Supreme Court: In an employment related case where the appellant was not heard before his community certificate was declared to be fake and that too belatedly, the bench of Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari*, JJ has held that where the validity of a community certificate is put to question, keeping in mind the importance of the document and the effect it has on people’s rights, the proceedings questioning the document cannot, except in the most exceptional circumstances, be done ex-parte.
Explaining the importance of a community certificate, the Court observed that the in cases of scheduled tribe communities, such certificate, unlike any other piece of paper, is an acknowledgment of a person belonging to a community which has faced years of oppression. The Constitution of India guarantees certain rights to people from Scheduled Tribe communities on grounds of historical injustice, and for the translation of such rights from paper to real life, the community certificate in most cases becomes an essential document. This certificate, whilst being an acknowledgment of history, is also a document that tries to rectify such historical injustice by becoming a tool that fabricates constitutional rights into reality.
Hence, any person, whose entire identity, and their past, present and future rights are challenged, must at the least be given an opportunity to be fairly heard.
It is a settled law that in cases where employment is based on a fake community certificate, post-retirement benefits cannot be granted. However, in the case at hand, the Respondents failed to prove their claim that the Appellant’s community certificate is fake. Even though two reports declaring the community certificate of the Appellant as fake were submitted after inordinate and unexplained delay, however, both the reports have not allowed the participation of the Appellant.
The Court observed,
“The Appellant, in proceedings where the genuineness of his belonging to a community is under question, must have a right to be heard, and must be given the right to cross-examine the witnesses, for the nature of the proceedings are not just a question pertaining his employment, but also something that strikes at the core of his being, i.e., his identity.”
Therefore, as the right to be heard was denied to the Appellant, the burden of proof on the respondents to disprove the nature of the certificate, had not been discharged. Hence, it was held that the Court must presume the community certificate of the Appellant to be genuine.
[R Sundaram v. Tamil Nadu State Level Scrutiny Committee, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 287, decided on 17-03-2023]
*Judgment authored by Justice Krishna Murari
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Appellant: Senior Advocates R. Balasubramanian and S. Prabakaran