Manipur violence: Supreme Court passes a fresh set of directions for relief and rehabilitation

The Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, has allowed the state governments one week to respond to directions of the ‘expert committee’ as detailed in its ninth report. 

TODAY, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court passed urgent directions as sought by the three-member expert committee which was constituted by the Supreme Court on August 7.

The committee, headed by Gita Mittal, former Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, has been given a broad-based mandate to oversee government actions— including relief, rehabilitation and compensation— for those impacted by the violence.

The Bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra perused several reports submitted by the committee.

The court is seized of the matter of relief and rehabilitation of violence-affected people of Manipur and an early control of the situation which has been described as akin to a “civil war”.

During the previous hearing, on September 22, the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the Union and state governments, filed the status report on the recovery of arms for the perusal of the Bench in a sealed cover.

Today, while senior advocate Vibha Datta Makhija, appearing on behalf of the committee, submitted that the Union and state governments have largely complied with the previous Orders of the Supreme Court, she sought certain directions from the court on the basis of the recommendations of the reports.

Mehta raised strong objections to the committee seeking directions from the court and urged that the committee instead discuss issues of concern with the Union and state governments.

Accepting Makhija’s plea, however, the court decided to pass consequential Orders.

Directions sought by the committee

The Bench directed the deputy director general of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the secretary of the department of home affairs, Manipur, to provide Aadhar cards to all people who have been displaced due to the ongoing violence in Manipur and who may have lost their Aadhar cards in the process of displacement.

The CJI pointed out the potential issue of illegal immigrants claiming Aadhar cards in the state.

Thereby, the Bench clarified that Aadhar records are to be provided to those displaced persons whose records are already available with the UIDAI, subject to expeditious verification through biometrics.

The court directed the secretary, department of health, Manipur, to expeditiously issue disability certificates to specially-abled persons in relief camps.

The Bench sought assurance from the Advocate General for Manipur on appointing secretaries to the district legal services authorities (DLSA).

The advocate general informed the court that there are nine judicial districts in Manipur and nine secretaries of DLSAs have already been appointed. The court directed the appointment of additional para-legal volunteers to facilitate the work, if necessary.

The court directed the state government to place adequate funds at the disposal of the Manipur State Legal Services Authority for releasing compensation under the Manipur Victim Compensation Scheme, 2019.

The Union government was directed to nominate one nodal officer in Delhi to address the grievances of those who have temporarily settled or been displaced outside Manipur.

On Mehta’s request, the Bench directed Mittal to contact the chief secretary of Manipur to take necessary remedial actions, instead of approaching the court to pass individual Orders on the report.

In case the issues raised by the committee are not sorted by the state government, the committee may approach the court to seek such necessary directions, the Bench directed.

Directions on the ninth report

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi pointed out the recommendations under the ninth report of the committee for the reconstruction of religious buildings by the state government as well as their protection from encroachment and damage or destruction.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the Manipur Tribal Forum, highlighted the direction of the committee to the state government to ensure compensation of ₹10 lakh per person to be paid to the next of kin of those deceased during the violence.

Gonsalves submitted that as per Makhija’s submission and the state government’s affidavit, only 60 heirs have received ex gratia relief, but a much larger number are yet to be given any compensation.

The Bench allowed one week for the Union and state governments to respond to the aforementioned directions of the committee as detailed in its ninth report.

The state government has also been directed to submit an updated status report and apprise the committee of the work undertaken in respect of the directions of the committee.

Directions on security of lawyers

Senior advocate Anand Grover raised the issue of security of lawyers where lawyers from a ‘certain’ minority community are not allowed to appear before the Manipur High Court.

On the CJI addressing whether any lawyers are prevented from appearing before the high court, the president of the Bar Council of Manipur replied, “Everyone is allowed to appear.”

Mehta opposed the submission on the ground that the forum of the Supreme Court is misused through such a “conscious attempt to aggravate the situation”.

Mehta argued that as per the affidavit of the chief secretary of the state, the high court is functioning and also providing the facility of virtual hearing.

Thereby, the Bench directed the president of Manipur’s Bar Council to submit a compilation of sample Orders indicating that lawyers from all communities are able to appear before the high court.

Our conscience has to be satisfied that the members of the [Manipur] Bar [Council] are not being prevented irrespective of their religious or community affiliation,” the CJI remarked.

The Bench directed the state government to ensure video conferencing facilities are made available in each of the court complexes of the 16 districts in Manipur, in order to enable lawyers from the districts to appear before the high court from such a court complex.

Such facilities should be operationalised within one week, the Bench noted.

The Bench directed the members of the Bar to ensure that no lawyer who seeks to address the court is denied access to court proceedings.

Any violation of the directions will be treated as contempt of court, the Bench added.

Other observations

When one of the counsels highlighted the issue of houses being razed in Moreh and Churachandpur districts in Manipur, Makhija submitted that the committee has noted the issue in its report and issued directions to the state government.

The court, thereby, decided to allow the government to take appropriate actions on the basis of the recommendations of the committee’s report.

On the CJI’s enquiry on the status of the dead bodies of victims, Mehta replied that steps are being taken by the state government in accordance with the directions of the committee in respect of identification, handover and cremation, amongst others.