New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre government to focus on relief camps, rehabilitation of displaced persons, and protection of religious places while hearing a plea by the Manipur Tribal Forum seeking a probe by special investigation team (SIT) into the killing of tribals during ethnic violence in the state.
The top court noted the Centre’s submissions that no violence was reported in Manipur in the past two days and the situation is gradually returning to normalcy, and sought an updated status report after a week.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud that the state government is already taking steps to address the situation and so far as situation on ground is concerned, these are the steps.
“Yesterday, the curfew was relaxed and there no untoward incidents and today also curfew was relaxed and there were no untoward incidents.”
Mehta said: “52 companies of Central Armed Police Forces and 105 columns of Army/Assam Rifles have been deployed in Manipur and flag marches have been conducted in disturbed areas. One senior retired police officer was appointed as security advisor by the Manipur government and one senior officer was repatriated from Central government and taken over as Chief Secretary.”
He submitted before the bench, also comprising Justices P S Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, that no violence has been recorded in the state for two days and situation is returning to normalcy gradually and curfew has been placed for 3-4 hours across the state, peace meeting are being conducted, and constant vigil is been maintained.
The Chief Justice queried Mehta: “How many relief camps you have presently, how many people are in the relief camps... what kind of arrangements have been made in the relief camps in terms of food.. Are these Army relief camps, how is running these camps?”
“What about displaced persons who have been displaced? Is the government gradually trying to bring these people back to their homes? We must ensure that these people are able to go back, third, some steps should be taken to protect places of religious worship also.” Mehta said he will get all the details sought by the court.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves assisted by advocate Satya Mitra, representing Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi, submitted that the court should see the latest affidavit filed by him on Sunday. “See how it (violence) went up on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The killing took place, the burning of villages took place,” he said, contesting Mehta’s argument that everything was okay in the past two days.
Gonsalves said he seeks evacuation of tribals from critical areas where they are encircled and they are likely to come under attack.
Mehta interjected at this juncture and contended that statements will have impact, which give one-sided of the picture and let us not say something which might have adverse impact intended or unintended and “need to be very, very careful”.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hedge said he is appearing for original petitioners before the high court and “yes, those who needed the reservation”.
The top court questioned the Manipur high court order directing the state government to recommend to the Centre the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe list.
The Chief Justice told Hedge: “You never told the high court that this power the high court never has. It is a presidential power... the high court had said that you shall forward a recommendation to the government of India.”
The bench said the Solicitor has said that action is being taken by the state before a competent forum, “so we will not go into it any further. You must give that forum an opportunity to correct itself.”
The Chief Justice told Gonsalves: “We have made our concerns very clear to the solicitor. Right now, our immediate target is protection and stabilisation, so we are concerned with a humanitarian problem, we are deeply concerned about loss of life, loss of property and the government is taking steps. We must have expressed our concerns and leave it to the government to take action. Ultimately, we cannot say go to this area with so much equipment.”
After hearing arguments, the top court directed the Centre to file a status report in the matter and scheduled the matter for further hearing on May 17.
According to Mitra, Gonsalves also appeared for Dinganglung Gangmei, BJP MLA and Chairman of the Hill Area Committee (HAC) of the Manipur Assembly, who moved the apex court against the high court’s March 27 direction for including Meetei/Meitei community as the Scheduled Tribe in the Presidential list.
A separate petition has been filed by Manipur Tribal Forum for a probe by SIT into the killing of tribals. The development comes amid a large-scale violence in Manipur, causing death of over 50 people and displacement of thousands others.
The plea by Gangmei contended that the Meeteis/Meiteis are economically, politically, and educationally advanced and dominant and there have been long standing tensions between them and the tribals.