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GoM to consider caste-based Census
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

PC: Wait for National Population Register

Home Minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday listed difficulties in going in for a caste headcount at a time when the census is already underway. He suggested that the caste-based headcount could be undertaken on completion of the first two phases of the census enumeration when biometric capture photographing, fingerprinting and iris mapping of citizens is to be done for the preparation of the National Population Register (NPR). He suggested that the caste data collected be handed over to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs or be examined by an expert group since the Census Commission of India (CCI) and the Office of the Registrar General (ORG) are not qualified to anaylse this information.

New Delhi, May 26
Although there is a growing acceptance in the UPA government on the inclusion of caste in the ongoing census, the Union Cabinet today decided to refer the matter to a group of ministers (GoM) after a lengthy discussion on the subject.

The decision to set up a GoM followed a suggestion from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who felt it was not possible to take a hurried decision on such a complex issue as it requires an in-depth study.

As compared to last month’s Cabinet meeting when there had been vehement opposition from several ministers to the proposal for a caste-based census, the mood this time appeared to be more conciliatory in the light of the debate in the recently-concluded Parliament session when the overwhelming majority favoured a caste head count. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had given an assurance in the Lok Sabha that these views would be considered when the Cabinet takes a final view on this subject.

Several political parties, including the Samajwadi Party, RJD and JD-U, have made a strong pitch for the inclusion of caste in the census exercise. Law minister Veerappa Moily, who was supported by Union ministers Jaipal Reddy and Pawan Kumar Bansal, pointed out that there is no need to be hypocritical since caste is a reality that cannot be brushed under the carpet, adding that the present exercise only required a counting of heads and nothing beyond that.

Moily said there should be no objections to such a count since the government implicitly acknowledges the existence of caste when it formulates special programmes for different caste groups. Bansal argued that the demand for a caste-based census should be accepted given the overwhelming demand for it. Union ministers Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal are learnt to have pointed to the problems in undertaking such an exercise while Sports Minister MS Gill maintained there was no need to revive this practice when it is everybody’s endeavour to move towards a casteless society.

UPA sources said a number of other issues were also raised at today’s meeting. For instance, it was pointed out that persons conducting the census were not adequately equipped for this exercise as they have not been trained to collect caste-based data. It was also argued that separate questionnaires would have to be drawn up as the lists of OBCs are not uniform across all states. There is also a question mark over verifying the authenticity of the collected data and which government department would be the repository of this information.





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