CHENNAI: The clamour for a caste census has, of late, been growing louder in the state ever since the Supreme Court recent passed certain remarks on a petition challenging the 69 percent reservation policy.
It is argued that unless the Tamil Nadu government conducts a census of people belonging to the different castes, it will not be able to defend a reservation policy that exceeds the 50% limit set for the total reservation by the Supreme Court’s judgement over the Mandal Commission. But can the state government conduct such a census? There seems to be no simple answer.
While a section of experts and officials say the Constitution explicitly says that only the Union government can conduct any census, others say it is well within the powers of the State to conduct any census.
An official source privy to the matter told Express, “Conducting any census is the exclusive domain of the Central government. Article 245 and 246 empower only the Central government to conduct a census and it does not come under the jurisdiction of the State government.”
However, the official sources said the state government has been keenly tracking the developments in the case and deliberating with legal experts. “We are fully equipped with the strong arguments to safeguard the 69% reservation. The state government will leave no stone unturned to protect the 69% reservation policy,” the source added.
One of the often cited arguments in support of the caste census is a similar census conducted by the neighbouring Karnataka in 2016. But the state government official sources pointed out that there have been many complaints about that census and above all, a petition has been pending before the Karnataka High Court in this regard. Further, on behalf of the Centre, the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India had submitted before the court that Constitution empowers only the Central government to conduct a census. Moreover, though conducted in 2016, the caste census details in Karnataka are yet to be released.
PMK founder S Ramadoss said that the Supreme Court had rejected the 87% reservation policy suggested by the Ambasankar Commission by pointing out that there is no caste census to substantiate the conclusion.
Dravidar Kazhagam president K Veeramani, who recently convened an all-party meeting, urging the state government to take steps for a caste census, told Express, “It is an indisputable fact that at no point in the Constitution has a ceiling been fixed for reservation.” In this connection, he pointed out that in the Indira Sahani case, the nine-judge bench of the SC had completely conceded that there need not be any ceiling of 50 per cent for reservation. “If the circumstances require, reservation percentage can be increased and Tamil Nadu was the forerunner in that.”
He said that since the 69% reservation had been included in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, the Supreme Court cannot question its validity. On the powers of the State government in conducting caste census, Veeramani said, “The State government can very well conduct a caste census in Tamil Nadu. Only the national-level census should be conducted by the Centre.”
Veeramani explained that each and every State had separate lists for Backward Classes. “Some of the castes in SC list in the neighbouring State are in the BC list in Tamil Nadu. So, ascertaining the exact number of persons in each caste is vital. It is very wrong to interpret that the State government cannot conduct a caste census. It has every right to do so.”
Senior advocate Tamilmani said, “There is no bar on the State government conducting a caste census. But for practical reasons, conducting such a census will be difficult. Since this will have a far-reaching consequences on the society, it requires a national solution. So, the Central government should take a decision on this issue after taking the views of all States.”