Friday, April 19, 2024

Bombay High Court disposes of PIL on councillors with fake caste certificates

The Bombay High Court has recently  disposed of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking investigation of the case by the Commissioner of Police under High Court supervision over the entire amount taken by private respondents from the Municipal Corporation for Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and a FIR may be registered accordingly.

The PIL has been filed by Advocate Vijendra Kumar Rai. The cause of action for instituting the PIL is that the private respondent were elected as MCGM councillors from reserved seats; however, after such election, the candidates whom the private respondents had defeated, lodged objections before the Scrutiny Committee seeking invalidation of the caste certificates. According to the petitioner, the Scrutiny Committee has invalidated the caste certificates issued in favour of the private respondents pursuant to which they stepped down as councillors.

Referring to the Maharashtra Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Denotified Tribes (Vimukta Jatis), Nomadic Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Special Backward Category (Regulation of Issuance and Verification of) Caste Certificate Act, 2000, the petitioner contended that the private respondents have committed offences which are punishable in terms of sub-section (1) of Section 11 and that since the Scrutiny Committee has not yet lodged any FIR before the concerned police station, the High Court ought to direct the police to register a crime against them. It is also prayed that whatever monies have been received by the private respondents during the period they acted as councillors of the Corporation should be directed to be refunded.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M. S. Karnik observed that sub-section (2) of Section 11 of the Act ordains that no Court shall take cognizance of an offence punishable under sub-section (1) thereof, except upon a complaint, in writing, made by the Scrutiny Committee or by any officer duly authorized by the Scrutiny Committee for such purpose.

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It does not appeared to the Court from the petition that prior to the institution of the PIL, the petitioner had approached the Scrutiny Committee with a request to it to lodge a complaint against the private respondents for having furnished false information or filing false statements or documents or for resorting to any other fraudulent means while obtaining caste certificates.

In the absence of any such request to the Scrutiny Committee, the Bench is  loath to interfere at this stage having regard to what the Court have held in the order dated February 21, 2022 passed in another PIL where Rai himself was the petitioner.

The Bench  noted in such order a salutary principle which is a pre-condition for issuance of a writ of mandamus, as discussed in at least 3 (three) decisions of the Supreme Court, and held that such principle applies to public interest litigation as well. Since the pre-condition for issuance of mandamus had not been satisfied, relief was declined to Rai in that case.

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The Court placed on record the submissions made on behalf of the private respondents that the decision of the Scrutiny Committee upon being challenged by them before this Court, orders invalidating the caste claim made by the Scrutiny Committee have been struck down and as such, the caste status of the said respondents have been restored pursuant whereto they have been serving as councillors till now.

“Since the petitioner has not approached the Scrutiny Committee with a request to lodge a complaint, we decline interference. This writ petition, accordingly, stands disposed of with liberty to the petitioner to take steps in accordance with law”

-the order reads.

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