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‘So much casteism in every field in Bihar’, says Supreme Court, asks Patna High Court to re-examine plea for stay on caste survey

"There is so much casteism there. In every field. Bureaucracy, politics, service," Supreme Court remarked while hearing plea against caste census in Bihar

The Supreme Court declared on Friday that casteism is pervasive in Bihar and may be seen in both the political and administrative spheres. A bench of Justices MR Shah and JB Pardiwala made the observations while considering a request for a suspension of the caste census being conducted in the State.

“There is so much casteism there. In every field. Bureaucracy, politics, service,” Justice Shah remarked. However, the court clarified that the Bench had not expressed its opinion on the merits of the case and the same is to be decided by the High Court.

The Patna High Court had declined to give any temporary injunctions regarding the survey that gave rise to the current case before the Supreme Court.

The High Court should have heard the case on the merits before deciding whether or not to provide temporary relief, according to the Supreme Court’s opinion. “One way or the other, (plea for) interim relief has to be considered on merits. Let a division bench consider it,” Justice Shah said.

The bench urged the High Court to act swiftly because it had not yet taken the same action. “We clarify that we have not said anything on merits and it is for the High Court to take a call on the same,” the bench said in its order.

An NGO called Youth for Equality, which campaigns against caste-based laws and reservations, initiated the current petition. Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who represented the petitioner group at the hearing today, contended that it was a serious concern and that the caste census survey was being conducted in anticipation of elections.

He continued by saying that Bihar was a state where casteism was pervasive. The attorney for Bihar emphasised that several petitions have been submitted against the government’s action. However, Justice Pardiwala questioned the State counsel about why it was conducting this survey so quickly.

In response, the attorney cited the directive’s guiding principles. “What directive principles?” questioned Justice Pardiwala. The bench then issued an order allowing the petitioner to approach the Patna High Court for an urgent hearing on the requested interim relief, and requesting that the High Court resolve the matter, ideally within three days.

It is notable that a Supreme Court panel made up of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath turned down three public interest litigation (PIL) petitions in January of this year that contested the Bihar government’s intention to start a caste census in the State.

The bench had granted liberty to the petitioners to approach the Patna High Court. “This is a publicity interest litigation. If we allow this then how will they determine how much reservation to be given? You want to withdraw? Go and file before the High Court. Sorry we do not entertain such petitions,” Justice Gavai had remarked.

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