The High Court of Bombay: Nagpur Bench passed a judgement on 19 April 2023. In the case of DIVYA MUKESH CHAWDA Vs THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA, THR. SECRETARY, SOCIAL WELFARE DEPT. MUMBAI AND OTHERS IN WRIT PETITION NO.6971/2022 which was passed by a division bench comprising of HONOURABLE SHRI JUSTICE R. B. DEO and HONOURABLE SHRI JUSTICE VRUSHALI V. JOSHI the Court reviewed a case where a petitioner challenged the decision of the Scrutiny Committee to invalidate her claim of belonging to the Mochi Scheduled Caste. The petitioner’s claim was based on various documents and a genealogical tree provided to establish her caste identity. The Court carefully examined the evidence and ultimately ruled in favour of the petitioner, emphasizing the committee’s errors in disregarding the presented documents. This blog post will delve into the details of the case, highlighting the key arguments and the Court’s reasoning.
The petitioner, a student at Kapadia Gujarati Junior College in Amravati, sought a caste validity certificate to verify her claim as a member of the Mochi Scheduled Caste. After submitting the necessary documents, including validation certificates of her family members, the Vigilance Cell conducted an inquiry and confirmed the authenticity of the provided documents. However, the Scrutiny Committee issued a notice to the petitioner, demanding additional pre-constitution documents and questioning her relationship with one of the validation certificate holders, Shailesh Vallabh Chawada.
THE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE’S DECISION
In its decision, the Scrutiny Committee contended that the petitioner failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish her caste identity as Mochi. They reasoned that the petitioner had not submitted any pre-constitution documents, and the committee referred to a judgment by the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court, which stated that the Mochi caste did not fall under the Scheduled Caste category.
The petitioner, through her counsel, argued that the Scrutiny Committee erred in discarding the validity certificates of her family members. The counsel emphasized that the High Court’s judgment was irrelevant to the case. It was further asserted that the petitioner had submitted four validity certificates of her cousins, including one of her real cousin brothers, Shailesh Chawada, along with a genealogical tree proving their relationship.
COURT’S ANALYSIS AND DECISION
Upon careful examination of the case, the Court noted that the documents submitted by the petitioner, which referred to her caste as Mochi, were not questioned for their authenticity. However, the committee rejected her claim based on the petitioner’s father’s statement that their family originally hailed from Gujarat. According to the committee, the Maharashtra law stipulated that only Mochis from specific districts were declared as Scheduled Caste.
The Court acknowledged that the burden of proving the claim lies with the petitioner, as per the Maharashtra Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, 2000. Nevertheless, the Court found fault with the committee’s approach. The Vigilance Cell’s inquiry had not questioned the petitioner’s relationship with Shailesh, and the Court believed the petitioner should have been given notice to provide additional documentary evidence to establish this relationship.
The Court found merit in the petitioner’s case since her family had settled in Maharashtra well before independence. Notably, a pre-constitution entry in a school admission register referred to the petitioner’s grandfather, Velji Shamji Chawada, as Mochi. The Court held that the committee erred by applying the amended presidential order relevant to Gujarat, rather than considering the pre-constitution evidence from Maharashtra.
In light of these findings, the Court set aside the Scrutiny Committee’s order and granted the petitioner’s prayer for quashing the order and directing the committee to issue her a validity certificate for her caste, Mochi, within one month.
This judgment highlights the importance of a fair and meticulous examination of evidence when determining caste validity claims. The Court’s decision recognized the significance of pre-constitution documents and concluded that the Scrutiny Committee had erred in disregarding them. By setting aside the committee’s order, the Court upheld the petitioner’s right to establish her caste identity and receive a validity certificate. This ruling serves as a reminder of the need for careful consideration and adherence to the law in caste validity proceedings.