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Fake caste certificates are endemic to India. Every once a while, astonishing numbers of people who have forged caste certificates to avail of jobs and education seats reserved for socio-economically deprived groups such as Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are revealed in the media. In Maharashtra, it was found that 11,700 government employees had used fake caste certificates to get a job. Over the past four decades, 1 million people are estimated to have obtained bogus caste certificates (Mahamulkar, 2018; Gatade, 2020). Similar revelations happened in Bangalore recently, where 591 such people landed government jobs, of which some have even retired (Mahamulkar, 2018). Various state legislators and Members of Parliament have come under scrutiny for using bogus caste certificates to win elections. For example, legislator Partha Das was found guilty in 2018 of having used a fake SC certificate for contesting elections in 2008 (Deb, 2018). It is safe to assume that the incidence of forgery is much higher, with many more going unnoticed. The Supreme Court has taken a strict stand of not offering protection to forgers. It has ruled that where anyone found guilty of using a forged caste certificate to get admission to an educational institutions or job will lose that degree or job (Chandrabhan vs State of Maharashtra & Others, 2017). Despite this, the case conviction and dismissal rates are low. In fact, in the case of Maharastra’s 11,700 government employees, several politicians and unions came out in their support by announcing a rally (Mahamulkar, 2018).

Why fake caste certificates matter: The malpractice of forging caste certificates is an impediment to effective reservations. Large resources are put into India’s quota programme; half the country’s educational capacity and government jobs are earmarked for implementing social justice. However, fake caste certificates subvert the intended effect of these efforts. They prevent opportunities from reaching the intended under-represented communities. This leaves the problem of social justice to fester, without resolution.

There are strong incentives for forging caste certificates when it comes gaining access to educational seats or government jobs. The cut-offs for competitive exams for entrance to medical, engineering and civil service programmes are often much lower for reserved categories (SC/ST and Other Backward Classes) than for the general category. For instance, cut-offs for the Joint Entrance Exam Mains in 2021 for Economically Weaker Sections in the general category was 87.88%, which for ST candidates was 34.67% (Kalita, 2021). Similarly, for the civil service prelims, the 2021 cut-off for the general group was 87.54% and 70.71% for STs. This means that a candidate with no hope of clearing the general category cut-off may stand a strong chance by getting a fake SC or ST certificate.

Use of Aadhaar to curtail fake applications: On paper, the process of obtaining a caste certificate is a rigorous one. It requires an extensive inter-generational record of documents, ranging from proof of identity, address and various local administration certificates to validity certificates of the father or relatives. Documents are also verified by district caste certificate scrutiny committees, which go through all the applications and then approve their issuance (Batra, 2017). Fake certificates exist despite this system of checks, which points to the connivance of such applicants with some government officials.

A tech-driven solution could help resolve this problem. One of the first steps to address this malpractice can be the pan-India digitization of caste certificates and their linking with Aadhaar, along with building a database of government officials involved in the issuance of these certificates. This would offer many practical long-term advantages. First, it would create a digital trail and allow for the accountability of officials issuing these certificates. Second, since certificate issuance requires proving family ties and lineages, capturing Aadhaar details of family members will help identify other fake cases quickly where the same documents have been used for verification of other certificates. Further, for every reserved seat or job, a central database of Aadhaar-linked certificates can help verify the authenticity of applicants. Another intervention could be a plan to make the database publicly available at each panchayat and district headquarters for a public ‘community-level’ authenticity check.

Apart from these, digitization would also help members of each community understand their representation in various seats and jobs. This would alleviate the concerns of relatively well-represented communities among OBCs, SCs and STs.

In conclusion, with huge resources being spent on reservations each year, it is critical that we utilize modern technology tools along with data analytics to implement it rigorously. There is a proposal for the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to set up a working group to study loopholes in the caste certificate issuance system (Sharma, 2021). This is a welcome move. The use of digitization in the implementation of our reservation policy would be immensely helpful in increasing the accountability of government officials, weeding out fake caste certificates and verifying the authenticity of each reserved category applicant.

It’s time we leveraged technology in aid of social justice.

Omkar Sathe & Sahil Deo are, respectively, partner and co-founder of CPC Analytics.


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