Manipur violence | Appeal filed in Supreme Court against HC order at the centre of tensions

BJP MLA Dinganglung Gangmei, Chair of the Hill Areas Committee, has filed the challenge in the SC

May 05, 2023 11:17 pm | Updated 11:18 pm IST - New Delhi

A damaged water tanker that was set afire during a protest by tribal groups in Churachandpur in the northeastern State of Manipur on May 4, 2023.

A damaged water tanker that was set afire during a protest by tribal groups in Churachandpur in the northeastern State of Manipur on May 4, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Hill Areas Committee Chairperson and BJP MLA Dinganglung Gangmei has now filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court, challenging the March 27 order of the Manipur High Court on Scheduled Tribe status for the Meitei community, which is at the centre of escalating tensions in the State

A Bench of Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidaran, had directed the State government to submit its recommendation on Meiteis to the Centre. It had also said the State government shall consider the representation for inclusion expeditiously, preferably within four weeks of receiving the order.

Explained | What is behind Manipur’s widespread unrest?

After the High Court order was made public in April, the HAC had on April 20 passed a unanimous resolution condemning the order, saying that the HAC was neither consulted nor made a party to the case. It had also appealed to the State and Union governments to challenge the order.

In the backdrop of the High Court’s order and HAC resolution, protests by existing ST communities grew - opposing the inclusion of Meiteis. On May 3, during a solidarity march by tribal groups, violence broke out — starting from Churachandpur district.

In the SLP filed on Thursday, Mr. Gangmei, has argued through his lawyers, that the High Court order of March 27 had led to tensions escalating in the State over the issue, leading to the ongoing violence.

Because of the escalating tensions, the petition claimed 19 tribal people had lost their lives and more were at risk of the same.

Mr. Gangmei argued that the High Court had erred in three instances while issuing the order in question. He submitted that the High Court cannot direct the State government to submit any recommendation for inclusion of a community in ST list just because a representation exists. Further, he submitted that the High Court had erred in concluding that the issue was pending for 10 years and that the Meiteis were tribals.

The HAC chief submitted that even if the court concluded based on material on record that the Meiteis qualified as a tribe, they cannot direct the State to recommend inclusion.

Moreover, he argued that even if such directions were to be issued, the HAC ought to have been given notice and heard.

The petition went on to note that currently, there is no proposal for the inclusion of Meiteis pending with the Central government. Moreover, no such proposal has ever been sent by the State to the Union government - a requisite step to initiate the process of inclusion.

The petition added that just a representation’s existence did not mean anything unless the State government determines whether the community satisfies the Constitutional requirements of being declared as ST. 

Members of the Meitei community have for years sent multiple representations claiming ST status to the Union government and the State government, a fact that neither government has denied.

Contempt notice

Meanwhile, Mr. Gangmei has also challenged the order issuing notice to him for contempt of court. Members of the Meitei Tribe Union, had approached the high court after the HAC resolution was passed, claiming that it was an act of contempt.

Acting CJ Muralidaran had taken up the matter and issued notices for contempt to Mr. Gangmei and the president of the All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur (ATSUM), on May 3 — the day the violence is reported to have begun in the State.

In his second SLP, also filed on Thursday, the MLA has challenged the contempt notice. Mr. Gangmei submitted that the March 27 order had already been challenged and that if this succeeds, the contempt proceedings will have to go away consequently.

And while the Manipur High Court order has been challenged in the top court, the ATSUM along with other tribal associations are simultaneously preparing to approach a Manipur High Court Division Bench with a similar challenge to the March 27 order.

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