The Bombay High Court on Tuesday cancelled the caste certificate issued to Amravati Lok Sabha member Navneet Kaur Rana, saying it was obtained fraudulently using fabricated documents, and directed her to surrender it within six weeks.
A division bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and V G Bisht also imposed a cost of Rs 2 lakh, which she needs to pay to the Maharashtra Legal Services Authority within a period of two weeks.
The High Court noted that the claim of belonging to 'Mochi' caste made by Ms Rana for obtaining the Scheduled Caste certificate itself was fraudulent and made with an intention to obtain various benefits available to a candidate from such category, despite knowing she does not belong to that caste.
Ms Rana was elected from Maharashtra's Amravati Lok Sabha seat in 2019. She is an Independent MP backed by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
"The application (for caste certificate) was made intentionally to make a fraudulent claim to enable the respondent no.3 (Rana) to contest the election for the post of Member of Parliament on a seat reserved for a Scheduled Caste candidate," the High Court court said in its judgement.
"In our view, since respondent no.3 has obtained the caste certificate fraudulently and got it validated fraudulently from the Caste Scrutiny Committee by producing fabricated and fraudulent documents, such caste certificate is cancelled and stands confiscated," the bench said.
It is needless to observe that all the consequences in law providing upon cancellation of such fraudulently obtained caste certificate and caste validity certificate shall follow, the High Court added.
The court in its judgement also noted the "abysmal" functioning of the scrutiny committee.
The High Court passed its order on a petition filed by social worker Anandrao Adsule, seeking for cancellation of the caste certificate dated August 30, 2013 issued by Mumbai Deputy Collector, identifying Ms Rana as belonging to the 'Mochi' caste.
Mr Adsule later filed a complaint with the Mumbai District Caste Certificate Scrutiny Committee, which ruled in favour of Ms Rana and validated her caste certificate.
Mr Adsule then approached the high court.
The petitioner's case was that Ms Rana obtained the caste certificate using forged and fabricated documents.
It claimed the certificate was obtained under the influence of Navneet Rana's husband Ravi Rana, who was a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
The high court in its judgement said the order passed by the Scrutiny Committee validating Navneet Rana's caste certificate was "totally perverse, without the application of mind and contrary to the evidence on record".
The bench noted that the original birth certificate of Navneet Rana did not mention the caste 'Mochi'.
"In our view, there are two sets of documents produced by the respondent no.3 (Navneet Rana) which were contradictory to each other before the scrutiny committee. The respondent no.3 had claimed to be 'Sikh Chamar' as well as 'Ravidasiya Mochi'," the High Court said.
The court further said the scrutiny committee has caused "injustice" to the petitioner and has put its "imprimatur on such fraudulent caste claim".
"A wrong caste validity certificate granted in favour of the party who does not belong to that caste may deprive a genuine and deserving person belonging to such reserve category of the caste of the benefits prescribed in the Constitution of India," the court said in its order.
The High Court said in its view, the terms 'Chamar' and 'Mochi' are not synonymous and are different identities.
The scrutiny committee did its job "rather sloppily and shirked the obligations" imposed on it, the High Court observed.
"The scrutiny committee has totally ignored the objections raised by the complainant and also by the Vigilance Cell in respect of the documents (submitted by Navneet Rana to support her claim that she belongs to Mochi caste)," it said.
It said the scrutiny committee allowed the caste claim in favour of Navneet Rana even though she failed to "discharge her burden by producing authentic and clear evidence".
The High Court noted that the core function of the scrutiny committee while verifying caste certificates is the investigation carried out by its vigilance cell.
"The scrutiny committee is not an adjudicating authority but an administrative body that verifies facts, investigates into a specific claim of caste status and ascertains whether the caste/tribe status claim is correct or not," the court said.
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