The Supreme Court on May 17 urged constitutional authorities in Manipur to show “some restraint” and a “great sense of responsibility” after a students’ federation alleged that Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had made “provocative and targeted” statements in the past.
“Please advise your constitutional authorities that statements should be made with a great sense of responsibility,” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Manipur.
Advocate Nizam Pasha, representing the Zomi Students’ Federation in an interim application, referred to a recent judgment in which the court had asked “public functionaries and other persons of influence and celebrities” to be aware of the impact their public statements may have on people.
Priority to restore calm
“Some exercise of restraint should be there,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed. Mr. Mehta agreed with the court and said that the State’s first priority was to “restore calm”.
However, he backed an apprehension voiced by senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, for the High Court Bar Association of Manipur, about illegal migrants entering the State from Myanmar through a “porous border”. Mr. Mehta added, “This is a concern for the State also.”
The Solicitor General, as soon as the hearing began, said that the situation in the State had “improved a lot”. He said that the State was “peaceful and quiet”.
Seeking Army deployment
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi, said that he was “surprised” by the statement. He noted that the status report submitted by the State did not have “a word about the killings that happened after the last hearing” in the Supreme Court on May 8.
“That is because our intentions are different. My intention is to restore calm and peace, and not to aggravate… Politics can wait. Let peace and tranquility be our priority,” Mr. Mehta countered.
The court asked authorities to examine an interim application filed by Mr. Gonsalves for a direction to the Centre to “immediately” deploy the Army in villages where attacks were “likely to happen imminently”. The Bench ordered that the Manipur Chief Secretary and Security Advisor each be provided with a copy of the application.
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Mr. Mehta, referring to a status report, said that 318 relief camps had been opened and 47,914 people provided relief through them. He said that security measures were put in place to protect life, property and religious places, adding that 46,298 stranded people have been helped.
Moreover, Mr. Mehta said that the State had successfully moved the High Court to defer by a year the implementation of its March 27 order. The High Court’s single judge Bench of Acting Chief Justice M.V. Muralidharan had, on March 27, directed 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”.
“We gave time for Justice Muralidharan to correct himself and he has not done so. Now we have to stay the March 27 order,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed initially.
However, Mr. Mehta said that staying the March 27 order at this point of time may affect the situation on the ground.
‘Did not seek stay’
“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 ST 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 submitted.
The State further pointed out that an appeal against the March 27 order was coming up for hearing in early June.
Refusing to be made into a “political forum”, the court directed the Manipur government to file a fresh status report. “We do not want to get into areas of politics and policy. We are not stalling the Manipur High Court. But as a constitutional court, we like to be periodically apprised of what is going on,” the Bench said.