Home / Politics / UPA blinks, may include caste count in Census

New Delhi: The government may reconsider its decision and include caste as a parameter in the ongoing Census to ensure a fresh count for the various groups, including the key electoral constituency of the other backward classes (OBCs).

Practical difficulties: Union home minister P. Chidambaram says it will be difficult for the enumerators to classify and verify answers on caste. Shahbaz Khan/PTI

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hedged the government’s options in his statement in Parliament, a senior government official who did not want to be identified said, “The caste census would be included in population census 2011. Tabulation of data will take two years and then another three years to verify claims."

Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj signalled the government’s change of mind.

In his reply to a debate on the issue, home minister P. Chidambaram listed the “practical difficulties in counting caste while conducting the census", which has already begun. Chidambaram said it would be difficult for the enumerators, who are meant to collect observational data, to “classify" and “verify" answers on caste.

With members expressing dissatisfaction over the home minister’s statement, Singh intervened and said the cabinet would take a decision on the matter shortly.

The census, first conducted in 1881, collected caste-wise data until 1931. While the census continues to count scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, OBCs have not been enumerated for 80 years. Parties with strong OBC constituencies argue that this led to undercounting and consequently affects their entitlement. Their opposition, as Mint reported on 5 May, could hurt the prospects of the Congress in elections to key states such as Bihar this year and Uttar Pradesh in 2012.

Separately, the UPA government played it safe by not taking up the controversial Women’s Reservation Bill but introduced the nuclear civil liability Bill, which Singh is believed to be keen on. Science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan introduced the Bill, which invited sharp criticism from the opposition parties.

The opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Biju Janata Dal and the Left parties tried to prevent the introduction of the Bill—essential for the operationalization of the Indo-US nuclear deal—saying it violated Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees right to life.

“It compromises the right of the citizen to go to court claiming compensation because the payment is capped in the proposed legislation," Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Basudeb Acharia said, raising objections to the Bill. The proposed legislation caps the maximum liability at Rs500 crore on the part of the operator in the case of a nuclear accident and the overall liability at Rs2,200 crore (or 330 million Special Drawing Rights). However, the legislation “empowers the Central government to increase or decrease the amount of liability of the operator depending on the extent of risk involved".

Bharatiya Janata Party member Yashwant Sinha accused the government of succumbing to “US pressure" even as other MPs shouted “India is sold out" and “shame, shame".

However, the Congress-led coalition government did not take up the Women’s Reservation Bill despite indications that party chief Sonia Gandhi was keen on it. Passed by the Rajya Sabha amid vehement protests on 8 March, the government had antagonized many friendly parties including the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the RJD, all of which had extended support to the UPA government from outside.

Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.

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