Manipur HC reserves order on tribal body’s right to appeal controversial ST status judgment

The All Manipur Tribal Union sought leave to file a third party appeal against HC’s March 27 order on recommending Scheduled Tribe status to the State’s dominant Meitei community

October 08, 2023 09:34 pm | Updated 09:35 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Security personnel fire tear gas shells as students protest against the “killing” of two missing students by unknown miscreants and demand peace in Manipur, Imphal, on Sept. 27, 2023. File

Security personnel fire tear gas shells as students protest against the “killing” of two missing students by unknown miscreants and demand peace in Manipur, Imphal, on Sept. 27, 2023. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The Manipur High Court has reserved its order on the All Manipur Tribal Union’s (AMTU) application seeking a leave to file a third party appeal against its March 27 order on recommending Scheduled Tribe status to the State’s dominant Meitei community.

A Division Bench of Justices Ahanthem Bimol Singh and A Guneshwar Sharma this week concluded the hearing in the application filed by the AMTU, which sought a leave to appeal the controversial order that is said to be the immediate trigger for the five-month-long conflict underway in the State between the dominant valley-based Meitei community and the hills-based Kuki-Zomi people, who come under ST category.

The March 27 judgement was on a PIL filed by a Meitei body seeking directions that their pleas for ST status be acted upon. A Bench of Acting Chief Justice M V Muralidharan had ordered the State government to consider the representation and directed them to write to the Union government within four weeks.

Tribal bodies across the State started protesting against the order as soon as it was made public in April, spiralling into violence that began on May 3.

Within days of the violence beginning, the AMTU had approached the Manipur High Court with its application arguing that as a concerned entity, the tribal body was not made a party to the initial PIL and that the March 27 order was passed without hearing them. It also argued that the court had passed the impugned order without applying the necessary tests.

Advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for AMTU, had argued that the Meiteis’ plea for ST status was missing a basic ingredient to qualify as an ST - the claim of backwardness. It further submitted that the community had always been relatively forward compared to STs of the State.

The Union government had submitted before the court that it would not be objecting to the leave to file appeal by the tribal body. However, the Manipur government led by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, which has been accused of supporting the Meiteis in the ongoing conflict, opposed the application.

The State government submitted that the AMTU was not an aggrieved party in the instant case and hence had no locus standi to file an appeal against the March 27 order. The Meitei body, which was party to the case, had made the same argument. In a hearing on October 5, the court said it had concluded the proceedings and was reserving its order in the case.

While the court has not specified when the order in this case is expected to be delivered, the matter has been listed for next hearing on January 3, 2024, as per the High Court’s website. 

If the leave to file third party appeal is allowed, the tribal body’s appeal against the March 27 order can be taken up by the High Court.

Meanwhile, a petition seeking a review of the same order is pending in the High Court. This matter, where both tribal outfits and Meitei bodies are parties, is expected to come up for its next hearing on Monday.

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