M A I N   N E W S

UPA goes slow on caste census
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, July 1
The first meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on the inclusion of caste in the ongoing census remained inconclusive. It will meet again for another round of deliberations on the emotive issue.The ministerial panel, headed by Pranab Mukherjee, will be writing to all political parties to elicit their views on the subject. They will be given four weeks to reply.

If this time frame is any indication, it appears that the UPA Government is now going slow on the issue that has created deep divisions both within the Congress and the BJP.

UPA sources said Thursday’s 90-minute meeting discussed all aspects, including the modalities of conducting such an exercise. Home Minister P Chidambaram has suggested that the caste enumeration should be done in the second phase of the census operations when the biometric capture of photographs, fingerprints and iris mapping of citizens for the National Population Register (NPR) is conducted.

The GoM includes P Chidambaram, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran. While Mamata Banerji and Farooq Abdulla and Sharad Pawar were not present at the meeting, Moily left midway for an appointment with the Prime Minister.

The GoM was given the task of discussing the issue threadbare last month after the Union Cabinet failed to arrive at a consensus when the matter came up for discussion following the overwhelming support for a caste headcount from across the political spectrum during a debate in the budget session of Parliament. Parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (U) had made a strong pitch for it and even disrupted proceedings to press their demand. PM Manmohan Singh had assured the House that the matter would be considered by the Union Cabinet. The issue is bound to create another storm in the monsoon session of Parliament which is to open in the third week of this month.

While the RSS has conveyed its opposition to caste-based census to the BJP, the Congress is, too, not one on this matter. Union Ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal and MS Gill had come out strongly against such a move on the plea that it would divide society on caste lines during the Cabinet discission. However, they wre countered by strong votaries of the exercise like Moily and Urban Development Minister S Jaipal Reddy who argued that caste is a reality which cannot be wished away. Such a headcount, they said, will help in better and more equitable distribution of resources.





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