Chandrakant P (name changed) works in the social welfare department of Maharashtra government. He was born in a Maratha family, but he secured employment under the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category. This may sound shocking, but Chandrakant’s is not the only case of a member of a forward or ineligible caste securing employment on false pretences—there are lakhs like him who bend the law to suit their private interests. What is even more appalling is that recently all such people were handed a major reprieve. A government order declared that all employees who had submitted fake caste certificates would get a further extension of eleven months on the jobs they do not deserve. A committee has been formed under the chairmanship of Chhagan Bhujbal, Minister of Food and Civil Supples and Consumer Protection, to frame a plan for their “rehabilitation”.
The previous BJP-led dispensation in Maharashtra was no different. It had decided to protect over 11,000 employees who had forged their caste certificates to get jobs, a gross misuse of the Scheduled Tribe quota. The government had then declared all such posts were “supernumerary”, which means that those holding them were protected as employees although they were denied promotion until retirement, and thereafter those posts would be scrapped. It is not hard to notice that those who were entitled to these jobs—the SC and ST candidates—gained nothing from the government’s decision.
Since 1995, the government had been receiving complaints from representatives of tribal organisations and individuals belonging to Scheduled Tribes about people enjoying the benefits of reservation through forged caste certificates. Yet, nothing has been done to end the practice. Even the Supreme Court had, in July 2017, taken the position that no protection can be given to individuals who had submitted false caste documents to secure employment. In fact, the court has consistently said such “impersonators” cannot be protected. Despite this, the government has not acted strongly against those found in violation.
A government report had underlined that there were over 10 lakh people in Maharashtra alone, who are estimated to have over the past four decades obtained bogus caste certificates. Of these, nearly 50,000 belonging to General and OBC categories reportedly bagged government jobs including civil services and seats in premier institutions across Maharashtra under various quotas designated for underprivileged scheduled castes, STs and denotified communities.
Though the facts have been out in the open since the nineties, the government has resisted taking action against the impersonators, arguing that it cannot dismiss or harshly punish those who had served in government for, say, 15 or 20 years. Thereby the government justified creating comfortable alternate arrangements for them.
In an April 2018 judgement, Vijay Kishanrao Kurundkar vs. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court said that an appointment secured on the basis of fraudulent caste certificate is “void ab initio” and “non est”, or in other words, it would not be considered an appointment at all and that government resolutions and circulars cannot protect such appointees. Earlier, the Supreme Court had brought attention to the dereliction of constitutional duty in issuing SC and ST certificates without verifying that the applicant has suffered social, economic or educational disabilities. As a result, reserved posts go into the hands of non-deserving candidates, the court noted, and it emphasised that such actions violate Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
Yet, without a nexus of caste scrutiny committees, touts and politicians who act as facilitators, a fake caste certificate racket would not exist, nor thrive. It follows that the Maharashtra experience is no exception. Recently there was news that more than 750 government employees caught with fake caste certificates in Chhattisgarh are to be sacked. In March, it was reported that nearly 1,000 cases were registered in Karnataka against people who held false caste certificates, including 68 who had obtained them to contest elections. The state Social Welfare Minister explained that members of forward castes had captured jobs and educational opportunities meant for the socially oppressed through this route, but that the government could do little, for it is a question of changing the “mindset” of people. Only 12 of these offenders have been convicted.
This is not all. More than a decade ago, the Central Bureau of Investigation has investigated the status of employees of ministries of the central and state governments, covering departments such as the Delhi Development Authority, New Delhi Municipal Council and similar public sector undertakings. It revealed that about 30% of Delhi government’s ST employees had also submitted false certificates.
Punishment for this offence is rare. A Senior Superintendent of Police from the Haryana cadre belonging to the Rajput caste was convicted after a prolonged legal battle for having submitted a fake SC certificate and was even jailed for a year. There are a few other instances of punishment, but nothing compared with the scale of the problem. The National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes [now two separate bodies] conducted pilot studies in several states to examine the extent of the fake certificate scam. The third report of the Commission, covering the years 1994-95 and 1995-96 informs that a random check of 12 central government organisations in Tamil Nadu found 338 holding fraudulent ST certificates. The Commission could dismiss only six of them, and that was after enormous delay. In fact, nearly a quarter of the individuals thwarted their dismissal by getting stay orders from local courts. The Commission’s report in 1998 and its previous report devoted separate chapters to the issue and called on the government to crack down on fraudulent certifications. “Certificates have been issued to ineligible persons, carelessly or deliberately… This has resulted in wrong persons availing of the benefits meant for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes on a false pretext,” it noted. It also said that the menace of false certificates is rising and in some instances elected offices have people who hold false community certificates.
So, one can conclude that there is a great hiatus between what the law says and how it works on the ground. India’s policy of “positive discrimination” vis-a-vis the socially oppressed is being subverted by the use of false caste certificates, and nothing is done about it because entrenched caste interests never took kindly to these provisions. Obviously, the way reservation is administered needs an overhaul. Without penal provisions, even against government officials found violating the law, the administration of reservations will not improve. In the long term, India needs to abolish caste discrimination and related asymmetries altogether—but right now it needs to stop this subversion of the most basic attempt to uplift its weaker sections.
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.