GoM to decide on caste based census

May 27, 2010: The Indian Express

The contentious issue of whether to have a caste-based census or not was on Wednesday referred to a Group of Ministers (GoM) by the government after the Union Cabinet failed to arrive at a decision after a lengthy discussion.

The GoM is likely to be headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and is expected to have as members Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik, Minister for Tribal Affairs Kantilal Bhuria and Law Minister Veerappa Moily besides Home Minister P Chidambaram.

Denying that the move was a delaying tactic, sources said the attempt by the ministerial group would be to take a decision at the earliest possible so that caste-based counting could even be taken up in February next year, if it was decided to do so. A clear hint in this direction was made in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning when Pranab Mukherjee proposed that a GoM should “quickly¶ consider the subject and report back to the Union Cabinet.

 Most of the ministers supported the need for a caste-based census and pointed to the wider backing the issue had received in Parliament when it was debated in the second phase of the Budget session. They also pointed out that the monsoon session was approaching and the government would be under pressure from parties like the SP, RJD, JD(U) as well as the BJP, who had demanded that the government include caste in the census exercise.

Water Resources Minister Pawan Bansal is understood to have said caste was a reality, which could not be brushed under the carpet. He even favoured including caste counting in Phase II of the census exercise to be taken up in February next year. Also speaking in support, Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran in fact felt that there was no need for much debate since the issue had already been settled through a Parliament debate. Several others, including Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Wasnik, reportedly favoured caste-based census.

Among those who expressed reservations on conducting such an exercise included Sports Minister M S Gill, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal. Law minister Veerappa Moily, another staunch votary of caste-based census, however, argued that there was no point in being hypocritical. “There is nothing wrong in having a headcount based on caste,¶ he told the meeting while contending that it should be included in round two and three of the Census exercise when work on the National Population Register begins. A discussion on the subject was first taken up by the Cabinet earlier on May 4.

According to sources, Chidambaram clinically pointed out arguments in favour and the complexities involved in conducting such an exercise along with Census 2011. He favoured the line that the present enumeration should be allowed to go on and caste data could be included later when biometric samples were taken.

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