Right to control one’s identity a fundamental right; CBSE must permit change of name for just cause: SC

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar*, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, JJ has held that the right to control one’s identity is a fundamental right and the Central Board of Secondary Education cannot deny such right by refusing to allow a person to change their name in the Certificates without giving them reasonable opportunity.

Issue

Whether an individual’s control over such cardinal element of identity could be denied to him/her by the Central Board of Secondary Education on the specious ground that its Examination Byelaws of 2007 must prevail over the claim of the candidate, which are merely intended to regulate such a claim and to delineate the procedure for correction/change in the contents of certificate(s) issued by it including regarding maintenance of its office records?

Analysis

Do you have the right to change your identity?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, said Juliet. This quote from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is unarguably one of the most iconic dialogues in classical literature.  It conveys that the natural characteristics of an individual are more important than his/her artificial/acquired characteristics.  A poetic statement as it certainly is, it does not go in tune with the significance of a name in marking the identity of an individual in his/her societal transactions. To put it differently, name is an intrinsic element of identity.”

Identity is an amalgam of various internal and external including acquired characteristics of an individual and name can be regarded as one of the foremost indicators of identity. And therefore, an individual must be in complete control of her name and law must enable her to retain as well as to exercise such control freely “for all times”. Such control would inevitably include the aspiration of an individual to be recognized by a different name for a just cause.

Any change in identity of an individual has to go through multiple steps and it cannot be regarded as complete without proper fulfilment of those steps. An individual may self¬identify oneself with any title or epithet at any point of time. But the change of identity would not be regarded as formally or legally complete until and unless the State and its agencies take note thereof in their records. Afterall, in social sphere, an individual is not only recognized by how an individual identifies oneself but also by how his/her official records identify him/her. For, in every public transaction of an individual, official records introduce the person by his/her name and other relevant particulars.

However, going by the very nature of rights under Article 19, the right to get changed name recorded in the official (public) records cannot be an absolute right and as a matter of public policy and larger public interest calls for certain reasonable restrictions to observe consistency and obviate confusion and deceptive attempt.

Byelaws violative of fundamental right to change one’s identity?

The concerned Byelaw has been framed on the assumption that there can be no situation wherein a legitimate need for change of name could arise for a student after publication of results. It is presumed that only typographical/factual errors could come in the certificates and they can be corrected using the provision for corrections.

“The presumption, we must note, is erroneous, absurd and distances itself from the social realities.”

There can be numerous circumstances wherein change of name could be a legitimate requirement and keeping the ultimate goal of preserving the standard of education in mind, the Board must provide for a reasonable opportunity to effect such changes.

Further, the balance of convenience would tilt in favour of students.  For, they stand to lose more due to inaccuracies in their certificates than the Board whose sole worry is increasing administrative burden.

“The obligation of Board to take additional administrative burden is no doubt onerous but the propensity of a student losing career opportunities due to inaccurate certificate is unparalleled.”

A Board dealing with maintenance of educational standards cannot arrogate to itself the power to impact identity of students who enrol with it. The right to control one’s identity must remain with the individual, subject, of course, to reasonable restrictions.

What kind of requests can be made?

Where the incumbent wants “correction” in the certificate issued by the CBSE:

  • There is no reason for the CBSE to turn down such request or attach any precondition except reasonable period of limitation and keeping in mind the period for which the CBSE has to maintain its record under the extant regulations.
  • While doing so, it can certainly insist for compliance of other conditions by the incumbent, such as, to file sworn affidavit making necessary declaration and to indemnify the CBSE from any claim against it by third party because of such correction.
  • The CBSE would be justified in insisting for surrender/return of the original certificate (or duplicate  original certificate, as the case may be) issued by it for replacing it with the fresh certificate to be issued after carrying out necessary corrections with  caption/annotation against the changes carried out and the date of such correction.
  • It may retain the original entries as it is except in respect of correction of name effected in exercise of right to be forgotten.
  • The fresh certificate may also contain disclaimer that the CBSE cannot be held responsible for the genuineness of the school records produced by the incumbent in support of the request to record correction in the original CBSE certificate.
  • The CBSE can also insist for reasonable prescribed fees to be paid by the incumbent in lieu of administrative expenses for issuing   fresh   certificate.
  • At the same time, the CBSE cannot impose precondition of applying for correction consistent with the school records only before publication of results. Such a condition, would be unreasonable and excessive.
  • If the application for recording correction is based on the school records as it obtained at the time of publication of results and issue of certificate by the CBSE, it will be open to CBSE to provide for reasonable limitation period within which the application for recording correction in certificate issued by it may be entertained by it.
  • However, if the request for recording change is based on changed school records post the publication of results and issue of certificate by the CBSE, the candidate would be entitled to apply for recording such a change within the reasonable limitation period prescribed by the CBSE. In this situation, the candidate cannot claim that she had no knowledge about the change recorded in the school records because such a change would occur obviously at her instance.
  • If she makes such application for correction of the school records, she is expected to apply to the CBSE immediately after the school records are modified and which ought to be done within a reasonable time.

Indeed, it would be open to the CBSE to reject the application in the event the period for preservation of official records under the extant regulations had expired and no record of the candidate concerned is traceable or can be reconstructed.

In the case of subsequent amendment of school records, that may occur due to different reasons including because of choice exercised by the candidate regarding change of name. To put it differently, request for recording of correction in the certificate issued by the CBSE to bring it in line with the school records of the incumbent need not be limited to application made prior to publication of examination results of the CBSE.

“Change” of particulars in the certificate issued by the CBSE:

The request for “change” of particulars in the certificate issued by the CBSE,  presupposes that the particulars intended to be recorded in the CBSE certificate are not consistent with the school records.

When are such requests made?

(a) on the basis of public documents like Birth Certificate, Aadhaar Card/Election Card, etc. and to incorporate change in the CBSE certificate consistent therewith.

There is a legal presumption in relation to the public documents as envisaged in the 1872 Act. Such public documents, therefore, cannot be ignored by the CBSE. Taking note of those documents, the CBSE may entertain the request for recording change in the certificate issued by it. This, however, need not be unconditional, but subject to certain reasonable conditions to be fulfilled by the applicant as may be prescribed by the CBSE, such as, of furnishing sworn affidavit containing declaration and to indemnify the CBSE and upon payment of prescribed fees in lieu of administrative expenses.

The CBSE may also insist for issuing Public Notice and publication in the Official Gazette before recording the change in the fresh certificate to be issued by it upon surrender/return of the original certificate (or duplicate original certificate, as the case may be) by the applicant.

The fresh certificate may contain disclaimer and caption/annotation against the original entry (except in respect of change of name effected in exercise of right to be forgotten) indicating the date on which change has been recorded and the basis thereof.

“In other words, the fresh certificate may retain original particulars while recording the change along with caption/annotation referred to above (except in respect of change of name effected in exercise of right to be forgotten).”

(b) due to the acquired name by choice at a later point of time which need not be backed by public documents pertaining to the candidate:

Such a request may be entertained upon insisting for prior permission/declaration by a Court of law in that regard and publication in the Official Gazette including surrender/return of original certificate (or duplicate original certificate, as the case may be) issued by CBSE and upon payment of   prescribed fees.

The fresh certificate may retain the original entry (except in respect of change of name effected in exercise of right to be forgotten) and to insert caption/annotation indicating the date on which it has been recorded and other details including disclaimer of CBSE.  This is so because the CBSE is not required to adjudicate nor has the mechanism to verify the correctness of the claim of the applicant.

Directions

  • The CBSE to process the applications for correction or change, as the case may be, in the certificate issued by it in the respective cases under consideration.
  • Even other pending applications and future applications for such request be processed on the lines of the decision of the Court in the present case, as may be applicable, until amendment of relevant Byelaws.
  • Additionally, the CBSE shall take immediate steps to amend its relevant Byelaws so as to incorporate the stated mechanism for recording correction or change, as the case may be, in the certificates already issued or to be issued by it.

[Jigya Yadav v. CBSE, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 415, decided on 03.06.2021]


Judgment by: Justice AM Khanwilkar 

Know Thy Judge| Justice AM Khanwilkar

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