The Odisha government is set to begin its first state survey of the social and educational conditions of people from backward classes — there are around 209 communities identified as socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs) comprising around 54 per cent of Odisha’s population.
A proposal by the Odisha State Commission for Backward Classes (OSCBC) was approved on February 26 to undertake the survey, which is scheduled to be conducted between May 1 and May 20.
“Survey will be conducted on the social and educational conditions of the people belonging to backward classes. Their occupation, education standard and other parameters will be covered,” OSCBC Chairman Justice Raghunath Biswal said.
“The state government had approached the Centre demanding that a socio-economic caste survey be conducted simultaneously with the general census in 2021. But that proposal was turned down and in 2020 we had decided to conduct the survey ourselves. The state government recently approved the proposal. The move will have a transformative impact on the backward classes of the state,” Odisha Minister for SC/ST development, Minorities and Backward classes, Jagannath Saraka told The Indian Express.
Odisha’s decision is significant at a time when there is demand for a caste-based census, and considering that a commission headed by former Delhi Chief Justice G Rohini is working on the sub-categorisation of the OBCs, without such data.
Last week, in an interview to The Indian Express, former chairman of National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) V Eswaraiah had said that the proposed sub-categorisation of OBCs is “un-scientific, atrocious and illegal” without the caste census. BJP ally and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also recently stressed on the need of caste census.
The Supreme Court last week agreed to examine a plea seeking directions to the Central government to conduct a caste-based census this year to collect data on the Other Backward Classes. A bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobe and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian have issued notice to the Centre and National Commission for Backward Classes. The court was hearing a plea filed by Telangana-based social activist G Mallesh Yadav, who contended that a caste census was a “vital necessity” for the betterment of OBCs.
Interestingly, Justice Rohini wrote to Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot on December 12, 2018, with a request for an appropriate budget provision for a proposed all-India survey for an estimate of the caste-wise population of OBCs. But on March 7, 2019, Justice Rohini wrote again to Gehlot, “We have now decided not to undertake such a survey at this stage.” On the other hand, on August 31, 2018, then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had announced that in Census 2021, data of OBCs will also be collected, but since then the government has been silent on this. Meanwhile the opposition targeted the ruling BJD in Odisha, accusing it of playing caste politics ahead of the panchayat elections. Congress MLA Tara Prasad Bahinipati said, “The survey is not a mere coincidence but a well-calculated step to grab votes of the backward classes.”
“The state is yet to implement 27 per cent reservation for people from the backward classes and is trying to mislead people with the survey,” BJP state general secretary Lekhashree Samantsinghar said.
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