BENGALURU: About Rs 150 crore of taxpayers’ money, 45 days and efforts of 1,60,000 government employees later, data from the mammoth initiative called Socio-economic survey-- popularly referred to as the caste census — may not see the light of day.
Even as the Backward Classes Commission is pushing for the data to be made public, none in the government show the intent to release it. Worse, ministers within the government have expressed doubts about the credibility of the survey and usefulness of the data. This despite the census covering almost 13.5 million households in the state. The caste census — former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s pet project — aimed at providing representation and benefits to communities on the basis of the population proportion is now gathering dust in the Backward Classes Commission’s office.
The census was designed to determine the number of castes, composition, socio-political-economic status, the standard of living, reservation and benefits received by various social groups in the state. Now, the vast data collected through the exhaustive exercise, people in the government claim, is unusable. “What is the point of releasing data that can never be used to form policies and implement programmes?
The data is not as accurate as it was intended to be, thanks to various anomalies, errors, including manipulation of parameters,” said a senior Congress leader in the government requesting anonymity. But others within the Congress allege that those deeming the data unscientific are biased since the data doesn’t suit their convenience.
The bigger concern, however, seems to be the repercussion the data may have on the delicate caste combinations and vote bank for the coalition partners JD(S) and Congress. The data from the census was supposed to be released before the assembly elections but remains untouched.
If the leaked numbers from the data-- Lingayats less than 10 per cent, Vokkaligas about 8 per cent, Dalits around 24 per cent and backward classes around 55 per cent -- is anything to go by, it destroys the notion that Lingayats and Vokkaligas are the largest politically influential groups in the state putting the backward classes in the driver’s seat. This equation, Siddaramaiah had hoped, would work for the Congress independently since its core vote bank is AHINDA but doesn’t suit the convenience of a JD(S)-Congress combine. The results of the polls have sent out a clear message that the Congress’ caste calculations may after all not be accurate.
“If the findings could not be released during Siddaramaiah-- an OBC’s tenure as CM — why will Kumaraswamy — a Vokkaliga — release data that undermines the political importance of his own vote bank,” asked a Congress legislator. Those in the government are divided over the findings of the survey too, essentially meaning that there is no consensus on whether the data is authentic. While it is true that the ambitious farm loan waiver has taken up all the time and the resources of the Congress-JD(S) leaders ever since the formation of the coalition government, but despite a representation by the Backward Classes Commission to Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy to apprise him of the caste census data, the government has shown no intent in making the finding public. While the JD(S) wouldn’t want to undermine its own vote bank, the Congress is reluctant to pursue the caste census.
“Primary data is available with us from the survey but we are in the process of collecting secondary data from departments,” said Mohammed Mohsin, Secretary, Backward Classes Welfare Department. The secondary data is expected to provide information on caste, social status and educational qualification of backward classes employees. This information will be corroborated by the survey data. The commission believes that the data available is comprehensive with information on specific details like LPG connections, electricity supply, drinking water access, vehicles owned, property holdings, income and expenditure along with the socio-economic background of every individual surveyed. But the commission also acknowledges the error margin in the data, especially in Bengaluru city.