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Supreme Court passes a slew of directions on Manipur as essential item shortage and blockades continue

A three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra directed the state government to file additional status reports on certain issues raised in the court.

TODAY, the Supreme Court perused an affidavit filed on behalf of the chief secretary of the government of Manipur furnishing details on the supply of basic necessities in the state and on damage to religious places.

A three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and also comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra directed the state government to file additional status reports on certain issues raised in the court.

Food shortage in Moreh

During the last hearing, on September 1, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora had appeared on behalf of a three-member 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.

Arora had submitted that basic food supplies are unable to reach the residents in Moreh, a town on the Myanmar–India border, on account of the ongoing blockade in the region.

Arora had also highlighted that the committee is apprised of the outbreak of chickenpox, measles and other diseases in several relief camps in Manipur.

Today, the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta read an affidavit filed by the chief secretary of the Manipur government dealing with two issues— firstly, the availability of rations and essential commodities in Manipur, including in Moreh; and secondly, the alleged outbreak of measles and chicken pox in relief camps.

Mehta stated that the claim of the outbreak of diseases in relief camps and the shortage of food in Moreh is not true and that it created “false panic”.

According to Mehta, the state government has been supplying essentials through all means available to it, including air-dropping food and other commodities, long before the previous date of the hearing.

He also claimed that the local administration has funds to ensure adequate food supply.

Senior advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for the organisation Women in Governance, stated that the people on the ground in Moreh have raised concerns about the scarcity of food.

Senior advocate Anand Grover stated that the local administration in Moreh was approached for information. He claimed that the administration either does not have enough money to ensure the provision of food in Moreh or that funds are not reaching places where they are needed.

The CJI directed that any grievance relating to humanitarian issues of provision of food and other other essential commodities should be brought to the notice of the local administration.

Keeping the other option of raising grievances open, the Bench also noted that the petitioners are not precluded from approaching the expert committee.

Apprehensions of counsels

On perusal of the affidavit filed by the state government, Arora raised the grievance that the affidavit directly attacks her, that is, the counsel appearing for the committee.

The affidavit refers to the issues raised, such as food scarcity, as “claims made by the learned counsel for the committee”.

Arora clarified and stressed that she was raising the issues on the instructions of the committee.

During the previous hearing, senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi had highlighted the destruction of over 600 churches in Manipur during the ongoing conflict.

Today, Ahmadi claimed that through the affidavit, motives are sought to be attributed by the state government rather than finding solutions to the issues raised.

The affidavit alleges that the petitioners have failed to maintain a neutral, non-partisan and secular stand by selectively bringing issues to the court.

Ahmadi questioned the legal basis for the affidavit raising allegations against the counsels appearing in the matter, who are representing certain interests and concerns.

Claiming that the affidavit is adversarial in nature, Ahmadi prayed to the Bench that “if the counsels are not protected today, they will feel threatened to appear [in the court] in the future”.

Addressing the apprehensions of the counsel, the Bench held that the reference to the counsels in the affidavit should not be construed as allegations against them.

The CJI also observed that the counsels appearing in a matter “do so [appear] as officers of the court”.

When one of the counsels alleged that the blockade has in fact been undertaken by Kuki militants, the CJI remarked that the courts are concerned with ensuring accountability of the wrongdoing and not with the source of the wrongdoing

We are not blaming either side,” the CJI noted.

Directions for status report

The court directed the state government to file status reports on certain issues raised by the petitioners.

Senior advocate Gopal Shankarnarayanan referred to the Order of the Bench dated August 7 directing the state government to lay a roadmap for the recovery of arms looted from police stations and camps.

The Bench directed the state government to submit a status report on steps taken for the recovery of such arms from all sources.

Vrinda Grover raised the concern of the need to upgrade the victim compensation scheme of Manipur to bring it in conformity with the scheme propounded by the National Legal Services Authority, as noted by the Bench on the last hearing date.

Thereby, the Bench directed Mehta to submit a status report on the steps taken by the state government in upgrading the victim compensation scheme of Manipur.

On the issue of dead bodies lying in morgues for over four months, the CJI raised the possibility of the spread of diseases.

Mehta was directed by the court to submit the status of steps taken to identify the bodies and steps to further deal with the corpses.

Other directions

The Bench dealt with the appointment of experts suggested by the committee to carry out the remit of the committee on the ground.

It directed the committee and the home secretary, ministry of home affairs, to conduct a meeting on finalising the names of experts by September 11.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing on behalf of Mahua Moitra, member of Lok Sabha from the Krishnanagar constituency in West Bengal, and assisting the court, emphasised a judicial Order should be passed directing the Union and the state governments to transfer funds for the expert committee’s use.

In pursuance of Jaising’s plea, the Bench directed maintaining a separate bank account in the name of the committee where funds could be transferred for the committee to perform its functions.

A counsel appearing for the petitioners apprised the court that besides the 27 cases transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, three more first information reports (FIRs) should be transferred.

The CJI directed Mehta to look into the FIRs and collect the necessary details of the FIRs from the counsel.