Caste survey in Bihar against constitutional mandate, says plea in SC challenging Patna HC order

 A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Patna High Court order upholding the validity of a caste survey in Bihar, contending the notification issued by the state government for the exercise is against the constitutional mandate.

The plea filed by Nalanda resident Akhilesh Kumar submitted that in terms of the constitutional mandate, only the Union fovernment is empowered to conduct a census.

“In the present case, the State of Bihar has sought to usurp the powers of 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 ultravires the Census Act, 1948 read with Census Rules, 1990 and is therefore void ab intio (since beginning),” the plea, filed through advocate Barun Kumar Sinha, said.

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

“The short question of constitutional importance that arises in the present petition is whether the Notification dated June 6, 2022 published by the State of Bihar based on decision of Bihar Cabinet dated June 2nd, 2022, to conduct Caste based Survey from its own resources and the consequent appointment of District Magistrate to supervise the same, is within the Constitutional mandate of separation of power between the State and Union,” the plea said.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has often insisted 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.

In a shot in the arm for the Nitish Kumar government, the Patna High Court had on Tuesday upheld the caste survey ordered by it as “perfectly valid” and “initiated with due competence”.

The high court passed the order rejecting a bunch of petitions challenging the survey, which was ordered last year and began earlier this year.

The bench, which had reserved its judgement on July 7, 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.”

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The judgement began with the note: “The action of the state in carrying out a caste survey… and the vigorous challenge raised to it on multiple grounds… reveal that despite attempts to efface it from the social fabric, caste remains a reality, and refuses to be swept aside, wished away or brushed aside nor does it wither away or disperse into thin air.”

A day after the Patna High Court held the caste survey in Bihar as “valid” and “legal”, the state government on Wednesday 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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