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Updated: September 1, 2010 03:03 IST

Stand-alone caste headcount too a certainty

Smita Gupta AND Aarti Dhar
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Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the decision to include caste in census would have to be approved by the Cabinet.
PTI Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the decision to include caste in census would have to be approved by the Cabinet.

GoM to propose to Cabinet such an exercise, which will run alongside the biometric capture phase

The UPA government is likely to take a formal decision on the issue of caste enumeration in Census 2010 when the deliberations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) are placed before the Union Cabinet on Thursday.

Sources said the GoM will propose to the Cabinet that there should be two parallel exercises — a stand-alone caste head count, which will run alongside the biometric capture phase.

The difficulties of doing it earlier, at the point when the National Population Register (NPR) is being drawn up, will be discussed, it is learnt. This had been suggested by many Opposition parties, which felt that linking the caste head count to the biometric phase would delay the process. But the government is of the view that if the head count is done at the NPR stage, Census 2010 may be delayed by as much as a year, sources said.

“Inconvenience”

The GoM had endorsed the view of the Union Home Ministry — the nodal Ministry for the Census — that the caste head count be done during the biometric details capture phase starting December this year, pointing out that it would be inconvenient to do it earlier at the NPR stage as that is already under way.

However, after the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) vociferously objected to the head count being done at the biometric stage, the government was forced to ask all political parties for their views on the methodology of caste enumeration.

Objections

The objections of the SP, the RJD and the JD(U) rests on their belief that if the head count is done at the biometric stage, it will never be completed — and they cite the example of election cards, which are yet to cover the whole population. The Left parties are backing this stand, but the BJP's ambivalence on the subject — its view is that the caste head count should be done at a stage at which the integrity of the data is not compromised — has, apparently, made it easier for the government to stick to its stand.

Of course, even within the Congress, there are two opinions on caste enumeration: there is one which believes it should be done at the NPR stage, so that those who analyse the data later can correlate it to educational and economic status of the individuals enumerated and thereby draw up a more accurate demographic picture of the country, which would help in the government's social welfare interventions. The other, which feels that caste enumeration has no place in 21st century India, and which is going along with it merely because there is pressure, cutting across political parties, to do it, is pushing for it to be done at the biometric stage, so that all you get at the end is a set of numbers.

Pranab’s assurance

In the Lok Sabha, Leader of the House and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the Group of Ministers had already approved inclusion of caste in census but as it was not an empowered GoM, the decision would have to be approved by the Cabinet. “The political parties had supported the idea of including caste in the census and there was no need for any ‘apprehensions' over the issue.”

The Minister was responding to leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Janata Dal (United), the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, who asked what happened to the government's promise on caste census, particularly as Tuesday was the last day of the monsoon session.

The GoM decided that caste census be carried out during a house-to-house enumeration, and biometric and other exercises could be taken up simultaneously. It was now a matter of formality, the Minister said.

After suggestions for inclusion of caste in the census were received, he wrote to political parties, most of whom responded “positively,” Mr. Mukherjee recalled.

‘Unease in country’

Earlier, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav raised the issue, saying the government had sought the views of parties, which responded in writing. However, nothing was heard after that, despite assurances by Mr. Mukherjee who held three meetings with leaders of parties. “There is unease in the country,” Mr. Yadav said, demanding an early response.

The JD(U) chief found support from SP leader Mulayam Singh, BJP deputy leader Gopinath Munde and the BSP's Dara Singh Chauhan. Mr. Singh said there was consensus in the House over inclusion of caste in census and there was “no party which did not support it.” But the ongoing census had not been stopped, it was on.

Mr. Singh said that despite the promise by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Mukherjee of implementation of a caste census at the earliest, it had not happened.

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