The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stop the Bihar government from acting on the findings of its caste survey, as it adjourned the hearing of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the exercise, Live Law reported.

A division bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti was hearing petitions by non-governmental organisations Youth For Equality and Ek Soch Ek Prayas that are challenging the Patna High Court’s decision to uphold the caste survey. The petitioners have argued that the survey was equivalent to a census exercise which only the Centre can carry out according to the Constitution.

Youth For Equality has also argued that the state government is violating citizens’ right to privacy by collecting their data without specifying any motive to do so, Live Law reported.

The findings of the survey, which was launched in January, were released on Monday. It revealed that the Other Backward Classes and the Extremely Backward Classes constitute over 63% of the state’s population. Out of Bihar’s total population of a little over 13.07 crore, the Extremely Backward Classes comprised 36%, the largest social segment, followed by the Other Backward Classes at 27.13%.

During Friday’s hearing, senior advocate Aparajitha Singh, representing one of the petitioners, highlighted that the Bihar government published the caste survey data even while the matter was being argued in court, reported Live Law.

Singh argued that that state’s decision to seek caste details violated the Supreme Court’s 2017 judgement recognising the right to privacy as a fundamental right since the state is yet to show any “legitimate purpose” for the survey. She requested the court to pass an interim order asking the state to not act upon the data.

However, senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing the Bihar government, said that the findings were published as the court never passed any order against doing so.

The division bench remarked, “We cannot stop [the] state government or any government from taking a decision”.

On Monday, the Bihar government had clarified that the survey is just “compiled data and no analysis of it has been done yet”.

The caste survey was initiated after the Union government said it will not undertake such an exercise for other than the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes as part of the Census.

Bihar’s ruling coalition, mainly comprising the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, has argued that a caste survey will help identify the true population of the Other Backward Classes and other castes. This data in turn will allow the state to craft policies for them more effectively and equitably.

“Caste-based census not only revealed the castes, but also gave information about the economic condition of everyone,” Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had said on social media platform X on Monday. “On this basis, further action will be taken for the development and upliftment of all sections.”

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