Patna HC bans caste survey of Nitish government, says- State does not have right to conduct census

Patna: A two-judge bench of the Patna High Court on Thursday ordered a stay on the statewide caste-based survey being conducted by the Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government. Bihar’s Advocate General PK Shahi had informed the court on Wednesday that 80 per cent of the work has been completed.

Chief Justice K. A division bench of Vinod Chandran and Justice Madhuresh Prasad, in a 31-page interim order, said that it is of prima facie opinion that the state government has “no power to conduct caste-based survey, in the manner in which it is now in fashion”.

The court said, “this would amount to a census, thus impinging on the legislative power of the Union Parliament”.

The court issued the interim order after hearing three petitions challenging the Bihar government’s decision to conduct caste-based survey. The state government has defended the practice as being important for the upliftment of every section of society.

In its order, the bench asked why a bill to this effect was not introduced in the Bihar Assembly when legislators from both the ruling party and the opposition passed a resolution in favor of caste-based survey.

Fixing July 3 as the next date of hearing, the bench directed the state government to ensure that the data collected so far is preserved and “not shared with anyone” till the final order is passed.

Referring to a notification issued regarding the caste-based survey, the court said that the state government “intends to share the data with leaders of various parties in the state legislature, the ruling party and the opposition party, which is also an issue matter of great concern”.

It said the notification raises a larger question of right to privacy, as the pro forma questionnaire seeks 17 responses, which include details of how much family members earn and whether they own vehicles or laptops.

Further, the HC said the state government’s decision to use Rs 500 crore from the contingency fund to conduct a state-wide caste-based survey has to be “seen” through the prism of the law on that count as well as the rules of business. Needed State.

The second phase of the state-wide caste-based survey began on 15 April 2023, during which the government aims to document the caste status and socio-economic indicators of around 12.7 crore individuals.

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‘Not a political issue’

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told reporters on Thursday that the caste-based survey is being done to better understand the socio-economic condition of different sections of the society.

Janata Dal (United) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar told ThePrint, adding that the move was not of a political nature, “The caste-based survey was done after unanimous resolutions were passed in its favor (in the assembly). This issue should not be discussed as a political issue.”

Meanwhile, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha termed the Patna HC order as “unfortunate” and said the caste-based survey was “aimed at achieving a social balance in the society”.

Opposition BJP has become aggressive after the order of Patna High Court. Nitish government is making a record of losing cases in the courts. Former Bihar BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal said the caste-based survey decision had the approval of all parties and yet the Nitish government could not present a strong case in the court.

The caste-based survey, launched on January 7 this year, has been at the center of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s politics for the last two years.

In August 2021, when his party was part of the BJP-led NDA, Nitish led an all-party delegation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a demand for a nationwide caste-based census.

After a lukewarm response to the demand, the General Administration Department (GAD) of the Bihar government issued a notification last July, expressing the government’s intention to conduct a caste-based survey, for which it released a list of 240 castes.

The data collected during the ongoing survey was to be collected by May 16 and released soon thereafter.

(Editing by Amritansh Arora)

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