Noting that the Manipur Government had been dragging its feet on the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list for 10 years now, the Manipur High Court has now directed the State government to consider the request of the community’s inclusion within four weeks, and send a recommendation to the Union government for its consideration.
While hearing a petition filed by members of the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union, a single-judge Bench of the Manipur High Court, comprising Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran, decided that it was appropriate to direct the State government to consider the representation for inclusion expeditiously.
The High Court found that after continued demands and representations to the State government and the Union government, the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs had in 2013 sent a letter to the Manipur Government, pointing them to the community’s request for inclusion on the ST list.
The Tribal Affairs Ministry had said that, as per the approved modalities for inclusion on the ST list, the proposal must originate from the State government. However, since then, the State government had not sent any file to the Union government on the possible inclusion of the community in the ST list.
In the judgment delivered on March 27, the High Court said it found some force in the submission of the petitioners that the State government was violating their right to equality and right to life with dignity enshrined under Article 14 and 21, respectively, of the Constitution of India.
Noting that the recommendation from the State government had been pending for 10 years now, the court said, “No satisfactory explanation is forthcoming from the side of the respondent State for not submitting the recommendation for the last 10 years.”
Currently categorised as Other Backward Classes (OBC) or SCs, the Metei people dominate in more than half the State’s Assembly constituencies. A majority of them identify as Hindu while about 8% are Muslim.
The community, through the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee, Manipur, has been demanding ST status for decades now. They argue that they had been listed as one of the tribes of Manipur before it merged with India in 1949 but that they lost this tag when the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 was drafted. Claiming that they had thus been left out of the ST list, they had persisted with their demands.
However, their demand has seen stiff opposition from Adivasi students’ unions, representing the existing 36 ST communities of the State, who have argued that granting the Meitei ST status would defeat the purpose of protecting tribal communities through reservation. Despite the long-pending demand, The Hindu had reported in 2022, that no political party had made this a poll issue by taking a position on it in their respective manifestos in the run-up to the 2022 Assembly elections, which saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition forming the government.
Now, if the State government agrees to the inclusion of Meitei, it will have to send the latest anthropological and ethnographic reports supporting its position to the Union government. According to the modalities framed in 1999, the Tribal Affairs Ministry will send this to the Office of the Registrar General of India (RGI), on whose approval the file will be sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST).
Only if both the Office of the RGI and the NCST approve the proposal will the Tribal Affairs Ministry prepare a Cabinet note. Once approved by the Cabinet, the change will have to be passed by Parliament, following which the President notifies the revised ST list.