The Patna High Court on Thursday stayed the ongoing caste-based survey in Bihar till July 3, Bar and Bench reported.

The Nitish Kumar-led coalition government in the state had begun the caste-based survey on January 7.

The first phase of the survey comprised the counting of the total number of households in the state. The second phase of the survey was underway at the time of the order. As part of the second phase, enumerators had been collecting data related to people of all castes, religions and economic backgrounds, as also other aspects such as the number of family members living in and outside the state.

However, three pleas were filed before the High Court, including one by an organisation named Youth for Equality, that contended that the caste-based survey was similar to a census, which was the sole prerogative of the Centre, reported Live Law.

The petitioners had also contended that the data collected through the survey could be used for electoral rolls, which could grant an advantage to political parties.

Another petition alleged that the survey was an attempt to create social disharmony among the people along caste lines for vote bank politics.

However, Advocate General PK Shahi, representing the Bihar government, told the court that it was not a compulsory exercise and respondents had the right to refuse to share their data, reported the Hindustan Times.

The division bench of Chief Justice K Vinod Chandran and Justice Madhuresh Prasad said on Thursday that prima facie, the state has no power to carry out a caste-based survey, which would amount to a Census, since it impinges upon the legislative power of the Centre, reported Live Law.

“We also see from the notification issued that the Government intends to share data with the leaders of different parties of the State Assembly, the ruling party and opposition party which is also a matter of great concern”, the Court observed.

The bench also said that the issue of the right to privacy also arises out of the survey which needs to be examined.

The High Court order came nearly a week after the Supreme Court asked it to decide on the interim application of Youth for Equality at the earliest. The organisation had moved the Supreme Court after the High Court on April 18 had refused to grant interim relief in the matter.

At the start of the first phase of the survey, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had said that the exercise would benefit all communities. He had said that the survey would be a detailed record of castes and communities in the state, which will help in their development.

India had last conducted an exercise to count the population of all caste groups in 1931. In independent India, census reports have published data noting the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but not other caste groups.

Also read: Why Bihar is conducting a caste census