ST status for Meiteis: HC notice to Centre, State on review petition filed by Meitei body

The contentious March 27 order had directed the State government to recommend the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list

June 19, 2023 08:47 pm | Updated 09:11 pm IST - New Delhi

People from Meitei Community, stage a protest against the violence in Manipur, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

People from Meitei Community, stage a protest against the violence in Manipur, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Manipur High Court on June 19 admitted a review petition seeking to modify its contentious March 27 order, which had directed the State government to recommend the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list. The court issued notices on the petition to the Union government and the State government on Monday, seeking their response by the next date of hearing. 

Manipur has been seeing continuous ethnic violence between the dominant valley-based Meitei people and the ST hill-based Kuki-Zomi people since May 3, when violence started shortly after a tribal protest against the contentious March 27 order. Over 100 have been killed so far, hundreds more injured and tens of thousands internally displaced. 

The review petition filed by the Meitei Tribes Union (MTU) was admitted for hearing by a Bench of Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan, who had also authored the March 27 order, which was passed on an initial Writ Petition filed by the MTU.  

In the order, Justice Muralidharan had directed the Manipur government to reply to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry on a file related to the request for the Meiteis’ inclusion on the ST list.

The high court had noted that the Meitei people had submitted multiple requests for ST status to the Union government from 2013 onwards - a request that was forwarded to the State government multiple times seeking a formal recommendation as per procedure. However, the Manipur government never acted on this letter, the high court added before directing it to respond to the Union government. 

However, in addition to this direction, the HC had also said, “The first respondent shall consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list, expeditiously, preferably within a period four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order…”

“It is this part of the order that we have sought a modification of. There is a Supreme Court judgement that says that inclusion or exclusion of any community is the prerogative of the Parliament and the President. So this direction does not comply with that,” advocate Ajoy Pebam, one of the lawyers for the MTU told The Hindu. 

He added that they had initially only sought for a direction to the State government to reply to the Union government as per procedure. 

The High Court has now listed this review petition for next hearing on July 5. 

Appeal listed for June 22

Meanwhile, the appeal against the March 27 order, filed by the All Manipur Tribal Union (AMTU), has been listed for its next hearing later this week. In this appeal, the MTU has already filed its objections and the Centre has decided to not object to the appeal. 

But the State government in Manipur is yet to take a call on whether they want to join the appeal or not. 

At the last hearing in this case last week, which is listed before a Division Bench of Justices Ahanthem Bimol Singh and A. Guneshwar Sharma, the high court had said that they will wait for an order on the review petition before listing the appeal. 

The appeal was filed before the high court by AMTU within a couple of days of the violence starting on May 3. However, the review petition by the MTU was filed only in the second week of June. In their submissions before court, the MTU has justified the delay by saying that they noticed the error in the judgement only after the Supreme Court’s observations on May 17. 

“So after that it took time to consult clients, peruse judgements and the law and order situation was also not favourable. That is why it took time to file the review petition,” Mr. Pebam said. 

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