Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

With just around a year left for the next Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Odisha, ruling BJD seems to have played the backward classes-card with the Cabinet approving the inclusion of 22 backward castes/communities in the State list of socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC). 

The move, with significant political implications, has triggered a political slugfest in the State.

Opposition BJP slammed the ruling party for not doing the survey for backward classes despite making the announcement two years ago.

The State government amended the SEBC Act in 1993 to include 22 backward castes in the SEBC list. With the latest addition, the total number of backward castes in the list has now reached 230. Though the newly-added 22 backward castes were in Centre’s OBC list, they were deprived of various government schemes and facilities as they were not in the State’s SEBC list. Earlier, the State Commission for Backward Classes had also recommended the Odisha government to include these 22 backward castes in the SEBC list.

“The decision will help people belonging to the 22 castes to avail all social welfare measures and benefits leading to inclusive growth, thereby bringing them to the mainstream of development,” said Development Commissioner P K Jena after the Cabinet decision.

Earlier, Odisha government had pushed for a caste-based census in the country by forming the OBC Commission. After requesting the Centre to include caste details in the forthcoming Census, it had also targeted the Centre and initiated a process to conduct a survey of social and educational condition of the people belonging to the backward classes through the Odisha State Commission for Backward Classes( OSCBC). The process, however, was put on hold and the survey is yet to be started.

Meanwhile, Odisha BJP slammed the ruling party for delaying the survey and depriving the beneficiaries from reservation in education and employment.

“The decision of the Cabinet is nothing new. They should have been included in the SEBC list much earlier. The decision has already been made in 1994 and the State government just taking the decision after decades,” said Odisha BJP OBC Cell President, Surath Biswal.

“All the states in the country have reservation for backward castes in education, but Odisha doesn’t have any such facilities. The State government has announced reservation of 11.25 per cent for the backward castes. However, it has only been confined to the announcement,” added Biswal.

Meanwhile, responding to the allegation by the BJP, senior BJD leader Debi Prasad Mishra said that the matter is in consideration and the concerned department will be in a better position to answer.

“A commission has been formed in this matter and Odisha government has taken the decision to have a caste-based census,” said Mishra.

However, as per political analysts and experts, the State has more than 50 per cent population in the backward classes category and efforts are on by the ruling party to grab this huge vote bank.