Bhubaneswar: In an apparent move to consolidate its vote banks and appease the backward community, the BJD government in Odisha has decided to conduct a survey of the Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC) communities.
The Odisha Cabinet took this decision at Lok Seva Bhawan on Monday and a proposal to this effect will soon be tabled in the State Assembly, the sources said.
The move came close on the heels of the Centre’s refusal to conduct a socio-economic caste enumeration during the general census in 2021.
It may be mentioned that during the Budget Session, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, in his reply to an unstarred question in Rajya Sabha, had made it clear that the Centre would direct Registrar General of India (RGI) for enumeration of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the Census.
“The census schedule is designed in consultation with all stakeholders including central ministries. The intent of the government for conducting 2021 census has been notified in the Gazette of India March 28, 2019. In the census, the castes and tribes which have been specifically notified as Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes as per the Presidential order under the Constitution are enumerated,” Rai had pointed out.
Both SEBC and OBC are interlinked. The Centre uses the term OBC and States SEBC.
On January 11, the State Cabinet had decided to urge the Centre to conduct socio-economic caste enumeration along with the general Census and publish the details without further delay either by inserting suitable columns in the Census format or by prescribing a separate format for a simultaneous enumeration of SEBC and OBCs and publish these enumeration details without any delay. The survey will enable the state government to expedite the development of these communities with greater momentum for their inclusive growth, it had said.
On January 15, Chief Secretary Asit Tripathy wrote to Union Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba stating that no formal census, including the caste details of the the population, had been carried out since 1931. The non-availability of reliable and authentic data about the exact number of SEBC and OBC castes had become an impediment in taking up focused planning for the welfare of these communities, he added.
On February 13, the state government constituted the State Commission for Backward Classes with the appointment of former High Court judge Justice Raghunath Biswal as the chairman, ending the 27-year wait.
The Opposition had in the past targeted it for not forming the OBC Commission and implementing 27 per cent reservation in government jobs as well as educational institutions as recommended by the Mandal Commission.
Coming down heavily on the Census proposal of the state government, BJP state general secretary Prithviraj Harichandan had said that during its 20-year rule, the BJD government has never taken any initiative for the socio-economic development of the OBC community.
He alleged that the state government, which had made rampant irregularities in its Awas Yojana and Food Security programme, will repeat the same by preparing the SEBC and OBC on party basis. “We suspect that the state government has decided to tamper these lists to strengthen its vote bank,” he pointed out.
THE ACT IN THE PAST
The Naveen Patnaik-led government had introduced 27 per cent reservation on the eve of the 2009 general elections. It later enacted the Orissa Reservation of Posts and Services (for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes) Act, 2008, which was subsequently struck down by the Orissa High Court.
The Act provided for 27 per cent reservation quota for the SEBC category over and above the quota for ST (22.5 per cent) and SC (16.25 per cent) categories.
The state government, through an executive order, had to reduce the SEBC quota from 27 per cent to 11.25 per cent to keep maintain the Supreme Court ceiling of 50 per cent.
According to experts, the SC ceiling is based on all India census figures, which took into account 15 per cent SC and 7.5 per cent tribal population while determining the OBC quota of 27 per cent. Odisha is a special case because the state had made provisions of 22.5 per cent reservation for ST and 16.25 per cent for the SC.