'State Has No Power': Patna High Court Stays Bihar's Caste-Based Census

The Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government had in January started a statewide caste-based census, projected at a cost of Rs 500 crore, which was to be finalised by May 31.

Patna High Court

The Patna High Court on Thursday put a hold on the ongoing caste census being conducted by the Bihar government. 

"We are of the considered opinion that the petitioners have made out a prima facie case against the continuation of the process of caste-based survey, as attempted by the State of Bihar. There is also the question raised of data integrity and security which has to be more elaborately addressed by the State," the court said.

"Prima facie, we are of the opinion that the State has no power to carry out a caste-based survey, in the manner in which it is fashioned now, which would amount to a census, thus impinging upon the legislative power of the Union Parliament," it added.

Earlier in the day, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed annoyance over the opposition to the headcount of castes being conducted by his government.

Speaking to reporters on the petition in Patna High Court, Kumar said, "I cannot understand, why people have a problem with the survey. The last time a headcount was done was way back in 1931. We certainly have a fresh estimate. After all, the census takes into account respective populations of minorities, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes every ten years," he added.

"Unfortunately, and for reasons hard to fathom, even the census seems to be hanging fire," pointed out the JD(U) leader, who is the state’s longest-serving CM, referring to the census that was due in 2021, but got delayed on account of the pandemic.

On January 7, this year, the Bihar government started a statewide caste-based census, projected at a cost of Rs 500 crore, which was to be finalised by May 31. The JD(U) government had said it will use the data to formulate welfare policies. 

During media interactions, CM Kumar Kumar had said, “The survey will be a detailed record on castes and communities in the State. It will help in their development”. 

The decision for a caste census was taken by the Bihar cabinet on June 2 last year, months after the Centre ruled out such an exercise at a national level.

Last month, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge shot a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding an up-to-date caste census without which the database “for social justice and empowerment programmes, particularly for OBCs, are incomplete”. 

The Bihar chief minister had backed the Congress’ call for a nationwide caste census, saying it would be beneficial for all sections of society. The BJP unit in Bihar had also supported a resolution by the government but the central leadership did not respond.

(With PTI inputs)