Why a Caste Census is needed-and why it may not see light of the day

Synopsis: Although caste-based census would provide up-to-date data to calibrate reservation, it also threatens social justice as it can roll back the discrimination regime.


Recently, the Indian Parliament passed the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2021. It overrides the Supreme Court’s (SC) interpretation of the 102nd Constitutional Amendment.

SC judgment in the Maratha case had concluded that the 102nd Constitution Amendment curtailed the state government’s power to identify backward classes.

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What are the limitations of this Statute?

Firstly, A 50% limit on caste-based quotas (Indra Sawhney Judgment) imposes a serious limitation on states’ power to expand the composition of backward class beneficiaries. This is because in most States the existing quotas for SC, ST, OBC and SBC already breach this benchmark.

Secondly, The rise of the private sector coupled with the privatisation of Public Sectors Undertakings has led to the erosion of the public sector jobs. This also impacted the reservation framework.

For instance, between 2011-12 and 2017-18, due to a fall in employment of 2.2 lakh jobs in Central Public Sector Enterprises, the reduction in employment of SCs amounted to 33,000 jobs.

Thirdly, the introduction of a 10% quota in 2019 for economically weaker sections (EWS) has altered the standard definition of backwardness. By setting an income limit of ₹8,00,000 per annum, the government has made this quota accessible to about 99% of the upper castes – not just the poor.

This issue is further compounded by the reluctance of the Government to enumerate OBCs in the Caste Census.

What is the need for a caste-based census?

This would help in analysing the accomplishments and limitations of reservation policies. It would show the gap between economic and social capital holdings within and between the general category as well as the reserved sections. It would also help in revising the benchmark for social, economic and educational backwardness. Further, it would help in authenticating the findings and recommendations of Union and state-level backward caste commissions.

Read more: Caste based census in India

Lastly, a caste census would facilitate compliance with recent court decisions. For example,

Chebrolu L Prasad v State of AP (2020) case: The court directed the Centre to periodically revise the list of reservation beneficiaries based on sound data and evidence.

Davinder Singh v State of Punjab (2020) case: The judgment opened the question of sub-classification within the SC category. Thus, raising the need for credible data on internal differentiation and sophisticated educational and occupational profiles.

Thus, the move of passing the power to enumerate OBC’s to State’s may not solve the problem of affirmative action for the backward classes. The larger need is for evidence-based policymaking backed by caste census data.

Source: This post is based on the article” Why a Caste Census is needed-and why it may not see light of the day” published in the Indian Express on 4th September 2021.

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