THE MAHARASHTRA State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) has directed the state government to pay a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh to a family in Dhule, which had to endure a 12-year-long wait to obtain documents certifying that they belong to a Scheduled Tribe.
In 2005, complainant Prakash Bhamre had applied to the Scheduled Tribe Certificate Scrutiny Committee in Nandurbar district seeking certificates for himself and his family. Bhamre had submitted the application in Nandurbar as his family had migrated to Dhule from there. However, it took the committee until 2014 to communicate to Bhamre that his application had been rejected.
The same year, Bhamre filed writ petitions at the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court, seeking strictures against the scrutiny committee.
While disposing his petition in 2017, a bench of Justice Mangesh S Patil and Justice S C Dharmadhikari had observed, “We sincerely feel that it is time to educate the members of the scrutiny committee as they are not legally trained, well versed in basic and fundamental principles and exhibit lack of common sense as well. We do not think that such committees would subserve the purpose of the legislation and at the earliest, they deserve to be wound up.”
In July 2017, the court asked the committee to issue the certificates within four weeks. However, it took the committee four months to do so — Bhamre received the certificates in October 2017.
Bhamre went on to appeal to the MSHRC to claim damages for the delay. In his order, M A Sayeed, the commission’s member and acting chairperson, observed that a “grave illegality” had been committed by the scrutiny committee in dealing with Bhamre’s applications.
Sayeed noted that Bhamre and his family had “suffered mental agony of being denied a simple caste certificate by a specially constituted committee under a special Act, for which the concerned erring committee has been taken into task by the high court, which virtually thrashed out the tainted approach of the committee”.
On the violation of Bhamre’s human rights, Sayeed observed that the principal secretary (tribal development) “failed to implement the earlier directions of the Aurangabad bench, calling upon the concerned department to educate the members of the scrutiny committee as they are not legally trained, well versed in basic and fundamental principles but exhibit lack of common sense as well”.
For the “perverse and vitiated approach and action” of the scrutiny committee, the MSHRC directed the principal secretary to pay Rs 50,000 each to Bhamre, his wife Suvarnalata and son Shashank.
The commission also directed the principal secretary to “conduct a sensitisation and legal awareness programme for members of the scrutiny committee through a team of experts, so as to update their knowledge of basic and fundamental principles of the concerned law”.
In addition, the principal secretary was also directed to consider launching a disciplinary inquiry against members of the scrutiny committee who dealt with Bhamre’s case in light of observations made by the HC in 2017.
Despite such stinging criticism, Bhamre’s niece Aishwarya Thakur was also constrained to move a writ petition before the HC earlier this year after her application for an ST certificate was denied by the scrutiny committee.
In Thakur’s case, too, the court last month directed the committee to immediately issue her the certificate.