The government has made it clear in the Supreme Court that a caste census of the Backward Classes is “administratively difficult and cumbersome”.
The Centre reasoned that even when the census of castes were taken in the pre-Independence period, the data suffered in respect of “completeness and accuracy”. It said the caste data enumerated in the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) of 2011 is “unusable” for official purposes as they are “replete with technical flaws”.
“The issue has been examined at length in the past at different points of time. Each time, the view has consistently been that the caste Census of Backward Classes is administratively difficult and cumbersome; it has suffered and will suffer both on account of completeness and accuracy of the data, as also evident from the infirmities of the SECC 2011 data , making it unusable for any official purposes and cannot be mentioned as a source of information for population data in any official document,” the affidavit filed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said.
Though the Ministry was replying to a writ petition filed by the State of Maharashtra to gather Backward Classes’ caste data in the State while conducting Census 2021, the Centre takes it a step forward to clarify that “exclusion of information” regarding any other caste — other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes — from the purview of the census is a “conscious policy decision”.
The government said caste-wise enumeration in the Census was given up as a matter of policy from 1951. It said there was a policy of “official discouragement of caste”.
On the specific issue of collecting caste data during Census 2021, the Centre explained that a population census was not the “ideal instrument” for collection of details on caste. There is a “grave danger” that the “basic integrity” of census data would be compromised. Even the fundamental population count may get “distorted”.
Besides, the Centre said, it was too late now to enumerate caste into the Census 2021. Planning and preparations for the census exercise starts almost four years earlier. The phases of Census 2021 had been finalised after detailed deliberations with ministries, data users, recommendations from technical advisory committees, etc. Preparatory work was already in place. The census questions were finalised in August-September of 2019. Instruction manuals were ready.
To Maharashtra’s plea to reveal the SECC 2011 “raw caste data” of Other Backward Classes (OBC), the Centre said the 2011 Census was not an “OBC survey”. It was, on the other hand, a comprehensive exercise to enumerate caste status of all households in the country in order to use their socio-economic data to identify poor households and implement anti-poverty programmes.
The Centre said the raw caste/tribe data of 2011 was unusable. For example, Mappilas in Malabar region of Kerala were spelt in 40 different ways, resulting in the listing of 40 different castes.
The government said the data was stored in the Office of the Registrar General and had not been made official. It cannot be used as a source of information for population data in any official document.