No need for census data, will protect reservation: Govt

Without actual data, groups are forced to hit the streets to press claims of backwardness

Government of India on Wednesday said lack of economic and social data about intermediate castes will not impact their inclusion in OBC reservations for government services and higher education.

Nityanand Rai, Minister of State for Home Affairs, was replying to a question by MP TR Baalu on why the government is not collecting socio-economic data about all communities, including intermediate castes, in the 2021 census and whether this will affect their chances of getting reservation.

Nityanand Rai reiterated the stand said the government will not collect data about communities other than scheduled castes and scheduled tribes: “In Census, the castes and tribes which are specifically notified as Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) as per the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, as amended from time to time, are enumerated,” Rai said.

LEGAL HURDLES

Given the recent Supreme Court judgment on Maratha reservations, DMK’s TR Baalu asked why data is not being collected on such communities and whether the lack of data will not create legal hurdles in including such communities under OBC or other backward class reservations.

In May this year, the Supreme Court of India struck down a decision by the Maharashtra government to include the agrarian community of Marathas in the list of socially and economically backward groups in the state.

The Court struck it down, saying that there is no data to show that the community was backward.

OBC reservation is provided to the so-called intermediate castes in India to rectify their under-representation in government employment and higher education.

Unlike scheduled castes — who were mostly landless laborers — the OBC category mostly comprises communities that focused on farming and artisanal professions, including iron smiths, weavers, carpenters, masons and so on.

About 30 years ago, the government of India decided to set apart about one fourth of the total government jobs and seats in government-funded educational institutions for such groups after a committee found that they were woefully under-represented in these areas.

The OBC communities, which are estimated to comprise about 50% of India’s population, are estimated to contribute only 8.4% of Class A and 10% of Class B central government employees in India. Their presence in the higher judiciary is also estimated to be in the single digit percentages.

CENSUS AND COURTS

It is in the midst of the rising claims of backwardness from agrarian communities (intermediate castes) that demands are being made to collect community data as part of the upcoming census.

The decadal census of India collects critical demographic data — including annual household incomes, land holdings, educational qualifications and job status — for the entire population of the country.

It also collects community data for respondents who belong to various SC and ST groups, but not for other communities.

Because of this, it is almost impossible to obtain data about the actual education and economic situation of intermediate castes, leaving their claims of backwardness unverified.

Without hard data to back up claims of backwardness and under-representation, the inclusion of various communities in OBC category leads to controversies and law suits. It has also forced many communities to resort to street protests to highlight their demands.

Agricultural communities such as Jats, Marathas and Patels have been conducting agitations for several years, claiming that they are under-represented in institutes of higher education and therefore, among government employees.

However, given the paucity of concrete data, most of the demands of these sections have been rejected, sometimes engendering violent street protests.

Demands have therefore been placed before the central government to add a community column to the census questionnaire for all respondents, so that the exact economic and educational situation of such intermediate castes and communities can be ascertained with precision.

In fact, two state governments, Odisha and Maharashtra, have recently written to the central government to include the OBC or community column in the upcoming census so that reservations, such as those of Marathas, are not struck down.

However, the central government has steadily refused to add the community column.

Nithyanand Rai said there’s no need to collect such data, as “all legal issues for implementation of the reservations are effectively defended by the Government in various Courts.”

Meanwhile, the Madras High Court has asked the central government to set up a committee to implement OBC reservations in recruitment to Government medical colleges in India via the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test.