For the first time in more than 70 years, a sample count of the Other Backward Classes has been made with an official survey pegging their numbers at 41 per cent of India's population.
The OBC numbers have been in debate ever since the V P Singh government announced 27 per cent reservation for OBCs based on the Mandal Commission recommendations and there has been strong resentment to claims that the section constitutes more than 70 per cent of the population.
The National Sample Survey Organisation, which enumerated 79,306 households in rural areas and 45,374 in urban regions, concluded that besides OBCs, people belonging to the Scheduled Castes account for 20 per cent of the population. Those belonging to the Scheduled Tribes formed eight per cent of the population, the survey said.
The number of sample households for the social groups ST, SC, OBC and others were 12,694, 13,929, 30,116 and 22,502 respectively in the urban areas and 3,509, 6,355, 16,232 and 19,257 respectively in the urban regions.
While no separate census has been conducted on OBC numbers since the 1930s, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice L S Panta had, on October 16, wondered how the present UPA government announced a quota policy for OBCs in higher education without studying their population.
"As of today you (government) have no complete data (on reservation)," the Bench had observed adding that, "You announce the policy without full data. You play the game first without the rule in place." The government has proposed extending 27.5 reservation for OBCs to higher education institutes.
NSSO also said that about 34 per cent of Indians were illiterate, with the literacy rate being the highest (78 per cent) among the others category of people, followed by OBCs at 65 per cent and STs at 52 per cent. The proportion of households in the highest MPCE class (those who spent more than Rs 1,155 or more per month) in rural areas was higher among the others category of households (12 per cent) than among the OBCs (5 per cent), SCs (3 per cent) and STs (2 per cent), according to the survey.
The proportion of urban households in the highest MPCE class (those who spent Rs 2,450 or more per month) was higher among the others (13 per cent) category of households than among the OBCs and STs (3 per cent) and SCs (1 per cent).
In terms of labour force participation, STs topped the list during 2004-05 with almost 51 per cent of them working. Among SCs, the number of employed stood at 44 per cent, OBCs at 43 per cent and others at 40 per cent.
The proportion of chronically unemployed in the rural areas, among both men and women, was the highest for the others category. The proportion of chronically unemployed among urban men was the highest among SCs followed by that among the others category. For urban women, the proportion of chronically unemployed was slightly lower for SCs and STs than for those belonging to the OBC or others category.