Meanwhile, it is learnt, that the Election Commission has told the National Commission for STs that it has received a reference from Maharashtra governor for its opinion on whether Chopda MLA Latabai Sonawane has incurred disqualification over her caste certificate. The EC’s revelation followed the NCST’s letter to the poll watchdog this month, intimating it about the launch of investigation into Sonawane’s caste certificate. The EC replied to the NCST that the said reference was under its consideration. The EC is an authority to give opinion to the governor under Article 192(2) of the Constitution.
The tribal commission’s inquiry in on a petition by Chandrakant Barela, a losing candidate in the assembly election against Sonawane, who in November complained MLA had not been disqualified despite court orders rejecting her caste certificate. He told NCST that Sonawane “is highly influential as she is in power as member of the ruling party”.
The case of Sonawane, mired in the controversy about using a fake ST certificate to contest from the reserved assembly seat, has been a curious one, as she won on the Shiv Sena ticket but has since defected with CM Eknath Shinde. Her tribal claim was invalidated by the ST Certificate Scrutiny Committee on February 9, 2022, and her challenge in the high court and the Supreme Court were dismissed in June and September 2022.
With no decision yet on the disqualification of the ruling party MLA, Barela filed a petition with the NCST in November 2022, urging the panel to take up the matter. He complained that after the court judgements, the EC should have suo moto taken congnisance of the development and disqualified her from the assembly, but the action was still awaited. “I have a locus to voice against the corrupt practice regarding fake caste racket in Jalgaon district, and huge number of non-tribes are availing benefits meant for genuine STs on the basis of fabricated caste certificates which are obtained by manipulation in nexus with revenue officials,” Barela told the NCST.