In a significant development, the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet approved a comprehensive caste-based census on November 3, with enumeration scheduled to begin by the end of November. The last publicly available data on caste was from the 1931 census, as the information collected during the 2011 Census was not released. This move makes Andhra Pradesh the second State in India to take concrete steps to address this longstanding demand, following Bihar, which became the first State to enumerate and publish caste census data in October.
The Andhra Pradesh government plans to release the caste census data in January 2024, as stated by Minister for Backward Classes (BC) Welfare, Chelluboina Srinivas Venugopal Krishna. The BC Welfare Department will be the nodal department, and the Planning Department, SC Welfare, Tribal Welfare, and Minority Welfare Departments will also be involved. Village and ward secretariat volunteers will be utilised for the census exercise.
In an exclusive interview with Frontline, the BC Welfare Minister discussed the ongoing preparations, the potential of the data to aid in targeted delivery of the State’s poverty alleviation and other government schemes, and its role in advancing the State’s development goals.
The Andhra Pradesh government plans to conduct meetings in all 26 districts to engage with local-level caste leaders and elders, understand the challenges people face, and gather suggestions before commencing the survey. Additionally, five regional round table meetings will be held in Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Vijayawada, Tirupati, and Kurnool.
The BC Welfare Minister emphasised that the Andhra Pradesh government, led by Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, has been committed to this cause for a long time. In November 2021, Andhra Pradesh, among other states, requested the BJP-led Union government to conduct a caste census alongside the 2021 Census, though it did not materialise then. After Bihar’s caste census announcement in January, the demand for a caste census gained momentum in various States.
In Andhra Pradesh, the BCs constitute nearly 50 per cent of the population, with 139 subcastes. The SCs make up around 19 per cent, and STs comprise about 5.6 per cent. The caste-based census aims to provide clarity on various aspects, including population proportions of castes and subcastes, insights into the most backward castes, and nomadic tribes, among other benefits.
Such data will ensure that no intended beneficiary for the “Navaratnalu” (nine welfare schemes of the Andhra Pradesh government) is left out and assist in adjusting existing policies and devising new policies for education and employment as needed. The data on castes with occupations that have ceased to exist will help the government understand how they sustain themselves, their livelihoods, and how they can be better supported.
The government also aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of population dynamics, especially in regions with dominant BC groups, to address issues faced by the most marginalised populations. This will also aid in studying the below poverty line (BPL) population among BCs, SCs, STs, minorities, and other communities.
Regarding caste-based data for Muslim and Christian populations, the BC Welfare Minister stated that every existing caste in Andhra Pradesh will be enumerated. While there is no discussion on reservation-related aspects of the caste census, it could provide more data to support demands such as the socio-economic conditions of Dalit Christians and SC status for them.
In anticipation of the 2024 Assembly election in Andhra Pradesh, the data could empower underrepresented BC subcastes to seek better political representation. The government had established a committee in April to study the challenges of conducting a caste-based census, and, according to Venugopal Krishna, all significant groundwork has been completed. With the support of most major parties in the State, no further delays are expected.