s total population, according to the survey, is 13,07,25,310, with Hindus making up 81.99% and Muslims 17.72%.
- The survey was initiated in response to an all-party decision in June 2022, with Rs 500 crore allocated from the contingency fund.
- It involved two phases: counting households and collecting data on castes, religions, economic backgrounds, and family members.
- The Patna High Court initially paused the survey but allowed it to continue in August after categorizing it as a “survey” rather than a census.
Significance of findings
- The findings may fuel calls to increase OBC quotas beyond 27% and establish quotas within quotas for EBCs.
- The debate over the 50% ceiling on reservations imposed by the Supreme Court could resurface, affecting reservation policies.
Impact on Elections
- EBCs, OBCs, and SCs together constitute over 82% of Bihar’s population, making them a crucial vote bank in elections.
- EBCs include around 130 castes that fall within the lower ranks of the OBC spectrum.
- Karpoori Thakur pioneered EBC politics in Bihar, advocating for quotas within quotas with 12% reserved for EBCs and 8% for OBCs.
- The present CM continued the EBC-focused policies after coming to power in 2005, cultivating their support throughout his tenure.
The Legal Challenges and Justification for the Bihar Caste Survey
Grounds for the Challenge
- The Bihar caste survey faced legal challenges primarily on two grounds: Violation of citizens’ fundamental right to privacy due to questions about religion, caste, and income and questioning the state’s authority to conduct such a survey.
- Petitioners argued that the survey violated the right to privacy of those being surveyed by collecting personal information.
- The court referred to the 2017 ‘Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India’ case and stated that restrictions on fundamental rights could be imposed in the state’s legitimate interests if they are proportional and reasonable.
- The court accepted the Bihar government’s assurance that the survey had strong security measures and no risk of data leakage.
- The court clarified that the data collected was voluntary and aimed at identifying economic, educational, and social aspects of different communities for their upliftment, not for discriminatory purposes.
- The petitioners argued that only the Union government had the power to conduct a “census.” They relied on Entry 69 of the Union List in the Constitution’s Seventh Schedule, which grants the exclusive power to conduct a “census” to the Centre.
- The Bihar government countered that a caste census was conducted by the Centre in 2011 under Article 73, which allows the Centre’s power to extend to matters on which Parliament can make laws.
- It also pointed out the similarity between Entry 45 of the Concurrent List and Entry 94 of the Union List, both allowing the collection of statistics for economic and social planning goals.
Patna High Court’s Final Ruling
- The Patna High Court concluded that the state’s actions were perfectly valid, initiated with due competence, and aimed at providing “Development with Justice.”
- It found that the survey neither coerced individuals to disclose details nor violated the right to privacy.
- The court emphasized that the survey was in furtherance of a “compelling public interest” and a “legitimate State interest.”
- Overall, the court upheld the legitimacy and legality of the Bihar caste survey, dismissing the initial challenges.