Patna High Court upholds Bihar caste survey against legal challengestext_fields
Patna: The Patna High Court has upheld the caste survey being conducted by the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar, dismissing petitions filed against it.
A bench comprising Chief Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Partha Sarthy delivered the verdict on five petitions challenging the ongoing survey.
The Nitish Kumar government initiated the caste census in Bihar in January this year, to gather detailed information on the socio-economic conditions of different communities. The data from the survey was intended to aid in the formulation of better government policies to support disadvantaged groups.
The court also declared it "perfectly valid" and "initiated with due competence." The survey has been deemed essential for promoting development with justice in the state, reported Hindustan Times.
"We find the action of the state to be perfectly valid, initiated with due competence, with the legitimate aim of providing development with justice, as proclaimed in the address to both Houses, and the actual survey to have neither exercised nor contemplated any coercion to divulge the details... not having violated the rights of the individual, especially since it is furtherance of a compelling public interest, which in effect is the legitimate state interest. We dismiss the writ petitions, leaving the parties to suffer their respective costs," said the high court bench.
"It is clear that the Centre, as a matter of policy, decided not to carry out any caste-based enumeration... Karnataka has also done it through a commission and by legislation, which only reinforces the power of the state to carry out such survey for collection of data to achieve the constitutional goal of uplifting the downtrodden and the marginalised," added the bench.
The bench further said: "The contention of the State cannot be faulted that one can very well start the process with caste, wherever they are found, to evolve the criteria for determining backwardness."
"The state governments cannot wait on their haunches for the Central government to carry out the Census and provide it with the details to ensure affirmative action within the state... it is empowered to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward class of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes; which necessarily is not confined to an affirmative action but essentially is an upliftment of such socially and educationally backward communities to ensure due recognition and representation in society," observed the judges.
The court also said the power of the state legislature to make laws under the above fields of legislation, without repugnancy to any legislation brought out by the Union, cannot at all be disputed.
"Articles 15 and 16, while prohibiting any discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and providing for equality of opportunities in matters of public employment, inherently provides for beneficial schemes for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes and reservation in favour of citizens, not adequately represented in, the services under the State, its instrumentalities and the various representative bodies of governance," said the court.
Petitioners said they will approach the Supreme Court to challenge the verdict of the Patna High Court.
The completion of the caste survey was scheduled for May; however, legal challenges hindered the government's progress.
Earlier, on May 4, the Patna High Court had issued a stay on the caste census, stating, "Prima facie, we are of the opinion that the State has no power to carry out a caste-based survey, in the manner in which it is fashioned now, which would amount to a census, thus impinging upon the legislative power of the Union Parliament."
The Supreme Court also refused to lift the stay imposed by the High Court on May 18, further prolonging the completion of the caste census.
The issue of caste census has become a major political concern in recent months, with opposition parties pressurising the Union government to conduct a similar exercise on a national level. The Congress-led UPA government had conducted a Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in 2011-12, but its data was never released due to varying opinions within the government.
The demand for a caste census gained momentum after the Narendra Modi government implemented reservations for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), granting quotas to the so-called "upper caste" groups. This move was seen as an anomaly in the caste-based affirmative action policy, as the EWS reservation was based on poverty criteria, potentially depriving marginalised castes and communities of their rights.