The government will collect data on Other Backwards Classes (OBCs), for the first time, in the Census 2021, the Union home ministry said, in a move that has been demanded by OBC leaders and which is politically significant, especially because it comes ahead of elections in key states later this year and the parliamentary polls next year.
India has been collecting data on Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) since 1951, when the first census after Independence was conducted, but has not collected data on OBCs. After home minister Rajnath Singh reviewed preparations for Census 2021 on Friday, a home ministry spokesperson said, “It is envisaged to collect data on OBCs for the first time.”
BJP national general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Bhupender Yadav termed the move a futuristic step taken by the BJP government, which he said was committed to social justice. “It is a good step…Poverty alleviation is the main agenda of this government, and social and economic inclusion rank high on the priority. We will go for development without any social tension,” he said.
In Parliament’s monsoon session, issues related to OBCs assumed political significance as a bill to grant constitutional status to the National Commission of Backward Classes on par with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was passed in the House. This came soon after another decision that strengthened an act that acts on crimes against people from the SCs and STs.
In 1990, the VP Singh government announced 27% reservation for OBCs based on the Mandal Commission recommendation, which was broadly based on data collected in the 1931 census.
The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), a wing of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, announced a sample survey report on the country’s population in 2006 and suggested that the OBC population in the country was around 41% of the total population, according to news agency Press Trust of India.
In 2011, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government conducted the Socio Economic and Caste Census and its findings were released on July 3, 2015 by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. But the data was not released in the public domain.
“It is a welcome decision to collect data on socially and educationally backward classes…I have advised successive governments since 1991 to collect data in order to ensure better policies and welfare schemes for these classes,” said PS Krishnan, a former Union secretary.
The home ministry spokesperson said improvements in design and technological interventions needed to ensure the finalisation of the Census data within three years of the exercise were also discussed.
“At present it takes around seven to eight years to release the complete data,” added this person who said the ministry is also considering using maps and geo-referencing at the time of house listing.
Besides Singh, the review meeting was attended by minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, registrar general and census commissioner Sailesh, who uses only one name, and home secretary Rajiv Gauba.
“The Union home minister also emphasised the need of improvement in Civil Registration System, especially on registration of birth and death in remote areas, and strengthening the sample registration system for estimating the data, namely infant mortality rate, maternal mortality ratio and fertility rates,” the spokesperson said.