Registrar-General of India office says it cannot reveal stance on Meiteis

The Office of the RGI said that disclosing this information to the public would “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence”.

Updated - May 22, 2023 08:01 am IST

Published - May 21, 2023 11:30 pm IST - New Delhi

Meitei refugees wait onboard a paramilitary truck at a transit point after being evacuated from the violence that hit Churachandpur, near Imphal in Manipur on May 9, 2023.

Meitei refugees wait onboard a paramilitary truck at a transit point after being evacuated from the violence that hit Churachandpur, near Imphal in Manipur on May 9, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

The Office of the Registrar-General of India has declined to make public its position on whether the Meitei (Meetei) community in Manipur can be categorised as a Scheduled Tribes as per the criteria currently in use.

The Office of the RGI said that disclosing this information to the public would “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence”.

The Meitei community, comprising the majority of Manipur’s population, is currently in the middle of an ethnic conflict with the Kuki-Zomi people of the State (categorised as ST) over the former’s demand for ST status among other reasons.

The State has seen deadly clashes between the two communities since May 3, leaving over 70 dead and scores of others injured.

Also read | Time to move on and restore normalcy: Manipur CM 

As per the procedure laid down by the Union government in 1998 and finalised in 2002, the addition of any community to the list of Scheduled Tribes or Scheduled Castes cannot go through without the Office of the RGI concurring with such a proposed addition.

In response to an Right to Information (RTI) request, the Office of the RGI told The Hindu, “In view of the sensitivity of the matter and being only a part of the process, the ORGI comments cannot be shared under RTI Act as per the clause 8 (1)(a), 8 (1)(g) & 8(1)(h).”

While the first section exempts information that might affect sovereignty of India, the other two pertain to exemptions for information that might endanger life or physical safety and exemption for information that might impede an investigation.

The criteria followed by the Office of RGI for deciding on a community’s case for inclusion in the ST list are as follows: indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, backwardness. 

The Office of the RGI further stated that as per the procedure in use, its opinion on the inclusion of any community is for the “sole consumption of the concerned nodal Ministry”, and that this also not supplied to the state government. 

As per the procedure, any proposal for inclusion must originate from the state government to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry. The TA Ministry then sends this proposal to the Office of the RGI for comments. Once the ORGI concurs, it is sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST). If the proposal has a nod from both, the Cabinet proceeds to approve the required amendment to the concerned Constitution Order. 

The change officially comes into effect after Parliament passes the amendments and the President duly notifies the change. 

While the Office of the RGI said that its opinions on inclusion are for the sole consumption of the Ministry, documents seen by The Hindu showed that last year, when deciding on the inclusion of Paharis to the ST list in Jammu and Kashmir, the ORGI had supplied its opinion to the NCST.

The NCST’s approval for the inclusion, in fact, was based on the ORGI’s opinion. 

Moreover, the ORGI has previously released information on its opinion on the inclusion of communities in the SC list under the RTI Act, 2005.

For instance, the ORGI has released records of its opinions on the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the SC list under the RTI Act - documents which are now part of court records.

Tensions in Manipur started building rapidly after the Manipur High Court, in a March 27 order, directed the state government to send a recommendation for Meiteis’ inclusion in the ST list to the Union government. This led to opposition from existing STs (Kukis and Nagas), which escalated into a conflict between the Kuki-Zomi people and the Meiteis. 

Now, a division Bench of the Manipur High Court has admitted a challenge to the March 27 order. Both the state government and an association of tribal students have challenged the order.

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