Concerned over the loss of lives and properties, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and the Manipur government to take necessary steps for raising security and relief and rehabilitation efforts for those hit by ethnic violence in the north-eastern state, after taking note of submissions that no untoward incidents have been reported there in the last two days.
Terming the aftermath of the violence “humanitarian issues”, a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud emphasised that due arrangements must be made in the relief camps and the people sheltered there be provided with basic amenities like food, ration and medical facilities.
”We are concerned very deeply about the loss of lives and properties,” the apex court observed.
The bench, also comprising Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala, directed all necessary steps be taken for rehabilitation of those displaced and adequate efforts for protecting places of religious worship. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the state government, informed the bench about the steps taken to deal with the situation. He said 52 companies of central armed police forces, besides Army and Assam Rifles contingents have been deployed in the violence-hit areas of Manipur.
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Flag marches are being conducted in disturbed areas and peace meetings held, he told the bench.
Mehta said a senior former police officer has been appointed as the security advisor by the state government and another top officer, who was on central deputation, has been repatriated on Sunday to serve as the chief secretary of Manipur.
He said a constant vigil is being maintained and helicopters and drones are being used to monitor the situation.
Mehta said relief camps are operational for those displaced and security forces are facilitating the movement of stranded people.
The solicitor general said no violence has been reported in last two days and, gradually, the situation is returning to normal. Curfew was also relaxed for a few hours on Sunday as well as today. Regarding some concerns flagged by the counsel appearing for the petitioners, Mehta said they shall be duly taken note of and required remedial steps initiated by the authorities.
The bench, while taking note of Mehta’s submissions, posted the pleas related to the ethnic violence for further hearing on May 17, and asked the Centre and the state to file updated status reports. During the hearing, the bench asked how many relief camps have been set up and how many people are lodged there.
”We would like to know what kind of arrangements have been made in these relief camps because these are humanitarian issues,” the bench observed.
It also asked about people who have been displaced due to violence.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas on the Manipur situation including one by a ruling BJP MLA challenging the high court order on the issue of Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei community and a PIL by a tribal outfit for an SIT probe into the violence that rocked the north-eastern state last week.
The clashes between Meiteis and tribals started in Churachandpur district last Wednesday. More than 50 people have been killed in violent clashes between the tribals living in the Manipur hills and the majority Meitei community residing in the Imphal Valley over the latter’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. More than 23,000 people have been rescued and sheltered in military garrisons and relief camps. The tribals are opposing reservation to the majority Meiteis following the March 27 Manipur High Court order that asked the state government to send a recommendation to the Centre within four weeks on the demand for ST status to the community.
Dinganglung Gangmei, BJP MLA and chairman of the Hills Area Committee (HAC) of the Manipur Legislative Assembly, in his appeal before the apex court, has contended that the ”proceedings before the high court were vitiated on account of not making the HAC a party” and the HC order created tension and led to violence between the two communities. Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal valley. Tribals — Nagas and Kukis — constitute about 40 per cent of the population and live mostly in the hill districts.
The PIL filed by an NGO ‘Manipur Tribal Forum’, through advocate Satya Mitra, said it has moved the top court under Article 32 of the Constitution on account of the extreme situation arising out of the attacks on the tribal community in Manipur by a ”dominant group”.
It alleged that ”these attacks have the full support of the party in power … which supports the dominant group” and sought directions to the Centre and Manipur to evacuate Manipuri tribals who have fled their villages.
The PIL by the tribal outfit alleged that the attacks began on May 3 and several churches and hospitals were also damaged when mobs went on the rampage, burning houses, vehicles and business establishments belonging to tribals.
It claimed that 30 tribals were killed and 132 people were injured but ”neither FIR was registered nor is there any investigation taking place”.
The PIL sought directions to the Centre and the state to deploy central forces to protect all churches and places of worship of the tribal/Christians in Manipur with immediate effect.
The appeal filed by Gangmei against the March 27 order of the Manipur High Court said three basic errors were made in the judgement which includes directing the State to make a recommendation to the Central government to include the Meitei community as a scheduled tribe in the Presidential list.
The appeal said the Meitei community is not a tribe and has never been recognised as a tribe, and is very much an advanced community though some of them may come within SC/OBC.
One more appeal has been filed by the chairman of the Hill Area Committee challenging the order dated May 3 of the High Court in which notices were issued to them in a contempt petition filed by members of the Meitei community.