New Delhi: The Supreme Court has termed the decision taken by the Bihar government in 2016 to declare ‘Lohar’ caste as Scheduled Tribe as illegal and arbitrary.
A bench of Justices K.M .Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy said: “What is the basis for the respondent state to take it upon itself to issue the impugned notification by which referring to the 2016 amendment repealing the 2006 Act, it proceeded to give approval to caste certificate of Scheduled Tribe to Lohara, Lohar community? Lohar is not the same as Lohara. Including Lohars alongside Lohara is clearly illegal and arbitrary.”
The top court had held that Lohars are, admittedly, blacksmiths, a backward community in Bihar, whereas Loharas are Scheduled Tribes in Bihar.
However, the state government’s order allowed the ‘Lohar’ to invoke the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which affected the fundamental rights of other citizens.
The bench emphasised that it is important to realize the impact of a decision on the rights and what is more, fundamental rights of the citizens flowing from the government’s action, and the need to increasingly evolve a system, whereby decision making promotes and strengthens the rule of law.
“Respect for the decisions of the courts holding the field are the very core of Rule of Law. Disregard or neglecting the position at law expounded by the courts would spell doom for a country which is governed by the Rule of Law,” it said.
The top court said when it comes to taking decisions which affect the rights of the citizens, it is the paramount duty of the executive to enquire carefully about the implications of its decisions. “At the very minimum, it must equip itself with the law which is laid down by the courts and find out whether the decision will occasion a breach of law declared by the highest court of the land,” it added.
The bench noted that in this case, it is clear as daylight that the Lohars were not included as members of the Scheduled Tribe from the beginning and they were, in fact, included as members of the OBCs in Bihar.
The top court judgment came on a plea filed by Sunil Kumar Rai and three others, filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, seeking quashing of the 2016 notification issued by the Bihar government. The petitioners suffered imprisonment in a criminal case after the complainant, belonging to ‘Lohar’ caste invoked the 1989 Act, which did not allow them to seek pre-arrest bail.
The bench noted that the implications of this notification are deep and it affects the rights of the citizens in the most adverse manner. On the aspect of the state government issuing the notification, the bench added that at the very minimum, it betrayed total non-application of mind and attracted the wrath of Article 14 of the Constitution.
Quashing the notification, the bench said: “We clarify that the quashing of the impugned Notification will be qua ‘Lohar’ community and the Lohara will continue to get the benefit vouchsafed for them under the Presidential Order as amended by the Acts. We direct that the respondent No. 1 shall pay costs in the sum of Rs 5,00,000 (Rs Five lakh) which shall be done within a period of one month from today and the respondent shall produce proof of the payment of the costs by production of the receipt of the same within a period of six weeks from today.”