Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Monday orally remarked that the Manipur High Court does not have the power to direct the state government to consider designating a community as a Scheduled Tribe, Live Law reported.

On April 19, Acting Chief Justice MV Muralidaran of the High Court had asked the Bharatiya Janata Party government to consider petitions of the state’s majority Meitei community to be included in the Scheduled Tribe category and decide on them “expeditiously”.

The order revived old anxieties between the Meitei community and the hill tribes in the northeastern state.

The members of the Meitei community, who account for 60% of the state’s population, are largely concentrated in the Imphal Valley. The community claims that it faces difficulties due to large-scale illegal immigration by Myanmarese and Bangladeshi nationals. The Meitis are not allowed to settle in the state’s hilly areas as per laws.

On the other hand, some tribal communities fear that Meiteis will take over their land if they are given Scheduled Tribe status.

A rally organised on May 3 to oppose the Meiteis’ demand descended into violence and has left 65 people dead and several thousands in shelter camps across the state.

On Monday, a bench headed by Chief Justice Chandrachud observed that there were several orders by the Supreme Court stating that the High Court does not have the jurisdiction to direct changes in the Scheduled Tribes list. “It’s a presidential power,” the chief justice told Sanjay Hegde, who represented the petitioner before the Manipur High Court.

After his observations, Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh said, “In light of what the CJI has said, it’s astonishing what a single judge of Manipur High Court did, triggering such a human tragedy.”

He added that the Centre cannot escape its responsibility for the violence in Manipur.

The Supreme Court was hearing two petitions, one by a ruling BJP MLA challenging the High Court order and another by the Manipur Tribal Forum in Delhi, asking for an inquiry by a Special Investigation Team into the violence that rocked the state last week.

The bench, also comprising Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala, expressed concern about the loss of life and property. The judges directed the Centre and the Manipur government to make arrangements in relief camps to provide displaced persons with basic amenities, food and medicines.

The court directed the Centre and the state government to file a status report before the next date of hearing on May 17.

Also read:

  1. What the mobs left behind in Manipur’s hills – burnt homes, looted shops and thousands of displaced
  2. In Imphal, two families recount two days of horror that ended in death