The All Manipur Tribal Union is not an aggrieved party and thus has no locus standi to file an appeal against the March 27 order of the Manipur High Court that directed the State government to recommend the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list, the Manipur Government on June 26 submitted before a Division Bench of Justices Ahanthem Bimol Singh and A. Guneshwar Sharma.
The Division Bench is currently hearing an appeal against the March 27 order of Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan, which became the immediate trigger for the ethnic conflict that began in the State on May 3 between the dominant Meitei community and and the tribal Kuki-Zomi community.
On June 26, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves appeared on behalf of the AMTU and concluded arguments on the appeal. The State government, represented by Additional Advocate-General M. Devananda, also submitted its arguments opposing the third-party appeal filed by the tribal body.
Mr. Devananda told The Hindu, “We submitted that they (AMTU) cannot be an aggrieved party at this stage and so they have no locus to come forward with an appeal as far as the March 27 order is concerned.”
He said the State government sending a recommendation for inclusion or exclusion from the ST list is just the beginning of the process and so the AMTU as a third party cannot be an aggrieved party at this point. “The ultimate power to add or remove from the ST list is with Parliament and the President. That is why we have opposed this particular appeal at this stage,” he said.
This comes after the Union government, at the outset, stated that it would not file any objection against the appeal. After his visit to the State in late May, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said that the March 27 order was given in haste and had led to the violence.
Within days of the violence beginning on May 3, the AMTU and other tribal bodies had approached the Manipur High Court with an appeal against the March 27 order. In the appeal, the tribal body argued that granting ST status to the Meitei community would significantly affect the rights of existing STs in the State — the Naga and Kuki-Zo tribes.
On Monday, Mr. Gonsalves argued on behalf of the tribal bodies that they were in fact an aggrieved party with respect to the March 27 order. He added that giving a community like the Meiteis, which comprise over 50% of the State’s population, ST status would crowd out existing ST people from reservation in jobs, education and virtually every other sphere.
The appeal had submitted that the Meiteis being the rulers of the princely state of Manipur, were civilisationally, educationally and economically more forward compared to the Kuki-Zo and Naga tribes of the State.
Mr. Gonsalves further argued that the single-judge Bench had not arraigned the AMTU and other tribal bodies as respondents in the initial petition despite their rights being affected by the issue. In such a scenario, they had to file an appeal as an aggrieved party and had the locus standi to do so, he argued.
Further, the tribal bodies argued that the single-judge Bench had not shown application of mind in deciding whether the Meiteis should be considered as a tribe, especially given that nowhere in their petition had they claimed to be backward. Mr. Gonsalves added that to be categorised as ST, a community must be socially and educationally backwards in addition to satisfying other criteria like geographical isolation, distinctive culture and signs of primitive traits — most of which do not apply to the Meiteis.
After arguments concluded on Monday, the Division Bench allowed the AMTU to file an affidavit with additional material that it sought to bring on record. Further, the court directed the Manipur government to file an affidavit on the procedure for inclusion of a community on the ST list. The next hearing is scheduled for July 7.
The procedure followed by the government for inclusion on the ST list was formulated in 1999 and further amended in 2002. As per this, any proposal for an inclusion must originate from the concerned State government. This proposal is forwarded to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry which sends it to the Office of the Registrar General of India and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes for their opinion.
Only if both the Office of the RGI and the NCST approve the proposal, this is sent back to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry, which prepares a Cabinet note. Once approved by the Cabinet, Parliament needs to pass a Bill to make the necessary amendments to the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, following which the addition is notified by the President.
Meanwhile, Justice Muralidharan has admitted a review petition filed by the Meitei Tribes Union (MTU), seeking that the particular direction to recommend the inclusion in the March 27 order be modified. The MTU was the body that first approached the HC and secured the order in question. The Centre and the Manipur governments have been issued notice on this and the court is set to take this up next on July 5.