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Caste Census in India

Why is it in the news?

  • After the release of a caste survey in Bihar, revealing significant population percentages belonging to Extremely Backward Classes (EBC) and Other Backward Classes (OBC), the demand for a nationwide caste census has arisen.

Analysing the Case for Caste census in India

Socio-Economic Data Disparity

  • Average monthly per capita consumption expenditures (MPCE) for STs, SCs, and OBC households in rural areas are lower than those of the general category.
  • Multidimensional poverty estimates indicate higher poverty ratios among STs, SCs, and OBCs compared to the general category.
  • Scholars’ estimates show that STs, SCs, and OBCs together, despite constituting a significant portion of the population, account for a disproportionate share of the country’s poor.

Education and Employment Inequality

  • Data on education and employment reveal disparities across caste categories.
  • The general category has a higher proportion of literates, graduates, and post-graduates compared to OBCs, SCs, and STs.
  • Informal sector employment is more common among STs, SCs, and OBCs, while the general category has a greater share of formal employment.
  • The Central government’s employment data also show a disparity in the representation of caste categories, particularly in skilled and well-paid positions.

Mandal Commission and Reservation

  • The Mandal Commission estimated OBCs to be 52% of India’s population and recommended 27% reservation for them in government services and educational institutions.
  • The implementation of OBC reservation and subsequent legal challenges led to the Indra Sawhney judgment in 1992, upholding the reservation policy based on caste.

Opposition to Caste census

  • Some opposition to a nationwide caste census stems from concerns that revealing OBC population percentages equal to or greater than 52% could lead to demands for increased OBC reservation.
  • The enactment of the Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act, 2019, which provided 10% reservation to economically weaker sections (EWS) within the general category, already breached the 50% reservation ceiling set by the Supreme Court.

Way Forward

  • The wide variation in OBC population estimates from official sample surveys necessitates a comprehensive caste census to obtain accurate numbers.
  • Detailed data on individual castes within the OBC category are crucial to address concerns about reservation benefits concentrating among dominant caste groups.
  • State-level OBC lists also require accurate caste composition data, given the diversity in caste demographics among states.
  • Overall, the Justice Rohini Commission’s report on sub-categorization of OBCs highlights the need for scientific criteria, which a nationwide caste census can provide.

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