Patna HC stays Bihar govt's caste-based survey, data sharing banned

Patna: The Patna High Court on Thursday stayed the Bihar government’s caste-based survey and directed the state government not to share the data which it has already collected. The next hearing in the case is on July 3.

The petitioner told a division bench of Chief Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice Madhuresh Prasad that the

caste and economic survey was beyond the jurisdiction of the state government.

The first phase of the caste-based survey began in January. The state government was presently conducting the second phase of the survey. The stay is being seen as a major setback for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who had earlier expressed his annoyance over the Opposition questioning the exercise.

“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 Parliament,” the court said.

On the government's intention to share the survey data with leaders of different parties, the court said: “There definitely arises the larger question of the right to privacy, which the Supreme Court has held to be a facet of right to life.”

The state cannot attempt to carry out a caste census in the garb of a survey, especially when the state has absolutely no legislative competence and, in that circumstance, neither can an executive order be sustained under Article 162 of the Constitution of India, the court clarified. The HC also observed that the notification issued by the state government does not disclose any perceivable object for carrying out such a survey.

On Thursday ahead of the court’s judgment, Nitish Kumar defended said the survey was supported by all political parties.

“Caste-based census was done in 2011 but its reports were not released. In 2019 a resolution was passed in the Bihar Assembly and Legislative Council demanding a caste-based census at the national level. We even met the Prime Minister but nothing happened and were asked to carry out the exercise on our own if we wanted to do it”, Nitish Kumar said.

He appeared peeved over the opposition's stance on the issue. He said, “I fail to understand why people have problems with the survey. The headcount used to be conducted during British time but was stopped in 1931. The census takes into account the population of different castes among the minorities, Scheduled caste, and Scheduled Tribe. I have been saying that there should be a census of all castes and communities in the country. By conducting such an exercise we will find out about the economic condition and do everything possible to help them”.

He added, “There are only a handful of people in the state who would speak against the move. The majority of people have been in favor of the survey. This was passed with the support of all parties”.

The Opposition BJP slammed Nitish Kumar and his Mahagathbandhan government for not putting up its case properly in the High Court. “This raises doubt on the intention of the Bihar government. The state government did not pursue its case properly in the High Court”, leader of the Opposition Vijay Kumar Sinha said.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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