Bihar caste survey: SC defers hearing for August 18 on plea challenging Patna HC order

The Supreme Court on Monday deferred for August 18 hearing on a plea challenging the Patna High Court’s August 1 order giving the go-ahead for a caste survey in Bihar.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti listed the plea filed by NGO ‘Ek Soch Ek Paryas’ on August 18 along with other pleas filed challenging the same order of the high court.

A counsel appearing for the petitioner challenging the high court order said that on the day of the high court order on August 1, the state government had late night issued a notification to complete the caste-based survey within three days.

The bench said it will consider everything on August 18 and by that time the judges will also go through the high court verdict.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, also appearing for the petitioners challenging the high court order, said the direction may be issued to the state to not publish the details of the survey till the pendency of pleas before the court.

Justice Khanna said that it will amount to an indirect stay on the survey without even hearing the other side.

“It will be without any application of mind. I don’t want to do that. On August 18, we will hear all of you and all aspects”, Justice Khanna told Rohatgi.

On August 7, the top court had refused to stay the Patna High Court’s order giving the go-ahead for a caste survey in Bihar, and deferred the hearing on petitions challenging it to August 14.

Besides the plea filed by NGO ‘Ek Soch Ek Paryas’ another petition has been filed by Nalanda resident Akhilesh Kumar, who has contended that the notification issued by the state government for the exercise is against the constitutional mandate.

Kumar’s petition says in terms of the constitutional mandate, only the Union government is empowered to conduct a census.

“In the present case, the State of Bihar has sought to usurp the powers of the Union of India by merely publishing a notification in the official gazette.It is submitted that the notification dated June 6, 2022 is against the Constitutional mandate of distribution of powers between the State and the Union legislature as enshrined under Article 246 of the Constitution read with Schedule VIIth of the Constitution and ultra vires the Census Act, 1948 read with Census Rules, 1990 and is therefore void ab initio (since beginning),” Kumar has said in his plea, filed through advocate Barun Kumar Sinha.

The plea submitted that the entire exercise of conducting a “census” by the Bihar government is without authority and legislative competence, and reeks of malafide.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has often insisted that the state is not conducting a caste census but only collecting information related to people’s economic status and their caste so specific steps could be taken by the government to serve them better.

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The high court had said in its 101-page verdict, “We find the action of the state to be perfectly valid, initiated with due competence with the legitimate aim of providing development with justice .”

A day after the high court held the caste survey as “valid”, the state government had swung into action and suspended all ongoing training programmes for teachers so they can be engaged for early completion of the exercise.

The first phase of the exercise was completed on January 21. Around 15,000 officials, including enumerators and observers, had been assigned various responsibilities for the door-to-door survey.

The state government will spend Rs 500 crore from its contingency fund for the exercise.

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