More than 35 lakh persons across the state belonging to various reserved categories may have to get their caste claims re-validated. The Bombay high court, on Friday, held that the caste validity certificates issued to them were invalid in the absence of vigilance reports.
A division bench of justice AM Khanwilkar and justice Niteen Jamdar held that the Caste Scrutiny Committees set up to examine caste claims are required to refer every claim to their respective Vigilance Cells and could not have validated any caste claim without the vigilance report.
However, the high court has stayed the operation of the judgment for 10 weeks, after the state government sought time to approach the apex court.
The landmark ruling has cast a shadow over the term of several candidates elected to civic bodies across Maharashtra, as the court has held unconstitutional the very composition of the 33 Temporary Caste Scrutiny Committees. The committees, one for each district, were set up specifically for speedy settlement of caste claims of persons who wished to contest the recently concluded civic polls across the state. These committees issued more than 27,000 validity certificates within a day or two.
Around the time of the polls, several petitions were filed in the high court questioning the caste certificates. Petitioners in one group had challenged the constitutional validity of the 33 specially constituted Caste Scrutiny Committees, whereas another group had questioned the validity of the certificates issued by these committees.
Sugandh Deshmukh, counsel for the petitioners, had argued that Caste Scrutiny Committees are required to refer every matter to the Vigilance Cell in view of guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court (SC). He challenged the validity of the 33 committees contending that their composition was not as per the guidelines laid down by the SC and therefore their composition itself was unconstitutional.
However, special counsel for state government, VA Gangal, argued that in 2001, the state government enacted a legislation governing validation of caste claims and therefore, the guidelines laid down by the SC would not apply. The advocate argued that as per the legislation, Caste Scrutiny Committees are not required to refer every matter to Vigilance Cell.