SC issues notice; refuses to interfere with Bihar caste survey at this timetext_fields
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice on a number of petitions against the Bihar Government's caste survey.
Issuing notice, a bench presided by Justice Sanjeev Khanna said, “This will require some consideration… It is going to take time for us to…” and asked the counsel appearing for Bihar: “…but why did you publish this?”
Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the state, said it was because “Your Lordships had made it clear that first and foremost the court will decide whether or not to issue notice in this case”, Indian Express reported
The bench, which included Justice S V N Bhatti as well, did not issue any restraining orders but did indicate that it would look into the state government's competence to conduct the survey. “We are not staying anything at this moment. Let them file counter,” said Justice Khanna.
He added, “We cannot stop the state government or any government from taking decisions. That will be wrong. Yes, if there is an issue with regard to the data, that will be considered. We are going to examine the other issue with regard to the right of the state government to do it.”
The Patna High Court's August 2, 2023 order upholding the state's decision to conduct the survey is under appeal, and the court is now hearing those cases.
Senior Advocate Aparajitha Singh, appearing for some of the appellants, said, “This data should not be acted upon as it was collected illegally…The HC has given a detailed judgment. But it is wrong on every point of law. The data has not been collected under law as laid down by this court. Even the executive order does not have a legitimate aim as laid down in the K S Puttaswamy judgment. The legitimate aim comes in the counter which says that we will decide the objective because otherwise we can’t collect data totally. That is the answer given. So there is no legitimate aim.”
She added that the state had pre-empted the court. “We were arguing stay”.
Justice Khanna however said, “No. They said there will be multiple examinations. But the question normally which comes out is should the breakdown of complete data for transparency be made available. But whether we should go into that question or leave it to somebody else…,”.
Singh also pointed out that “the most important thing which we are talking about is informational privacy”. But Justice Khanna said the question of privacy may not arise “because names etc are not being published”.
The petitions have argued that, in accordance with the nine-judge bench's ruling in the 2017 privacy case (K S Puttaswamy v. Union of India), even the gathering of data is prohibited without legal support because doing so would violate people's privacy. However they noted that the survey was conducted in accordance with an executive order.
Singh worried that the state would publish the information by the next date and state the same thing. She argued that “our only issue is data is collected unlawfully and cannot be acted upon”.
Justice Khanna responded, “You will be in some difficulty on that,” to which Singh said, “But I didn’t even get to argue that.”
“We read the judgment and we have formed a prima face view. Of course subject to change,” Justice Khanna said. The court will hear the matter again in January 2024.