A focussed, stand-alone house-to-house caste headcount will be conducted between June and September 2011, after the National Population Register (NPR) is ready.

On Thursday, after five months of wrangling among political parties, first on whether to undertake caste enumeration or not, and then on the method for doing it, the Union Cabinet, after considering the recommendations of the Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, gave its approval, paving the way for caste being included in Census 2011.

“After considering various options, the option that we have approved is based on the responses of various political parties: that caste must be canvassed and the integrity of the headcount must not be affected,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram told journalists. Every point of view was “accommodated and the timetable drawn up,” he noted.

As for the additional cost for the exercise, he said it would be “assessed” at a separate meeting.

Mr. Chidambaram, however, evaded a question on whether caste enumeration would be merged with the headcount.

Doing so could be contentious, as there are two views on this: those who favour the merger say that correlating the caste identities of people with their educational and economic status will help map the population better, thus facilitating a more accurate targeting of welfare schemes. But who oppose to it fear that making such connections might lead to a demand for larger quotas.

Sources in the government said this would be a “focussed exercise.” They stressed that since the enumerators would be working on a verified data base — the NPR — the integrity of the data would be maintained. Those being enumerated would be asked to name their caste, but they would have the option to say “No caste,” if they so wish, said the sources. Later, the raw data collected would be analysed by an expert group, set up by the Centre.

The Office of the Registrar-General and Census Commissioner would be “legally empowered” to collect caste data by putting in place a suitable legal regime.

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