The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the State of Maharashtra to re-verify the community certificates, granted to persons claiming to belong to Scheduled Tribes, between the period 30.7.2011 and 31.8.2012.
"The exercise carried out in the interregnum period, between 30.7.2011 (when the Notification was issued) and 31.8.2012 (when the Rules of 2012 were notified) leaves us, as the High Court, with grave doubt, and we are of the view that no proper exercise could have been carried out, or was carried out given the time frame within which the caste certificates were issued. The objective was clear, i.e., to somehow facilitate as many people as possible, as soon as possible, to contest the elections", observed the bench of Justice S K Kaul and K M Joseph.
The decision was passed in an appeal filed by Dist. Collector Satara, impugning the order of the Bombay High Court, which had turned down the veracity of such certificates.
The certificates during the aforementioned period were granted by the State, in accordance with The Maharashtra Scheduled Tribes (Regulation of Issuance and Verification of) Certificate Rules, 2003, framed under Section 6(1) of the Maharashtra Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, De-notified Tribes (Vimukta Jatis), Nomadic Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Special Backward Category (Regulation of Issuance and Verification of) Caste Certificate Act, 2000,.
The Respondent, Mangesh Nivrutti Kashid, had impugned the grant of these certificates, claiming that the procedure adopted for grant of such certificates was contrary to the guidelines issued by the Apex Court in Kumari Madhuri Patil & Anr. v. Additional Commissioner, Tribal Development & Ors, (1994) 6 SCC 241, as upheld in Dayaram v. Sudhir Batham & Ors., (2012) 1 SCC 333.
In the aforesaid ruling, the Supreme Court had issued directions to streamline the procedure for issuance of the social status certificates and had suggested the constitution of a Vigilance Committee and a Scrutiny Committee, to oversee the process.
The Vigilance Committee was responsible to ascertain the truthfulness of the caste claim by conducting an investigation into the antecedents of the claimant, while the Scrutiny Committee was empowered to grant caste status certificate based on such report.
The Respondent had challenged before the High Court the caste certificates granted by the State of Maharashtra under the said Rules of 2003 from 30.7.2011, until the enactment of Maharashtra Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, De-notified Tribes (Vimukta Jatis), Nomadic Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Special Backward Category (Regulation of Issuance and Verification of) Caste Certificate Rules, 2012 on 31.8.2012.
He submitted that the speed with which the certificates were issued during the aforesaid period, to meet the deluge of applications for the issuance of caste certificates sought for contesting elections of the local Self-Government, it was not possible to accept that there could have been any proper verification. It was rather pointed out that the certificates were issued without vigilance reports and within a very short period of time.
He further challenged the composition of the Scrutiny Committees under the Rules of 2003 and contested the rule which prescribed that the assistance of the Vigilance Committee was not required in every case, but only if the Scrutiny Committee was not satisfied with the documentary evidence produced by the applicant. It was submitted that both these rules were contrary to the guidelines envisaged by the Apex Court in the Kumari Madhuri Patil case.
It was contended that the directions issued by the Apex Court were mandatory and the legislature could not have diluted the law laid down by the Apex Court. Reliance was placed on the decision of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Dayaram v. Sudhir Batham & Ors., which opined that the directions issued in the case of Kumari Madhuri Patil were "intrinsic" for the actual realization of the fundamental rights of the Backward Classes of citizens. It was also opined therein that enquiry by the Vigilance Cell was to be considered to be a core requirement for ascertainment of the veracity of the caste certificate.
Accordingly, the high court was pleased to quash the Government Resolution dated 30.7.2011, with a direction that both, the matters of constitution of the Committee and the operation of the Vigilance Cell (being mandatory), the directions in Kumari Madhuri Patil case had to be given full effect to.
The Supreme Court bifurcated his findings into two. He firstly addressed the issue of composition of Scrutiny Committee.
Therein, he clarified that the purpose of any judicial legislation was to fill a vacuum and it did not preclude legislators from enacting a law. He opined that the directions issued by a court hold field so long as the State Governments do not come up with appropriate legislations to substitute the norms. Reliance was placed on Vineet Narain & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., (1998) 1 SCC 226.
The SC criticized the High Court's order for having "predicated on reasoning as if the judgment in the Kumari Madhuri Patil case was engraved in stone, and it was not open for the legislature to have enacted law at variance with, or in derogation of the same".
"So long as the procedure made under the notification or legislation meets the requirement of law, it cannot be said that the Committee has to be only as per the directions of this Court," said Justice S K Kaul in the judgment.
The bench further clarified that a delegated legislation or a notification issued under statutory powers could not be challenged merely for being varied from the Supreme Court ruling and that,
"…the challenge can be laid only in terms of well settled principles. Either the rule or notification is contrary to the provisions of the Act, or contrary to any provision of the Constitution, or brings about a conflict which is required to be resolved by the Court".
With regards the second issue of mandatory requirement of the Vigilance Cell Report, the SC concurred with the Respondents' submissions.
He emphasized on the importance of proper verification of such certificates to be issued and said that the exercise of issuance of the certificates could not be carried out in a casual manner. "The Scrutiny Committee constituted to issue the validity certificates must, thus, at the slightest doubt take the assistance of the Vigilance Cell to ensure that non-entitled persons do not get benefitted at the cost of entitled persons," the court said.
He agreed that no proper exercise could have been carried out, or was carried out given the time frame within which the caste certificates were issued during the impugned period. He said that even while the certificates were hastily granted only to enable those persons for contesting elections, the validity of the certificates was not only valid for that election, but also for subsequent elections.
"They are not only valid for educational purposes (except for some cases so restricted), but also for all other purposes. These validity certificates can possibly become the basis for issuance of further certificates to the legal heirs", the court purported.
Thus, directions were issued for re-verification of the certificates granted during the period intervening 30.7.2011 and 31.8.2012, except for those that were issued after verification by the Vigilance Cell, within six months. A fresh consideration was also directed for certificates that were issued despite an adverse report of the Vigilance Cell.
The court specified that till such re-verification was completed, the existing certificates issued for the interregnum period would hold good.
The court further said that those, whose caste certificates were rejected by the Caste Scrutiny Committee, without any Vigilance Inquiry, may be given the right to appeal against such rejection, as per Rule 7 of the Rules of 2012.
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