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SC criticises Manipur HC order directing state to consider ST status for Meiteis — ‘factually wrong’

SC bench was hearing petitions seeking court's intervention to provide security in conflict-ridden parts of Manipur following violence between tribal Kukis & non-tribal Meiteis.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday made a critical remark against the Manipur High Court for its judgment in March this year, directing the state government to consider the inclusion of the Meitei community in the state’s Scheduled Tribe list.

The Meitei community of Manipur is non-tribal.

Calling it a “factually wrong” judgment, a bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that the direction was against the principles laid down by previous judgments of constitutional benches of the Supreme Court, dealing with classification of communities as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. According to these previous SC judgments, granting of such status cannot be directed by court.

“We have to stay the order of the Manipur High Court. It is completely factually wrong,” the bench, also comprising justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, observed. It also urged constitutional authorities such as the Chief Minister to act with restraint and not make statements that could aggravate the situation.

However, the bench did not impose any stay on the said order, after learning that an appeal against it is pending before a division bench.

The comments against the high court were made when the SC was informed that on an application filed by the Manipur government, a bench of acting chief justice of the Manipur high court, M.V. Muralidaran, had extended the deadline for the state to abide by its 27 March directive on granting ST status to Meitei.

On 9 May, Muralidharan took note of the violence that was triggered in the state following his order and the steps taken by the state to control the situation. In this order the judge also observed that his direction to ask the government to consider ST status for the Meitei community, expeditiously, preferably within a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of the order is an “innocuous order”.

Violence erupted between the state’s ethnic Kuki tribals and non-tribal Meitei community earlier this month, following the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ held to protest plans to give Scheduled Tribe status to non-tribal Meiteis.

The SC bench Wednesday was hearing a batch of petitions that were filed seeking its intervention to provide security to the conflict-ridden areas in Manipur.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Manipur, placed a status report on the steps undertaken by the state to diffuse the unrest there. He said the state “is alive to the fact that illegal migrants coming from Myanmar is the real issue”.

Besides, he also informed the bench about the development in Justice Muralidaran’s order, as well as an appeal that was filed before a division bench of the Manipur HC against the judge’s 27 March order. Mehta said notice was issued on the appeal on 16 May.

On perusing the status report and Justice Muralidaran’s 9 May order, the CJI’s bench took a “strong view on it.

“We gave time to Justice Muralidaran to remedy his error and he did not. We have to take a strong view against it now. It is clear if High Court judges do not follow constitutional bench judgments, then what should we do. It is very clear,” the bench observed, insinuating the judge could have stayed the operation of his own order.

Also Read: ‘What if it happens again?’ No violence in 5 days, but distrust grips Manipur, fear haunts victims

‘Advise the constitutional authorities to act with restraint’

Meanwhile, in its status report before the court, Manipur claimed that “no particular community can be attributed with the sole responsibility for the damages caused in the aftermath of the series of incidents that had occurred in an unprecedented manner in the past few days in the state.”

It denied the allegations made in the petition against the state government, maintaining they were incorrect and appear to be motivated to create a divide rather than in public interest. The petitioners have accused the state of biased investigation into the violence and want an independent investigation into the incident.

The state refused to respond to the petition in the “interest of peace and tranquility”.

Manipur informed the court about the steps that were taken in the aftermath of the violence to bring normalcy to the state and said the curfew, introduced in the aftermath of the violence, is now relaxed for a longer duration — from 5 am to 3 pm. Special arrangements have been made for students who have to take National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) tests and internet facility is being provided to those who are working from home.

At the end of the hearing, the bench asked Manipur to file a fresh status report on the situation prevailing in the state. It refused to get drawn into the “political arena” by the petitioners who complained against state Chief Minister N. Biren Singh for allegedly speaking against Kukis, calling them foreigners and accusing them of destroying Manipur in the name of Christianity.

The bench simply told Mehta to ensure that Constitutional authorities act with restraint. “Please advise the constitutional authorities to act with restraint and not make such statements,” it said.

The solicitor ensured the court’s concern would be taken note of.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: ‘How ridiculous’ — When neighbours fled neighbours as violence burnt down Manipur villages


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