Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will head the promised Group of Ministers (GoM) that will examine the modalities of enumeration of caste in Census 2011, senior government sources told The Hindu.
The GoM was constituted on June 4, nine days after the Union Cabinet took a decision to do so. Its 10 other members are the representatives of all the Congress' partners in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA): Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Renewable EnergyMinister Farooq Abdullah, Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik and Minister of State for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid.
The government order merely says that the GoM will look into the question of “enumeration of caste, other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in Census 2011” and adds that the report must be submitted to the Prime Minister “expeditiously.”
The setting up of the GoM follows the acceptance of Mr. Mukherjee's suggestion at the Cabinet meeting on May 26 that the complexity of the issue demanded a more detailed discussion, possible only in a meeting of the GoM. At that Cabinet meeting — the second to discuss the issue after the meet on May 4 — the sense that emerged was that the mood across the political spectrum was in favour of a caste-based Census and to resist it would place the UPA on the wrong side of history. Indeed, at that meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal pointed out that since there was across-the-board support for it, as reflected in the parliamentary debate on the issue, the government should go ahead with it.
Sources said the government was most likely to accept Mr. Chidambaram's suggestion that the caste-based headcount should be done after the Census figures are tabulated, during the biometric capture phase when photographing, fingerprinting and iris mapping of citizens for the National Population Register (NPR) are done, rather than attempting it during the second phase.
Minister of State for Home Ajay Maken, who had hit the headlines after writing an impassioned letter to all young MPs opposing a caste-based census, took stock of the ongoing Census exercise on Tuesday. He appealed to the people to retain the slips given to them after they submitted filled-up Census forms, as they would be required during the NPR exercise.