The aim of any affirmative action programme is to reduce socio-economic inequalities and lift disadvantaged sections out of poverty and deprivation. The basic ingredient required to carry out this task successfully is the data that is accurate, reliable and reflective of the ground realities. Data will be useful to drive any social policy. In this context, there is a strong case for conducting a national caste census, as part of the upcoming Census 2022, to identify socially, economically, and educationally backward communities and increase reservations proportionate to their population. One could argue that caste-based counting of the population might sound incongruent when the collective goal of the governments is to usher in a casteless society. However, given the harsh social realities, it would be prudent to have robust caste data as it will be useful to establish statistical justification for preserving affirmative action programmes. It is also a legal imperative because the courts want quantifiable data to support the existing levels of reservations in educational institutions and jobs. Opposition parties across the political spectrum have been speaking in one voice in support of the caste census. The Telangana government, which has taken several path-breaking measures for the welfare of the weaker sections, is keen on getting the State Assembly to pass a resolution demanding the Centre to take up caste census across the country. In fact, it is surprising that a nation which runs such a large affirmative action programme based on caste has not been collecting data on educational and economic profile of castes.
The quota policy must reflect the socio-economic realities on the ground. There is now a mismatch between the share of Scheduled Castes in the total population and the reservation quota being extended to them. There is a need to increase the reservations for the SC communities from the existing 15%. The caste-wise data would put to rest the unreasonable demands for inclusion in the OBC lists. For instance, if Jats or Marathas want to be included in the OBC list, they would have to prove their backwardness based on the census data. Over the years, this is precisely what the courts have demanded. Any reservation must be based on verifiable empirical evidence. There can be no better way of providing such evidence than submitting the caste census data. The census is not merely a counting exercise but generates data on the educational level, occupation, household assets and life expectancy for each group that it enumerates at each level. It is unfortunate that the Centre has virtually slammed the door on the idea as it recently submitted before the Supreme Court that a census of the backward classes was administratively difficult and cumbersome.