New Delhi: Following divisions over a proposed caste-based census, the Union cabinet on Wednesday decided to form a group of ministers (GoM) to take a call on the controversial issue.
The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“The GoM will be headed by either finance minister Pranab Mukherjee or agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. It is most likely to be a three-member GoM,” said a high-ranking government official, who did not want to be named.
The official said key ministers such as Pawar and railway minister Mamata Banerjee were not present at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, which discussed the sensitive issue for nearly an hour.
“Once the GoM finalizes the things, the matter will be again sent back to the cabinet to discuss how and when to conduct (a) caste (-based) census,” the official said.
The cabinet, which first discussed the issue at length on 4 May, has been divided over it. Law minister M. Veerappa Moily and some others are pushing for a caste-based census, which Moily argues would help keep out the so-called creamy layer from reaping the benefits of caste-based affirmative action.
Home minister P. Chidambaram has some reservations about such a census. The home ministry says the present exercise of enumeration should go on and caste be included later at the time of taking biometric samples.
“It was suggested to avoid fudging of data during the collection process. There is a fear that OBC (other backward classes) figures may go up drastically if it is included now. The biometric system will record accurate data and knock out duplications,” a senior home ministry official said.
Several political parties, including the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United), have been pressing for a caste-based census.
The issue figured prominently in the budget session of Parliament when the Prime Minister assured members that the government would take their views into account before deciding on the matter.
At his press conference on Monday, the Prime Minister said the cabinet would decide on the matter.
“I made a statement in Parliament in which I said that we shall take into account the views expressed in Parliament by various sections...and that I will ask the cabinet to consider them. That process is on,” Singh said.
He said a “discussion on the issue will take place in the cabinet and whatever decision is taken, it will be brought before the people”.
A caste-based census was last conducted in the country in 1931.
PTI contributed to this story.