Doubts over data

Published : Apr 20, 2007 00:00 IST

In New Delhi, members of the Pattali Makkal Katchi from Tamil Nadu protest against the Supreme Court verdict.-R.V. MOORTHY

In New Delhi, members of the Pattali Makkal Katchi from Tamil Nadu protest against the Supreme Court verdict.-R.V. MOORTHY

Surveys by the NSSO and the NFHS classify people on the basis of their broad responses and do not enumerate the caste categories.

THE recent Supreme Court order staying the 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes in admissions to Central higher educational institutions has raised the issue of the validity of the data regarding the proportion of OBCs in the population. It was contended that the 61st round of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) placed the OBC population at 41 per cent as against 52 per cent calculated by the Mandal Commission. The NSSO survey placed the population of Scheduled Tribes (S.T.s) at 8 per cent and that of the Scheduled Castes (S.C.s) at 20 per cent.

The court order stated: "The State has to show quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment and existence of compelling reasons, namely, backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency before making provisions for reservations."

The NSSO has, since its 55th round (1999-2000), been collecting data on social groupings, covering parameters such as sex ratio, employment statistics, land-holdings, per capita expenditure and educational levels. In its 61st round (NSS Report 516, 2004-05), the NSSO collected information on various facets of the employment and unemployment situation at the national and State levels through a schedule of inquiry.

It also collected information on social groups, namely, the S.T.s, the S.C.s, the OBCs and others, to study specifically the employment or unemployment situation among them. Given the unequal geographical dispersal of social groups, barring the S.Ts, who are considered a more settled community, the population data were only estimates and not an enumeration of a social group as a percentage of the population.

In its report, the NSSO stated categorically that the reliability of State-level results depended critically on sample size. It cautioned that it used only estimated aggregates as compared with the Census data on population or projections thereof. The NSSO survey differed from the Census operations both in coverage and in the methods adopted. It also pointed out that the scope of the survey was all households, without special focus on social groups. Besides, its sample design was not tailored to netting special social groups such as the S.C.s and the S.Ts.

In fact, even as it lists the proportion of S.T.s, S.C.s and OBCs, the report points out in a footnote that the NSSO estimates of S.T. and S.C. households are strictly not comparable with the corresponding figures available in the Census data on account of the difference in the definitions adopted. The NSSO classifies a household (and all persons in it) as S.T., S.C. or OBC entirely on the basis of the informant's response and not on the basis of any State-level list of social groups, which is what the Census depends on. Also, the NSSO has stated that its use of estimated aggregates are, in general, on the lower side when compared with the Census data.

So, what the NSSO prepared in its 61st round was estimates based on data relating to key indicators of employment and unemployment collected from people belonging to different social groups. The survey was done in 8,128 villages and 4,660 urban blocks selected across States and Union Territories and across rural and urban centres in proportion to the population as per Census 2001. Significantly, the survey revealed differentials of progress in socio-economic or educational indicators among social groups. These differentials, which reveal the causative factors, are unlikely to be different within the social group as a whole and can be extrapolated for the entire population.

The household monthly per capita consumer expenditure (MPCE) was one of the many indicators the NSSO used to reflect the standard of living of a household. It calculated that the MPCE was less than Rs.410 in 49 per cent of S.T. households, 40 per cent of S.T. households, 30 per cent of OBC households and 20 per cent of households categorised as `others'.

The MPCE was over Rs.1,155 in more `other' households (12 per cent) than OBC (5 per cent), S.C. (3 per cent) and S.T. (2 per cent) households. The proportion of households with an MPCE of more than Rs.2,540 was 13 per cent among `others', 3 per cent each among the S.T.s and the OBCs and 1 per cent among the S.C.s.

As for educational levels, the proportion of persons reporting their education level as graduate and above was higher among `others' than among the other categories of persons, irrespective of whether male or female or rural or urban. The current attendance rate in educational institutions, that is, the number of persons currently attending educational institutions per 1,000 persons of the respective social group and age group, is considered an important social indicator to assess the state of progress of any particular group of people. The survey showed that the rate was much higher among children and youth belonging to the `others' category of households, except among urban males in the age group of 20 to 24, for whom the rate was the highest among the S.T.s followed by `others'. Evidently, it was much lower among the OBCs and the S.C.s.

In the 55th round (1999-2000) of the NSSO, which was one of the biggest five-yearly surveys, more explicit data emerged on the proportion of social groups in higher education. Upper-caste Hindus (UCHs), who make up 37 per cent of the urban population, accounted for 66 per cent of all non-technical subject graduates, 65 per cent of medical graduates, 67 per cent of engineering and technical graduates and 62 per cent of graduates in agricultural sciences.

In the total sample of 2.24 lakh persons, 1,359 had engineering degrees, 908 of them upper-caste Hindus and 202 OBCs (Hindu). Of the 535 doctors in the sample, 350 were upper-caste Hindus and only 56 were Hindu OBCs. Among the 17,501 non-technical graduates, 11,529 were upper-caste Hindus and 2,402 were OBCs.

The 55th round also collected data, both rural and urban, on the consumption levels of social groups. Among S.T.s, S.C.s and OBCs, the level was far less than the accepted average.

Sample surveys by organisations such as the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and the NSSO, instead of doing a Census-like headcount, point out differentials in the progress of socio-economic indicators. The NFHS and the NSSO surveys classify people on the basis of their broad responses (in codes) and do not enumerate the caste categories. This has been pointed out as one of the handicaps of relying on NSSO and NFHS data to determine the OBC population.

"It is not easy to do an OBC census," said a former Census official requesting anonymity. For an OBC census, nothing short of a full caste census would be required in a population of over one billion people. It has been estimated that this would take not less than five years. "But if one wants to know the disaggregated OBC population in, say, Jalgaon, only the Census can give it."

The last time a caste-wise enumeration was done was in 1881 and the practice was discontinued in 1931. Based on the assumption that the inter se rate of growth of the population of the various castes, communities and religious groups over the past half a century has remained more or less the same, the Mandal Commission worked out the percentage of these groups constituted as part of the total population. (Report of the Backward Classes Commission, First Part, Volumes I and II, 1980.)

The Commission culled out caste/community-wise population figures from the Census records of 1931 and grouped them into broad caste clusters and religious groups. These were further aggregated under five heads - S.C.s and S.T.s; non-Hindu communities, religious groups; forward Hindu castes and communities; backward Hindu castes and communities; and backward non-Hindu communities. The population of Hindu OBCs was derived by subtracting from the total population of Hindus, the populations of S.C.s, S.T.s and forward Hindu castes and communities. This worked out to 52 per cent.

In its recommendations, the Commission observed that it was not its contention that by offering a few thousand jobs to OBC candidates, it would be possible to take 52 per cent of the population forward. It was more from the point of view of instilling a sense of participation that an argument for reservation was made. The NSSO and NFHS data point out the disparities that exist even today; the data, if anything, are a desperate call for policy intervention, including affirmative action.

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