The Supreme Court on June 20 termed the Manipur ethnic violence, which has left nearly 100 dead, a “purely law and order issue”, while “hoping” that courts will not be asked to deploy the Army or Central security forces.
A Vacation Bench of Justices Surya Kant and M.M. Sundresh refused to list a plea by the Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi (MTFD) for Army protection to the Kuki tribals urgently, in the next day or two. It listed the case on July 3, after summer vacations, saying it was the earliest the case could be heard.
The Bench indicated that its intervention, one way or the other, now may tend to “aggravate” the situation in the State, which has seen clashes since May 3 between the dominant Meitei community and Kuki-Zomi tribals, and create “more problems”.
The court chose to trust the administration to work to bring peace back to the State. “They are doing it,” the Bench orally remarked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Manipur and the Union Governments, said, “Security forces are on the ground… they are doing their best.”
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, for MTFD, said violence and “killings” have continued despite the “solemn assurances” given by the government in the Supreme Court to protect the people.
“Tribal areas have been attacked. Tribals have been killed. I want Army protection… I am seeking Army protection and prosecution of and FIRs against the persons responsible for the violence,” Mr. Gonsalves pleaded.
“We hope courts are not asked to pass these kinds of orders… that Army should be deployed, central forces should be deployed… This is purely a law and order issue… let the administration look into it,” the court replied.
“We have come to Your Lordships because you are the only institution now that can protect the tribals… The tribals cannot be abandoned… It is a rampage… Solemn assurances were given to this court, yet tribals have been killed,” Mr. Gonsalves said.
Mr. Mehta said similar pleas had been filed before the vacations, but the apex court had chosen not to intervene in the situation while posting them after the holidays.
“Let the security situation become better, public interest petitions can wait,” he said.
On May 17, the Solicitor General had said the situation in the State had “improved a lot”. He had said the State was “peaceful and quiet”.
Explained | What is behind Manipur’s widespread unrest?
The MTFD application has sought “immediate directions to the Army to take full control of the law and order and public order situation in the districts of Churachanpur, Chandel, Kangpokpi, Imphal East, Imphal West and villages in Manipur to ensure with immediate effect that the killing of Kukis comes to an end”.
The immediate trigger for the violence has been a March 27 order by the Manipur High Court’s Single Judge Bench of Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan, directing the State Government to “consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list, expeditiously, preferably within a period four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order”.
On May 17, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud had orally indicated its inclination to stay the High Court order.
However, the State had urged the apex court not to do so for the time being as a stay may further affect the situation on the ground.
“The State had made a conscious call to only seek extension of time and not seek a stay… We had an option to challenge the order and seek a stay. But considering the position on the ground — this is about one tribe which according to the High Court should be conferred with the Scheduled Tribe status — we chose not to seek a stay and only ask for extension for one year so that the situation calms down,” the Solicitor General had submitted.
The High Court has however issued notice in a petition filed by the Meitei Tribes Union to review its contentious March 27 order.