The Supreme Court of India Friday delivered its ruling wherein it held that the affinity test is not a litmus test to decide a caste name and is not an essential part of the process of the determination of the correctness of a caste/tribe name in every case. The three-judge bench of Justice SK Kaul, AS Oka, and Manoj Misra had reserved its judgment in February after hearing the parties’ contentions.
In India, for verification of scheduled caste (SC) or scheduled tribe (ST) certificates, a statutory body called the Scrutiny Committee was constituted. After obtaining the ST or SC certificate from a competent authority, any individual who wants to avail of its benefits or concessions can apply to the relevant Scrutiny Committee to verify the such certificate and issue a validity certificate. Whereas a “vigilance cell” is authorized to investigate ST or SC claims by verifying and collecting all the facts of the social status claimed by the candidate or their parent or guardian, the affinity test is used to determine about person’s knowledge about deities of the community, customs, rituals, mode of marriage, death ceremonies, etc. in respect to that particular SC or ST claim.
In 2009, the Bombay High Court in the case of Shilpa Vishnu Thakur v. State of Maharashtra held that the affinity test is an integral part of determining the correctness of the caste claim. Thereafter, the Supreme Court delivered two conflicting rulings wherein in one case it held that if a candidate fails the affinity test at any stage, a caste validity certificate cannot be granted to him. In another case, the Supreme Court held that the affinity test is not the only criterion for deciding a caste claim based on a caste certificate issued by a Competent Authority. Thus, to address conflicting rulings, the matter was referred to the larger bench of the Supreme Court to decide on the question of “whether paramount importance should be given to the affinity test while adjudicating upon a caste claim on the basis of a caste certificate issued by a Competent Authority.”
The petitioner in this case contended that the affinity test conducted in the caste determination process is only a corroborative exercise and is not the sine qua non for caste assessment. It was further contended that the affinity test is not a litmus test, at best it can supplement the documentary evidence, but never supplant it. The state on the other hand contended that the affinity test should not be made only a corroborative exercise. It was contended that the Scrutiny Committee ought to be given some discretion in rejecting or accepting the caste certificates.
The Court in its ruling held that only when the Scrutiny Committee after holding an inquiry is not satisfied with the material produced by the applicant, the case can be referred to a vigilance cell. Further, the Court observed that while directing the case to the vigilance cell, the Scrutiny Committee must record brief reasons for coming to the conclusion that it is not satisfied with the material produced by the applicant. Therefore, only after a case is referred to the vigilance cell for making an inquiry, an occasion for the conduct of an affinity test will arise.