Individual’s identity cannot be controlled by CBSE: SC

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Giving full expression to an individual’s aspiration to be recognized by a different name, the Supreme Court on Thursday permitted changes to be carried out in school certificates issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), thus ending a 14-year-old rule used by the Board to deny any change in name or date of birth particulars after publication of result.

Under challenge was the CBSE’s Examination Byelaws of 2007 that was harsh on students as it did not entertain any request for correction or change in name or date of birth of candidate, name of parent(s). Later, the byelaws underwent amendments in subsequent years by which such change was permitted “before publication of result” provided there was a court order or gazette notification.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court found this condition as “arbitrary” and “unreasonable” and carved out two categories of requests – first requiring correction or change in name or parent(s) name or date of birth based on public documents and second, where change of name, parent(s) name or date of birth is not backed by any document and is purely based on choice of a person to be known by a different name.

In cases where the correction or change is supported by a public document such as Aadhaar card, or Birth Certificate or Election I-card, the bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari held that even after publication of result by CBSE, a student or one who has passed out school will be allowed to apply within a reasonable time.

Where the request for change of name is not backed by public documents, the Court held that the same could be considered by the Board on production of a permission or declaration by a court of law or publication in the Official Gazette.

Giving elaborate reasons for coming to this conclusion, the bench in its 132-page judgment observed, “An individual must be in complete control of his/her name and law must enable (him/her) to retain as well as to exercise such control freely for all times. Such control would inevitably include the aspiration of an individual to be recognized by a different name for a just cause.”

Asking the CBSE to amend its Byelaws in line with this judgment, the bench allowed the Board to prescribe conditions for issue of fresh certificate. This would include setting a limitation period for entertaining requests, an affidavit from applicant declaring the change and indemnifying the Board from any claims by third party, and fees for necessary administrative expenses. In the first category of cases, the Court allowed Board to even insist on a public notice or gazette notification even when the change of name is backed by a publci document.

The Board had argued that allowing name change would be open for misuse. The bench held that “possibility of abuse cannot be used to deny legitimate rights to citizens.” As a safeguard, the Court noted that Byelaws allowed CBSE to put a caption/annotation mentioning the original details and date of carrying out the change. But the Court made an exception with regard to change or correction of name in line with the exercise of an individual’s right to be forgotten.

The Court illustrated its point using the example of a juvenile accused in a crime or a victim of sexual abuse who applied for change of name in school records. “If the Board, in such a case, refuses to change the name, the student would be compelled to live with the scars of the past.”

At a time when a citizen can update or change personal details entered in Aadhaar Card or Passport, the bench wondered what stopped the Board from permitting this right to the students. “In fact it would be against the human dignity of the student,” the bench observed. Moreover, by allowing an opportunity for students to update their personal details on school certificates, it would help the Board maintain accuracy of its documents as well.

The bench said, “The obligation of Board to take additional administrative burden is no doubt onerous but the propensity of a student losing career opportunities due to inaccurate certificate is unparalleled.”

The Court noted the social role played by the Board and the relevance of school records being the foundational proof for date of birth and a necessary document to get jobs and admission into courses. The bench was of the view that a Board cannot “arrogate to itself the power to impact identity of students” enrolled with it as the right to control one’s identity remains with the individual.

Advocate Rupesh Kumar, CBSE counsel in Supreme Court “This judgment will help in disposal of more than 2500 cases across country pending on this issue. The Supreme Court has appreciated the arguments of CBSE regarding sanctity of Examination Byelaws which were held by the High Courts to have no statutory backing and hence no force of law. Further the Court has also appreciated difficulties faced by CBSE to verify claims of students regarding correction of particulars in Class X certificate by observing that CBSE can insist for sworn affidavit making necessary declaration and to indemnify itself from any claim against it by third party because of such correction.”

Ishita Khandelwal, who secured a favourable order from Rajasthan High Court against CBSE for change of name of her mother said, “The judgment has settled the confusion and will help students like me who faced problems applying to foreign universities due to this reason. The CBSE refused to examine our requests for change of name despite having valid legal documents in support of the changed name.”



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