High Courts Urged to Exercise Restraint in Caste Certificate Scrutiny

In a landmark decision on April 4th, the Supreme Court issued a crucial directive, emphasizing that unless the findings of a scrutiny committee on caste claims are clearly erroneous, High Courts should refrain from intervening.

The judgment, delivered by a bench comprising Justices JK Maheshwari and Sanjay Karol, underscored the principle that higher courts should avoid delving deep into factual matters akin to appellate bodies unless the scrutiny committee’s conclusions are patently perverse or legally impermissible.

The case at hand involved Amravati MP Navneet Kaur Rana, who had appealed against the Bombay High Court’s decision to annul her caste certificate, alleging fraudulent acquisition of a ‘Mochi’ caste status when records indicated her belonging to the ‘Sikh-Chamar’ caste.

However, the Supreme Court upheld the scrutiny committee’s validation of Rana’s caste certificate, highlighting meticulous consideration of relevant documents and adherence to principles of natural justice. The Court stressed that once the committee, empowered by the Maharashtra Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes (Regulation of Issuance and Verification of) Caste Certificate Act, 2000, arrives at a decision, it should be respected unless found blatantly flawed.

Critically, the Court chastised the High Court for overstepping its bounds by re-evaluating evidence without clear evidence of perversity in the committee’s findings. It emphasized that the committee’s authority in assessing evidence should be respected, and challenges to its assessment should not be routinely entertained.

Drawing on precedent, notably the case of Dayaram Vs. Sudhir Batham and Others (2012) 1 SCC 333, the Court reaffirmed the administrative nature of scrutiny committees, distinct from adjudicating bodies like courts or tribunals.

The Court elucidated that the writ of certiorari, invoked by the High Court to annul the committee’s decision, is not meant for reviewing evidence but for supervisory purposes. Quoting Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences and Another vs. Bikartan Das and Others, 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 692, the Court emphasized that such interference should be avoided unless the findings are evidently erroneous.

Consequently, the Supreme Court set aside the High Court’s judgment, deeming its intervention unjustified, and underscored the importance of respecting the scrutiny committee’s decisions unless they are unmistakably flawed.

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