Manipur High Court allows tribal bodies to appeal against order on ST status for Meiteis 

The March 27 order has become the immediate trigger for the ethnic violence that began on May 3, killing at least 180 people in the five months since

October 20, 2023 07:25 pm | Updated 07:55 pm IST - New Delhi

Thousands of people from different Meitei communities take part in a peace rally in Imphal, Manipur on Saturday 29 July 2023. The rally was organized by the Coordinating committee on Manipur intregete (CCOMI).

Thousands of people from different Meitei communities take part in a peace rally in Imphal, Manipur on Saturday 29 July 2023. The rally was organized by the Coordinating committee on Manipur intregete (CCOMI). | Photo Credit: RITU RAJ KONWAR

The Manipur High Court has allowed the tribal bodies in the State to appeal against the controversial March 27 order which had directed the State government to send a recommendation on Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for Meiteis

A Division Bench comprising Justices Ahanthem Bimol Singh and A. Guneshwar Sharma, in its October 19 order, allowed the tribal bodies to appeal against the order, noting the nature of the grievances raised by them and the arguments advanced by various parties. This order has now paved the way for the tribal bodies’ appeal to be taken up for hearing.

A single judge Bench of erstwhile Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan had passed the controversial order on a petition filed by members of the Meitei Tribes Union, seeking that the State government be directed to act on their pleas for inclusion in the ST list. 

Soon after the March 27 order was made public, tribal bodies across the State started vigorous protests, one of which became the immediate trigger for the ethnic violence that began on May 3, killing at least 180 people in the five months since. 

Within days of the violence beginning, various tribal bodies of Manipur, led by the All Manipur Tribal Union, approached the Manipur High Court, seeking leave to file a third-party appeal against the aforementioned order as an aggrieved party. 

In the order allowing the leave to appeal, the court said, “Taking into consideration the nature of the arguments advanced by the learned counsel appearing for the parties which needs to be examined and decided on the basis of the materials available in the connected writ appeal and writ petition and taking into consideration the nature of the grievances raised by the applicants, we are inclined to grant leave sought by the applicants in the present application.”

‘No merit in claim’

Advocate Colin Gonsalves, on behalf of the tribal bodies, had noted that the Meiteis’ claim to the ST status did not have merit and that the community had nowhere claimed to be backward — a prerequisite to be an ST. The tribal bodies also argued that because Meiteis were the dominant community, giving them ST status would affect the gamut of rights and benefits existing STs are entitled to.  

Also Read | ST status for Meiteis was considered and rejected in 1982 and 2001, government records show

Mr. Gonsalves added that the tribal bodies were not arraigned as respondents in the initial petition and that their rights would be affected if they are not allowed a chance to appeal the concerned order. 

The Union government had told the High Court that it would not be objecting to the tribal bodies’ plea to file an appeal. 

However, the Manipur government opposed their right to appeal, arguing that the tribal bodies cannot be an “aggrieved party” in the instant case — the same argument advanced by members of the Meitei Tribes Union. 

In addition to this, a review petition filed by members of the Meitei Tribes Union is pending in the High Court, where tribal bodies have also been made parties. This matter was being heard by the Bench of the erstwhile Acting Chief Justice Muralidharan. 

With the Centre now notifying Justice Muralidharan’s transfer to the Calcutta High Court, the Manipur High Court’s new Chief Justice, Justice Siddharth Mridul is now expected to look into the matter. 

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