Amid growing demands to release the caste figures compiled as part of the Socio Economic and Caste Census, various government authorities having been passing the buck to one another. Officials have been saying the caste data, compiled from the first such census since 1931, is part of a password-protected document kept in the custody of the National Informatics Centre, but no ministry is willing to accept its ownership.
The government released the findings of the SECC for rural India last Friday, leaving out the more contentious aspect of a caste breakup while focusing on multidimensional aspects of deprivation. According to the SECC website, the census in rural areas was conducted by the department of rural development, that in urban areas is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, and the caste census is under the administrative control of Home Ministry: Registrar General of India (RGI) and Census Commissioner of India.
The Rural Development Ministry has washed its hands of the matter while the RGI too seems reluctant to claim ownership.
“This is the jurisdiction of DG (director general), Census. It is for him to decide what he thinks about it. Only he can satisfy your queries,” Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh said the day his ministry released its share of the findings. Senior officials in the ministry said while data collection for the social, economic and caste census happened simultaneously through common enumerators, it was now in the domain of the RGI to “analyse and publish the data” and HUPA’s mandate to release findings pertaining to urban areas.
The RGI, however, claims the nodal agencies for doing so are the Ministries of Social Justice and Tribal Affairs. “We collected the data, now the nodal ministries in charge will process and release it. It would be done by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs,” said Dr C Chandramouli, RGI.
Social Justice secretary Anita Agnihotri refused to comment on the matter but a senior official said the processing of caste census data had nothing to do with the ministry. The official added it was in the domain of RGI, which reports to the Home Ministry.
And a senior Home official said, “The caste census data was done by the enumerators sent by RGI. The data is ready and it is a password-protected file in custody of NIC. RGI has nothing to do with its processing and release, it is to be done by the Social Justice and Tribal Affairs ministries. RGI only gave technical support.”
The Tribal Affairs Ministry will, at most, be responsible for data related to Scheduled Tribes. A large part of the data for both rural SC/ST communities has already been released by the Rural Development Ministry. It is the other caste data that remains to be made public.
The decision to include caste as part of the census had kicked up a row with sharp differences among ministers in the then UPA cabinet. OBC leaders from various parties had made a strong pitch for enumeration of caste on the lines of the 1931 census. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD leader Lalu Prasad and the JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav had in 2010 and 2011 demanded inside and outside Parliament that the census be held on the basis of caste to ascertain the number of people belonging to backward classes.
On Tuesday, the CPM urged the government to immediately release the caste data, saying it will help frame policies for affirmative action. “The central government must not restrict any further release of the caste-wise information on socio-economic indicators collected by this census. This would be for the first time since 1931 that the relative socio-economic status of various caste groups will be shown. This should help in framing policies for affirmative action that have been promised by various central governments but not implemented till date,” the party said.
The government has been dragging its feet on religious data too. Home Minister Rajnath Singh said last year that the government was willing to release the religious data. An official involved in the process said, “The data is ready and has been computed, all we can say is that it is a political call. From the ministry’s end, the work is complete.”
The religious census was done in 2011 but the UPA did not release it. The NDA appeared initially to have shown an inclination to release the data but has not done so even after being in power for a year.