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In a judgment passed last month, the Madras High Court has clarified that marrying a person of scheduled caste does not entitle one to claim a change in caste for the purpose of reservation. A Division Bench of Justices R Subbiah and C Saravanan passed the judgment to this effect, while observing that,
“By changing one’s faith or by marrying a person belonging to another community, one does not change his or her community.”
The Court, therefore, found that scheduled caste reservation benefits could not be availed by an employee by citing her marriage to a member of the Hindu Adi Dravida caste, a Scheduled Caste.
The Court was dealing with an appeal filed by the Oriental Insurance company challenging a 2015 single judge order passed in favour of a woman who had been appointed as an assistant typist in the company against a post reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates.
The woman employee originally belonged to the Vanniya Kula Shatriya community, a backward class community in Tamil Nadu. However, after her marriage to a person belonging to the Hindu Adi Dravida Scheduled Caste, she obtained a Scheduled Caste community certificate for herself from the Tashildar, Fort Tondiarpet in 1977. The certificate had been issued on an interpretation of a Government letter regarding the same issued in 1976.
While applying for the job at Oriental Insurance, the employee had declared that she belonged to the Hindu Adi Dravida Scheduled Caste community on the strength of the 1977 caste certificate. She was appointed to the post in 1979. In 1990, the Collector issued a show cause notice to cancel her community certificate. Later, he issued an order cancelling the certificate as well. This decision was upheld by a Special Commissioner on appeal.
Subsequently, a charge memo accusing the employee of misconduct was issued by Oriental Insurance, accusing her of misrepresentation at the time of appointment. A writ petition filed against this charge memo was initially dismissed by the High Court. An appeal filed against this order was disposed of in 2009 with the observation that the state has no jurisdiction to declare that non-SC/ST on marriage SC/ST will be deemed to be SC/ST after marriage.
While passing the 2009 order, the High Court also observed that the employee had not committed any fraud or made any misrepresentation at the time of her appointment. The Court left it open for the competent authority to decide on whether the proceedings initiated against her should be dropped in view of this observation.
However, the order prompted the revival of the 1992 disciplinary proceedings initiated against the employee. A writ petition filed in 2002 to quash the charge memo against the employee was disposed of with observation that she can submit an explanation and that no writ can be issued at the inquiry stage.
In 2012, an inquiry officer concluded that the employee was guilty of hiding material facts and that she had failed to inform the office regarding the cancellation of the community certificate. Thereafter, an order was passed dismissing the employee from the company.
This dismissal order was challenged before a single judge of the High Court in 2013. In the meanwhile, in March 2013, the employee had reached the the age of superannuation. However, she was told that her entitlement to gratuity, provident fund etc. would be subject to the final outcome of her 2013 writ petition. In 2015, the single judge ruled in the employee’s favour upon finding that there was no misrepresentation on her part.
This ruling, in turn, was challenged by the Oriental Insurance company before a Division Bench of the High Court.
What the Division Bench held
The Division Bench noted, firstly, that the Supreme Court called for the verification of caste certificates at least six months prior to appointment to a job reserved for the particular caste in Kumari Madhuri Patil v. Commr. Tribal Development. As far as this principle was concerned, the Court observed that there was no violation in the present case
“In the present case, verification was done even before the 1st respondent was appointed. The Tahsildar, Fort Tondiarpet vide letter dated 13.11.1978 in a reply to a query from the District Employment Officer vide letter dated 12.12.1977 had also confirmed that the Hindu Adi Dravida Scheduled Caste Community was issued to the 1st respondent in line with the order in Government Letter No. MS 493/BCI/76 dated 11.6.1976. This verification was done prior to the appointment of the 1st respondent by the Appellant during 1977. The 1st respondent was thereafter appointed later vide letter of appointment dated 22 1.1979.“
However, the same Supreme Court ruling had also held that if the certificate obtained is false, the appointment made on its basis is liable to be canceled. In view of this ruling, the High Court observed that in the case before it,
“… there was no necessity to cause re-verification of the community certificate once the issue had attained finality. However, re-verification was done which unfortunately led to the cancellation of the community certificate on 20.08.1991 by the Tahsildar, For-Tondiarpet Taluk…
.. As per the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Kumari Madhuri Patil v. Commr. Tribal Development, (1994) 6 SCC 241, the 1st respondent was no longer entitled to remain in service. The community certificate was canceled as early as 20.08.1991. The 1st respondent has managed to work till the age of superannuation. She has enjoyed the benefit of reservation which was not available to her.“
Pertinently, the High Court also emphasised that government letters would not be of any help in claiming reservation benefits, if such letter is contrary to the Constitutional norms, as laid down in Food Corporation of India v. Jagdish Balaram Bahira. In the case before it, the High Court noted that,
“The certificate was obtained based on a clarification of the State Government which has been held to be not applicable to the 1st respondent.
Though the 1st respondent has not played fraud while obtaining the aforesaid community certificate, the fact remains that she is not a person who was eligible for appointment against the post reserved for Scheduled case/Scheduled Tribe. Scheduled Caste Adi Dravidar Community certificate ought not to have been issued to the petitioner by the Tahsildar Tandiarpet Taluk.“
In view of these observations, the Court proceeded to rule against the employee, holding that,
“We are therefore unable to come to the rescue of the 1st respondent. After cancellation of the community certificate, the 1st respondent could not have continued to be in service.“
[Read the Judgment]