More than 25 years after the implementation of reservation for Other Backward Classes, based on the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh Friday announced the first Census to count OBCs in 2021.
A Home Ministry statement said the Minister discussed the roadmap for undertaking the Census in 2021. During the meeting, it was decided to collect data on OBCs for the first time, it said.
The meeting also put special emphasis on improvements in design and technological interventions to ensure that data is finalised within three years of the conduct of the 2021 Census. This means that the OBC census data is likely to be available by 2024, which is when the general elections after 2019 are expected to be held.
The latest move is likely to put an end to the longstanding demand from political parties to update the previous caste-based census conducted 87 years ago, in 1931, by the British.
The previous UPA government had accepted the demand for caste-based enumeration and undertaken a Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) in 2011. However, the data from SECC-2011 conducted at a cost of Rs 4,893.60 crore was not made public for “certain errors” identified by the Registrar General of India.
The OBC population, however, has mobilised over the years to emerge as an influential political force. Recently, the NDA, which stormed to power in 2014 on election plank of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, ensured in Parliament that Constitutional status was granted to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC). Last year, the ruling party passed a separate resolution hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the NCBC Bill while accusing the Congress and other Opposition parties of being “anti-backward castes”.
The latest announcement also comes in the backdrop of the Government setting up a commission for the sub-categorisation of OBCs, headed by the former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court G Rohini, in October 2017. The committee has sought a third extension till November 2018 for submission of its report on creating quotas within quotas. The 2021 data on OBCs will play an important role in such a sub-categorisation, officials said.
With the 2019 Lok Sabha polls around the corner, the BJP is also battling discontent among many dominant communities, like Jats, Patidars and Marathas among others, demanding reservation benefits in jobs across different states.
The attempt by the previous UPA government to include Jats in the central OBC list was rejected by the Supreme Court for lack of sufficient data to substantiate eligibility.
It was in 1953 that the first-of-its-kind Kalelkar Commission was set up to identify backward classes other than the SCs and STs at the national level. But the panel’s conclusion that caste is an important measure of backwardness was rejected on the ground that it had failed to apply more objective criteria such as income and literacy.
The Mandal Commission report of 1980 estimated the OBC population at 52 per cent and classified 1,257 communities as backward. It recommended increasing existing quotas, which were only for SC/ST, from 22.5 per cent to 49.5 per cent to include OBCs. A decade later, its recommendations were implemented in government jobs, a move that triggered widespread protests.
To assuage the protesters, the government introduced a 10 per cent quota for “economically backward sections” among forward castes. But the Supreme Court struck this down in the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India case judgment in 1992, where it held that the Constitution recognised only social and educational — not economic — backwardness.
The apex court, however, held reservation for OBCs as valid and directed that the creamy layer of OBCs, or those earning over a specified income, should not avail reservation facilities. The overall reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs was capped at 50 per cent. Based on the order, the central government reserved 27% of seats in union civil posts and services, to be filled through direct recruitment, for OBCs.
During the review Friday, the Home Minister said that it takes seven to eight years to release the complete data at present. “Accurate collection of data will be ensured in Census 2021. The use of maps and geo-referencing at the time of house listing is also under consideration,” an official said.