Supreme Court dismisses challenge to caste-based census in Bihar

A division bench termed the petitions publicity-seeking.


THE Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a batch of petitions challenging the Bihar Government’s decision to hold a caste-based census in the state.  

A division bench comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Vikram Nath termed the petitions publicity-seeking. However, the bench granted liberty to the petitioners to approach the Patna High Court with their pleas.

The petitions argued that under Section 3 of the Census Act, 1948, only the Union Government is empowered to conduct a census in the whole or any part of the territory of India.

Referring to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the petition argued that there is no mention of census or caste census in the State List or the Concurrent List. It added that only Entry 69 in the Union List mentions a census. The petition, thus, argued that it is the Union Government and Parliament alone which are competent to legislate law on Census.

In December 2021, the Union Government had told the Supreme Court that the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), 2011 did not contain data on Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and was not made public as it was found to be flawed and was bound to mislead. The government said it fully supported reservation for OBCs, but the exercise would have to be in line with the 2010 verdict of a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, which had laid down triple conditions, the fulfilment of which is a prerequisite. These conditions include setting up a dedicated commission to conduct a contemporaneous, rigorous empirical inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness of a particular class qua local bodies within the state.

The response had come following a petition by the Maharashtra government seeking direction to the Union Government and other authorities to disclose to the state the raw caste data on OBCs from SECC 2011, which had not been made available to it despite repeated demands.