AKIL KURESHI, C.J. -
(1.) These appeals arise in common background. They have been heard together and would be disposed of by this common judgment. All the appellants-original petitioners belong to the same clan and claim to be members of Scheduled Tribe (ST) recognized in the State of Tripura. In their favour ST certificates were also issued. These ST certificates came under scrutiny and the specially constituted committee called the State Level Scrutiny Committee (SLSC, for short) as per the decision of the Supreme Court in case of Kumari Madhuri Patil and another v. Addl. Commissioner, Tribal Development and others reported in (1994) 6 SCC 241 quashed these certificates. The appellants unsuccessfully challenged such decisions of SLSC before the learned Single Judge who dismissed all the petitions by a common judgment which has been challenged in these appeals.
(2.) Before recording facts at some length, we may give brief background in relation to the question of issuance, verification and cancellation of caste certificates. As is well-known, large number of complaints is received alleging fraudulent claims of reservation either in public service or in education. On account of enormity of such complaints and seriousness of a person claiming false caste status and thereby fraudulently availing the benefit of reservation, the Supreme Court in case of Kumari Madhuri Patil (supra) examined the issues at length and laid down the procedure for dealing with the complaints of false caste certificates. It was observed that admission wrongly gained or appointment wrongly obtained on the basis of false social status certificate necessarily has the effect of depriving the genuine Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or OBC candidates of the benefits conferred on them by the Constitution. It was further observed that the ineligible or spurious persons who falsely gained entry, resort to dilatory tactics and create hurdles in completion of the inquiries by the Scrutiny Committee. It was, therefore, found necessary to streamline the procedure for issuance of social status certificates, their scrutiny and their approval. The Supreme Court, therefore, created following mechanism in the said judgment:
'13. The admission wrongly gained or appointment wrongly obtained on the basis of false social status certificate necessarily has the effect of depriving the genuine Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or OBC candidates as enjoined in the Constitution of the benefits conferred on them by the Constitution. The genuine candidates are also denied admission to educational institutions or appointments to office or posts under a State for want of social status certificate. The ineligible or spurious persons who falsely gained entry resort to dilatory tactics and create hurdles in completion of the inquiries by the Scrutiny Committee. It is true that the applications for admission to educational institutions are generally made by a parent, since on that date many a time the student may be a minor. It is the parent or the guardian who may play fraud claiming false status certificate. It is, therefore, necessary that the certificates issued are scrutinised at the earliest and with utmost expedition and promptitude. For that purpose, it is necessary to streamline the procedure for the issuance of social status certificates, their scrutiny and their approval, which may be the following:
1. The application for grant of social status certificate shall be made to the Revenue Sub-Divisional Officer and Deputy Collector or Deputy Commissioner and the certificate shall be issued by such officer rather than at the Officer, Taluk or Mandal level.
2. The parent, guardian or the candidate, as the case may be, shall file an affidavit duly sworn and attested by a competent gazetted officer or non-gazetted officer with particulars of castes and sub-castes, tribe, tribal community, parts or groups of tribes or tribal communities, the place from which he originally hails from and other particulars as may be prescribed by the Directorate concerned.
3. Application for verification of the caste certificate by the Scrutiny Committee shall be filed at least six months in advance before seeking admission into educational institution or an appointment to a post.
4. All the State Governments shall constitute a Committee of three officers, namely, (I) an Additional or Joint Secretary or any officer higher in rank of the Director of the department concerned, (II) the Director, Social Welfare/Tribal Welfare/Backward Class Welfare, as the case may be, and (III) in the case of Scheduled Castes another officer who has intimate knowledge in the verification and issuance of the social status certificates. In the case of the Scheduled Tribes, the Research Officer who has intimate knowledge in identifying the tribes, tribal communities, parts of or groups of tribes or tribal communities.
5. Each Directorate should constitute a vigilance cell consisting of Senior Deputy Superintendent of Police in over-all charge and such number of Police Inspectors to investigate into the social status claims. The Inspector would go to the local place of residence and original place from which the candidate hails and usually resides or in case of migration to the town or city, the place from which he originally hailed from. The vigilance officer should personally verify and collect all the facts of the social status claimed by the candidate or the parent or guardian, as the case may be. He should also examine the school records, birth registration, if any. He should also examine the parent, guardian or the candidate in relation to their caste etc. or such other persons who have knowledge of the social status of the candidate and then submit a report to the Directorate together with all particulars as envisaged in the pro forma, in particular, of the Scheduled Tribes relating to their peculiar anthropological and ethnological traits, deity, rituals, customs, mode of marriage, death ceremonies, method of burial of dead bodies etc. by the castes or tribes or tribal communities concerned etc.
6. The Director concerned, on receipt of the report from the vigilance officer if he found the claim for social status to be 'not genuine' or 'doubtful' or spurious or falsely or wrongly claimed, the Director concerned should issue show-cause notice supplying a copy of the report of the vigilance officer to the candidate by a registered post with acknowledgement due or through the head of the educational institution concerned in which the candidate is studying or employed. The notice should indicate that the representation or reply, if any, would be made within two weeks from the date of the receipt of the notice and in no case on request not more than 30 days from the date of the receipt of the notice. In case, the candidate seeks for an opportunity of hearing and claims an inquiry to be made in that behalf, the Director on receipt of such representation/reply shall convene the committee and the Joint/Additional Secretary as Chairperson who shall give reasonable opportunity to the candidate/parent/guardian to adduce all evidence in support of their claim. A public notice by beat of drum or any other convenient mode may be published in the village or locality and if any person or association opposes such a claim, an opportunity to adduce evidence may be given to him/it. After giving such opportunity either in person or through counsel, the Committee may make such inquiry as it deems expedient and consider the claims vis-vis the objections raised by the candidate or opponent and pass an appropriate order with brief reasons in support thereof.
7. In case the report is in favour of the candidate and found to be genuine and true, no further action need be taken except where the report or the particulars given are procured or found to be false or fraudulently obtained and in the latter event the same procedure as is envisaged in para 6 be followed.
8. Notice contemplated in para 6 should be issued to the parents/guardian also in case candidate is minor to appear before the Committee with all evidence in his or their support of the claim for the social status certificates.
9. The inquiry should be completed as expeditiously as possible preferably by day-to-day proceedings within such period not exceeding two months. If after inquiry, the Caste Scrutiny Committee finds the claim to be false or spurious, they should pass an order cancelling the certificate issued and confiscate the same. It should communicate within one month from the date of the conclusion of the proceedings the result of enquiry to the parent/guardian and the applicant.
10. In case of any delay in finalising the proceedings, and in the meanwhile the last date for admission into an educational institution or appointment to an officer post, is getting expired, the candidate be admitted by the Principal or such other authority competent in that behalf or appointed on the basis of the social status certificate already issued or an affidavit duly sworn by the parent/guardian/candidate before the competent officer or non-official and such admission or appointment should be only provisional, subject to the result of the inquiry by the Scrutiny Committee.
11. The order passed by the Committee shall be final and conclusive only subject to the proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution.
12. No suit or other proceedings before any other authority should lie.
13. The High Court would dispose of these cases as expeditiously as possible within a period of three months. In case, as per its procedure, the writ petition/miscellaneous petition/matter is disposed of by a Single Judge, then no further appeal would lie against that order to the Division Bench but subject to special leave under Article 136.
14. In case, the certificate obtained or social status claimed is found to be false, the parent/guardian/the candidate should be prosecuted for making false claim. If the prosecution ends in a conviction and sentence of the accused, it could be regarded as an offence involving moral turpitude, disqualification for elective posts or offices under the State or the Union or elections to any local body, legislature or Parliament.
15. As soon as the finding is recorded by the Scrutiny Committee holding that the certificate obtained was false, on its cancellation and confiscation simultaneously, it should be communicated to the educational institution concerned or the appointing authority by registered post with acknowledgement due with a request to cancel the admission or the appointment. The Principal etc. of the educational institution responsible for making the admission or the appointing authority, should cancel the admission/ appointment without any further notice to the candidate and debar the candidate from further study or continue in office in a post.'
(3.) In the context of scope and jurisdiction of the High Court to examine the correctness of the decision of SLSC it was observed as under:
'15. The question then is whether the approach adopted by the High Court in not elaborately considering the case is vitiated by an error of law. High Court is not a court of appeal to appreciate the evidence. The Committee which is empowered to evaluate the evidence placed before it when records a finding of fact, it ought to prevail unless found vitiated by judicial review of any High Court subject to limitations of interference with findings of fact. The Committee when considers all the material facts and records a finding, though another view, as a court of appeal may be possible, it is not a ground to reverse the findings. The court has to see whether the Committee considered all the relevant material placed before it or has not applied its mind to relevant facts which have led the Committee ultimately record the finding. Each case must be considered in the backdrop of its own facts.';