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Socio Economic and Caste Census Website Has Been Down For Over Two Months Now: Report

The Ministry of Rural Development – which is responsible for maintaining the portal – quoted “technical reasons” when The Indian Express contacted it.
Representational image. Photo: Canva/Pixabay

New Delhi: India’s Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) website has been down for more than two months now, the Indian Express reported on March 22. However, when the media house contacted the Ministry of Rural Development — which is responsible for maintaining the portal — the ministry quoted “technical reasons” and claimed that it was making “all out efforts” to ensure that the website is live again.

In 2011, India conducted the Socio Economic and Caste Census, its first-ever caste-based census since 1931. The census — which was the first paperless census, conducted on hand-held electronic devices by the government in 640 districts — showed that one out of three families living in villages is landless and depends on manual labour for their livelihood, the PTI had reported. It revealed the poor state of education in rural India, with the finding that nearly one-fourth of families have no literate adult above the age of 25 years. 

The aim of the census was for the government to improve various social welfare schemes — including to identify beneficiaries of schemes such as the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri, Jan Arogya Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin, the IE reported — for the benefit of economically backward communities including people under the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Castes, using the data it generated. 

This crucial data, however, is no longer available in the public domain, reported the Indian Express on March 22. Per the news report, the portal has been down at least since January 6, 2024 — which is when the Internet archive’s wayback machine last captured snapshots of the census portal. As of the time this story on The Wire was also written on March 23, the website was still down.

Indian Express reported that when it contacted the Ministry of Rural Development — which is responsible for maintaining the portal — the news house was told that “there is an outage of the SECC website due to technical reasons”. “[The] Ministry is making all out efforts to make the web-site live again,” a ministry source told IE.

Indian Express also reported that unnamed sources said that the issue was flagged during the ministry’s internal meetings at least twice since January this year. “During one such meeting on January 24, it was noted that the AMC (annual maintenance contract) for SECC hardware had to be “renewed,” IE reported. Sources also revealed, per the news report, that the SECC servers were to be “restored by the end of this week,” on February 6.

Caste censuses have been a crucial election issue in many states, precisely for the data that emerge from it. In October last year, Bihar conducted its first ever state-based caste census. The census found that dominant castes make up just 15.5% of the state’s population, while its marginalised castes comprise 84%. It also found that about 94 lakh families — 34.13% of the total 2.76 crore families in Bihar – are economically poor and earn less than Rs 6,000 a month — basically, every third family was poor. Based on this data, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar announced a slew of measures targeted at the poor and marginalised, in November 2023, he announced a one-time benefit of Rs 2 lakh to the 94 lakh families, and also announced plans to increase reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs to 65%, (up from 50%, which the Supreme Court had capped at).

Andhra Pradesh became the second state after Bihar to announce plans for a caste survey; its survey began on January 19 this year. Political parties including the Congress have also declared that they will conduct a country-wide caste census if they come into power after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. 

Notably, the Census 2021 got postponed indefinetly due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the first time in its 150-year history that the decennial census exercise has been delayed.

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