NEW DELHI: In yet another setback to the Nitish Kumar government, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stay the Patna High Court's interim order which had halted a caste survey with immediate effect.
On May 4, the HC prima facie held that the state government does not have power to undertake such an exercise under the garb of survey.
Dealing with Bihar government's appeal, a bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Rajesh Bindal asked why it should interfere at this stage and told the state government to convass its arguments before the High Court, which had fixed the matter for hearing on July 3.
As senior advocate Shyam Divan for the Bihar government pressed for some order, the court said it would have to be determined if the exercise being carried out is a census in garb of survey as held by the High Court.
"We are making it clear, this is not a case where we can grant you interim relief," the bench told the counsel.
The court agreed to consider the plea on July 14, if the HC could not hear the matter on the fixed date.
Divan, however, submitted that it required only 10 days to complete the process of survey, which began in January this year.
He also contended that the survey was voluntary and not on a 100% basis like a census.
He said that there was no question of sharing any data as feared by the High Court.
The counsel claimed the State has got legislative competence to collect statistics.
In its appeal, the state government said the collection of caste-based data is a constitutional mandate under Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution.
The first round of caste survey in Bihar was conducted between January 7 and 21. The second round started on April 15 and was supposed to continue till May 15.
On a batch of writ petitions filed by 'Youth for Equality' and others, the HC had on May 4 directed the Bihar government to immediately stop the caste based survey, by prima facie holding that the State has no power to carry out such an exercise.
It also directed the government to ensure that data already collected are secured and not shared with anybody till final orders.
The court noted "the caste-based survey is a census in the garb of a survey; the power to carry out which is exclusively on the Union Parliament".
In its detailed 31-page order, the HC had expressed serious reservation on sharing of the data collected in the survey started in January this year on the basis of government order issued on June 6, 2022.
"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. There definitely arises the larger question of right to privacy, which the Supreme Court has held to be a facet of right to life," the HC's division bench had said.