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Manipur crisis: Supreme Court directs Union and state governments to ensure protection of religious places, relief and rehabilitation

A CJI-led Bench heard petitions that challenged the March 27 order of the Manipur High Court directing the state government to make recommendations as to the inclusion of the Meiteis in the list of Scheduled Tribes, and flagged concerns on the safety and protection of those affected by the violence.

ON Monday, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, comprising the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, made note of the remedial measures taken by the Manipur government in view of the violence that ensued in the Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts of the state last week. The violence quickly escalated to other districts of the state over the following days, leading to the loss of lives, and the destruction of homes, churches and temples.

The Bench directed the Union and Manipur governments to undertake remedial measures to ensure the provision of necessities at relief camps, and necessary precautionary measures for the rehabilitation of displaced persons and the protection of religious places.

On March 27, the Manipur High Court had directed the state government to consider the inclusion of the Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes, and directed it to send a recommendation to this effect to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs expeditiously, preferably within a period of four weeks. Reportedly, the high court order led to tensions between the Kuki tribe and the majority Meitei population in Manipur. The Tribal Solidarity March, organised by the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur (ATSUM) led to protests against the demand of the Meitei community to be included in the list of Scheduled Tribes.

The CJI-led Bench was hearing petitions that challenged the order of the Manipur High Court and prayed for the Supreme Court to direct evacuation, ensure the safety and protection of those affected by the violence, protect places of worship, and set up a special investigation team, amongst other things.

The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union and Manipur governments, apprised the Bench of the situation on the ground in Manipur. On the steps taken by the state government to restore normalcy, Mehta stated that 52 companies of the Central Armed Police Forces and 105 columns of the Assam Rifles were deployed in the affected areas. He also said that a retired senior police officer has been appointed as security adviser by the Manipur government and one senior officer has been repatriated from the Union government and has taken over as chief secretary of Manipur.

Mehta further submitted that peace meetings were held, drones were deployed, and other measures were being taken for constant monitoring of the situation on the ground. He emphasised that relief camps were set up for displaced persons, along with provisions for rations and medical care for those affected. No violence was reported in the last two days and the state-wide curfew imposed in the wake of the violence by the government was relaxed on Sunday for a few hours, he added.

The CJI addressed the advocate representing the petitioners who moved the Manipur High Court, in relation to the order dated March 27, and remarked that by directing the state government to make recommendations as to the inclusion of the Meiteis in the list of Scheduled Tribes, the high court had exceeded its powers. He particularly laid emphasis on the high court’s use of the word “shall” in its directions in the order.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, Dinganglung Gangmei and the Manipur Tribals’ Forum, Delhi, highlighted concerns over the provision of adequate relief and rehabilitation measures. On Mehta’s apprehension that the petitioners’ contentions, if read out and argued in the court, might contribute to the tension on the ground in Manipur, the Bench noted that the immediate target is the stabilisation of the situation, and preventing the loss of life and property. The Bench thereby requested Gonsalves to only flag the relevant paragraphs in the petition and to refrain from reading them publicly.

Subsequently, Gonsalves pointed out the relevant portions of the petition and emphasised the need for immediate evacuation on account of the problems faced by those staying in relief camps. He also prayed for the Bench to direct the government to ensure the provision of medical attention at army hospitals.

The CJI noted Mehta’s statement that the state government is taking appropriate steps in respect of the order of the high court by moving a competent forum. Through this assurance by Mehta, the CJI observed that the competent forum be given “the opportunity to correct itself”.

The Bench directed the government to take remedial measures in the form of, firstly, the provision of all basic amenities in terms of food and medicine at relief camps; secondly, taking necessary precautions for the rehabilitation of displaced persons; and thirdly, protection of places of religious worship. It further directed that in the event of medical need of persons at relief camps, due and necessary arrangements should be made to ensure that they are provided medical care at army hospitals or any other suitable hospitals.

The matter was posted to be heard next on May 17. The state government was directed to file an updated status report on the next date.