SC refuses to restrain Bihar govt from publishing further data from caste survey

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday refused to restrain the Bihar government from publishing further data from its caste survey, saying it cannot stop any state from taking a policy decision. A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and S V N Bhatti issued a formal notice on a batch of pleas challenging the August 1 order of the Patna High Court that gave the go-ahead for the caste survey in Bihar.
The SC bench listed the matter in January, 2024.
It rejected the petitioners’ contention that the state government has already published some data preempting a stay. They were demanding a complete stay order on further publication of data.
“We are not staying anything at this moment. We cannot stop the state government or any government from taking a policy decision. That would be wrong…We are going to examine the other issue regarding the power of the state government to conduct this exercise,” the bench said.
Senior advocate Aprajita Singh, appearing for the petitioners, said there is breach of privacy in the matter and the High Court order is wrong. To this, the bench said since the name and other identities of any individual have not been published, therefore the argument that there was a breach of privacy may not be correct. “The more important issue for consideration of the court is breakdown of data and its availability to the public,” the bench said.
On October 2, the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar released findings of its caste survey, months ahead of the 2024 Parliamentary elections. The data revealed that OBCs and EBCs constitute a whopping 63 per cent of the state’s total population.
According to the data released, the state’s total population stood at a little over 13.07 crore, out of which the Extremely Backward Classes (36 per cent) were the largest social segment followed by the Other Backward Classes at 27.13 per cent.
The survey also stated that Yadavs, the OBC group to which Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav belongs, were the largest caste in terms of the population, accounting for 14.27 per cent of the total.
Dalits, also known as the Scheduled Castes, accounted for 19.65 per cent of the total population in the state, which is also home to nearly 22 lakh (1.68 per cent) people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes.
On August 7, the top court had refused to stay the Patna High Court’s order giving the go-ahead for the caste survey, and deferred the hearing on petitions challenging it to August 14.
Besides a plea by NGO ‘Ek Soch Ek Paryas’, several other petitions have been filed including one by a 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 that according to the the constitutional mandate only the Union government is empowered to conduct a census.
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 Nitish Kumar government had said on August 25 that the survey has been completed and data will be made public soon.
Petitioners had opposed making the data public, contending it will infringe people’s right to privacy.

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