Manipur HC reserves judgement on review of ST status order

Judgement reserved without any written submissions from Manipur govt or Centre; third-party appeal pending

December 28, 2023 10:37 am | Updated 10:37 am IST - New Delhi

As both the Manipur Government and Union government stalled for time before the Manipur High Court, a Single Judge Bench of Justice Golmei Gaiphulshillu reserved judgement. There were no written submissions from either, on a petition to review the controversial March 27 order on inclusion of Meiteis in the Scheduled Tribes list.

The initial order, authored by the erstwhile Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan had directed the State government to send a proposal on inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list, to the Union government, which led to widespread protests from existing ST communities in the state.

This order, which the Supreme Court called incorrect, allegedly triggered the ethnic conflict that began on May 3 between the dominant valley-based Meitei people and the hill-based Kuki-Zo people who are classified as ST. Over 175 people have been killed so far in the violence.

Stalling the case

While tribal bodies in Manipur appealed the order within days of the violence beginning, the Meitei Tribes Union took their time and filed a review petition, seeking that the March 27 order be modified in order to get a lesser relief. The MTU, which was the original petitioner in the case that led to the controversial order, cited the Supreme Court’s remarks to seek a lesser relief of a consideration as opposed to a direction. 

Advocates representing tribal bodies say the purpose of filing the review petition was to indirectly derail the appeal proceedings.

In the review case, the tribal bodies’ application to be impleaded was rejected by the court, given that they had already filed a third-party appeal. Following this, the court heard arguments in the matter, and has repeatedly sought a response from the Manipur Government and the Union government on the review petition but to no avail. 

According to case records, advocates representing the Manipur government submitted that despite repeated requests seeking instructions on filing the reply, authorities insisted on seeking more time to file a reply. “The government was told repeatedly that seeking time repeatedly is not an appropriate end game,” a source said. 

Similarly, the Deputy Solicitor General of India representing the Union of India in the matter, also sought more time to seek instructions on the subject of filing a reply till as late as December, even though the court had sought responses in June. 

Ultimately, in the last hearing on December 21, the Special Government Advocate representing the Manipur government submitted that the matter of review is between the petitioner and the court and hence the court can go ahead and decide the matter without taking the government’s submissions. Accordingly, Justice Gaiphulshillu reserved the judgement on the review petition on December 21, posting the matter next for March 2024.

Third-party appeal

Meanwhile, the third-party appeal filed by tribal bodies such as the All Manipur Tribal Union and others, is being heard by a Bench headed by Chief Justice Siddharth Mridul and is now expected to be taken up for hearing on January 11. While allowing the third-party appeal, the high court had said that the arguments of the tribal bodies required to be examined for their merit.

In the appeal, the tribal bodies have argued that the High Court cannot pass directions for even consideration of inclusion without application of mind and looking at concerned records. It has further claimed that there has to be an examination of the claim of the Meiteis’ that they needed to be included on the ST list before any directions can be passed, further insisting that the claim of inclusion itself had no merit. 

The tribal bodies have also submitted in their appeal that the inclusion of Meiteis on the ST list had already been considered and rejected by the competent authorities on reasonable grounds, as reported by The Hindu in November, and that the High Court ought to have considered these aspects before passing its directions. 

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