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Must Increase Security, Relief And Rehabilitation Efforts: Supreme Court To Centre, State On Manipur Violence

A PIL was filed before the Supreme Court by Manipur Tribal Forum seeking directions to the Central and State governments to evacuate the Manipuri Tribals who had fled to CRPF camps and to ensure they reach their residence safely under security escort

Violence erupted in Manipur as tribal groups clash over Scheduled Tribe status.
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The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre and the Manipur government to take necessary steps for raising security and relief and rehabilitation efforts for those displaced and affected by the ongoing violence triggered by clashes between the hill tribes and Meitei community in the northeastern state and file updated status reports.

A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narashima and JB Pardiwala was hearing a batch of petitions earlier in the day in connection of the violence. One of the petitions has been filed by a ruling BJP MLA challenging the high court order on the issue of Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei community and a PIL by a tribal outfit for an SIT probe into the violence that rocked the northeastern state last week.

Terming the aftermath of the violence “humanitarian issues”, the SC emphasised that due arrangements must be made in the relief camps and the people sheltered there be provided with basic amenities like food, ration and medical facilities. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre as well as the state government, informed the bench about the steps taken to deal with the violence and said 52 companies of central armed police force, besides Army and Assam Rifles contingents have been deployed in the strife-torn areas. Flag marches are being conducted in disturbed areas and peace meetings were held, he told the bench.

The apex court ordered adequate steps to be taken for protecting places of worship and posted the pleas for hearing on May 17, asking the governments to file a status report by then.

The clashes between Meiteis and tribals started in Churachandpur district last Wednesday. The tribals are opposing reservation to the Meiteis following the March 27 Manipur High Court order that asked the state government to send a recommendation to the Centre within four weeks on the demand for ST status by the Meitei community. More than 50 people have been killed in violent clashes between the tribals living in the Manipur hills and the majority Meitei community residing in the Imphal Valley over the latter's demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. More than 23,000 people have been rescued and sheltered in military garrisons and relief camps. 

Details of the pleas

A PIL has been filed before the Supreme Court by Manipur Tribal Forum seeking directions to the Central and State governments to evacuate the Manipuri Tribals who had fled to CRPF camps and to ensure they reach their residence safely under security escort. According to a report by Bar and Bench, the PIL alleged that the attacks on tribal communities in Manipur have the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is in power in the State as well as at the Centre.

It alleged that "these attacks have the full support of the party in power ... which supports the dominant group" and sought directions to the Centre and Manipur to evacuate Manipuri tribals who have fled their villages. The PIL by the tribal outfit alleged that the attacks began on May 3 and several churches and hospitals were also damaged when the mobs went on a rampage, burning houses and vehicles and business establishments belonging to tribals.

It claimed that 30 tribals were killed and 132 people were injured but "neither FIR was registered nor is there any investigation taking place". The PIL sought directions to the Centre and the state government to deploy central forces to protect all churches and places of worship of the tribal/Christians in Manipur with immediate effect.

It urged that a team of professionals be put together to conduct an inquiry into the villages destroyed and make an assessment of the damage. It also sought payment of compensation to the victims and reconstruction of buildings including churches. "A prayer clause has been made for the appointment of former DGP Assam (Harekrishna Deka) as the head of an SIT to investigate and prosecute and with a mandate to put together a team of his choice of police personnel and other support secretarial staff so that final reports are made expeditiously," it said.

Dinganglung Gangmei, BJP MLA and chairman of the Hills Area Committee (HAC) of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, in his appeal contended that the "proceedings before the High Court were vitiated on account of not making the HAC a party” and the HC order created tension and led to violence between the two communities. 

“Even if directions were to be given they could not have been given without notice to the HAC and hearing the HAC," said the MLA who challenged various orders, including contempt notices, by the high court related to the issue. He said that the HC order led to tension between both communities and violent clashes erupted across the state. “As a result of it so far 19 tribal people have been killed, various places in the states are blocked, the internet is completely shut and more people are at risk of losing their lives,” the appeal said.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal valley. Tribals -- Nagas and Kukis -- constitute another 40 per cent of the population and live mostly in the hill districts. 

The appeal filed by Gangmei against the March 27 order of the Manipur High Court said that three basic errors were made in the judgement which includes directing the State to make a recommendation to the Central government to include the Meitei community as a scheduled tribe in the Presidential list. "The second mistake is the conclusion that the issue of inclusion of the Meiteis was pending for nearly 10 years and the third mistake is in concluding that the Meiteis are tribes", the appeal said.

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The appeal said that the Meitei community is not a tribe and has never been recognised as a tribe, and is very much an advanced community though some of them may come within SC/OBC. The appeal said that the high court passed the order on a writ petition filed by some members of Meitei communities seeking a direction to the state government to recommend to the Centre to include their community of Manipur in the scheduled tribe list of the Indian constitution as a tribe of Manipur.

The plea by the BJP MLA said there is no recommendation of the state government for inclusion of the Meitei community in the scheduled tribe list and there is no recommendation for such inclusion pending before the central government.

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 "Merely because the state of Manipur may have received some representation by the Meiteis does not oblige the state to do anything unless the state is convinced first, that the Meeteis/Meiteis are tribes and second, that they deserve to be in scheduled tribes list. "No one can force the state to send such a recommendation in the absence of the state concluding that the Meeteis/Meiteis are a tribe and they deserve to be in the Scheduled Tribes list", it said.

One more appeal has been filed by the chairman of the Hill Area Committee challenging the order dated May 3 of the High Court in which notices were issued to them in a contempt petition filed by members of the Meitei community.

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(With inputs from PTI)

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