The Bombay High Court on Tuesday cancelled the caste certificate of Amravati Lok Sabha member Navneet Kaur Rana from Maharashtra, saying it was obtained fraudulently using fabricated documents, and also imposed a cost of Rs 2 lakh on her. The independent MP, who won from a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes, said she would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. A division bench of Justices RD Dhanuka and VG Bisht asked Rana to surrender the certificate within six weeks and asked her to pay a cost of Rs 2 lakh to the Maharashtra Legal Services Authority within two weeks.
The HC held that Rana's claim of belonging to 'Mochi' caste for obtaining the Scheduled Caste certificate itself was fraudulent and made with the intention of obtaining various benefits available to a candidate from such category, despite knowing she does not belong to that caste. Rana was elected from Maharashtra's Amravati Lok Sabha seat in 2019. She is independent, but backed by the 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 HC 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 HC added. The court in its judgement also noted the "abysmal" functioning of the scrutiny committee.
The HC passed its order on a petition filed by social worker Anandrao Adsule, seeking cancellation of the caste certificate dated August 30, 2013, issued by Mumbai Deputy Collector, identifying Rana as belonging to the 'Mochi' caste. Adsule had filed a complaint with the Mumbai District Caste Certificate Scrutiny Committee, which ruled in Rana's favour and validated the certificate. Adsule then approached the High Court. He contended that Rana obtained the certificate using forged and fabricated documents. It was obtained by using the influence of Navneet Rana's husband Ravi Rana, who was a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, he alleged.
The High Court held that the order passed by the Scrutiny Committee 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 HC said.
"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 benefits prescribed in the Constitution of India," the court said in its order.
The HC 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 HC 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 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.