PM: Decision soon on caste-based census

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New Delhi: 
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Amid demands for a caste based census, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the Lok Sabha on Friday that government would take a decision shortly in the matter.

"I am aware of the views of the members of Parliament belonging to all sections. I assure you that the Cabinet will take a decision shortly," Singh said in a brief statement.

The Prime Minister's statement mollified agitated opposition members who had forced adjournment of the House earlier after Home Minister P Chidambarm virtually ruled out inclusion of caste in the exercise.

The debate on the issue had seen members cutting across party lines favouring caste based census.

Replying to the debate, Chidambaram insisted that the main aim of the exercise was headcount and listed difficulties in including caste in the list.

However, he sought to assure members that their views on the issue would be a "valuable guide" to the government, which was seized of the matter.

After the earlier adjournment, four prominent OBC leaders, including Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a bid to persuade the government to go in for a caste based census.

BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde and JD-U chief Sharad Yadav were also present at the meeting, so also Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal and Chidambaram.

The issue of caste based census had also figured in the meeting of the Union Cabinet earlier this week with ministers putting forth pros and cons of the issue.

In his reply, Chidambaram said that the Registrar General has pointed out a number of logistic and practical difficulties in canvassing the question of caste while conducting the census. (Read: Home Minister's statement on Census 2011)

"The enumerator is not an investigator or verifier," Chidambaram said, adding that 21 lakh enumerators - mostly primary school teachers - had no training or expertise to classify the answer as OBC or otherwise.

"There is a central list of OBCs and state-specific lists of OBCs. Some states do not have a list of OBCs while some states have a list of OBCs and a sub-set called MBCs," he said.

Quoting the Registrar General, the Home Minister said issues regarding methodology, avoiding phonetic and spelling errors, stage of canvassing of caste, maintaining integrity of enumeration and doing an accurate headcount of population will arise.

He maintained that as per the wish of the members the enumerator should record whatever answer the respondent gives to the question "What is your caste?"

"At this point, it is simply collection of information...Government will certainly keep in mind the views of honourable members," he said.

However, this failed to satisfy several members. SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD leader Lalu Prasad, BSP leader Dara Singh Chauhan, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and several BJP members expressed resentment.

Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee walked up to Chidambaram and asked him to be more specific. Though Chidambaram made an effort, the agitating members were not satisfied and forced an adjournment of the House.


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