Raipur: The Chhattisgarh government has been left embarrassed after discovering that hundreds of thousands of caste certificates it has issued to tribals were invalid.
The certificates became useless due to a major error. Instead of Article 342 of the constitution specifying tribes as the Scheduled Tribes, the officials mistakenly issued the certificates under Article 341, which specifies the Scheduled Castes.
The goof-up has left invalid all the caste certificates issued since the formation of Chhattisgarh in November 2000 - a major embarrassment for the government ahead of the assembly elections next year.
The Tribal Development and Revenue Department in now passing the buck to district administration.
"All collectors have been asked to be cautious while issuing caste certificate to people from the Scheduled Tribes in the future," Tribal Development Department Secretary Manoj Kumar Pigua told IANS.
Tribal Development Minister Kedar Kashyap has promised to get the issue probed and said strong action would be taken against guilty officials.
But according to Revenue Department Principal Secretary B.L. Agrawal, revenue officials issued the certificate as per the directions of the tribal development department.
"The issue is totally related to the tribal department," he said.
Joint Director of Tribal Development Department T.R. Vaishnav, however, blamed district collectors for issuing the faulty caste certificates.
Terming it a great setback to tribals, Sarva Adiwasi Samaj president Manish Kunjam demanded strict action against the erring officials.
The caste certificate is a vital document issued to the Scheduled Tribes, the Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes with a 60-year validity. The document is needed for availing of benefits under various welfare schemes.
As a norm, the certificates are issued by collectors or sub-divisional magistrates (SDM) designated by them.
Generally officials at the collectorate prepare caste certificate files and the collectors or SDMs concerned sign the files without verifying the provisions, letting mistakes, if any, go unchecked.
But in this case, the high-powered committee formed by the state government to authenticate the certificates also failed to detect the mistake even as it certified around 350,000 certificates.
Fresh caste certificates were issued after the Chhattisgarh government said in the year 2000 that the certificates issued by Madhya Pradesh (from which the state was carved out) would not be valid.
To hasten the process, the government even authorised schools to issue the certificates.
But the entire exercise has come to naught with the detection of the mistake, resulting in loss of time and money.
(N.K. Mishra can be contacted at email@example.com)