The Manipur High Court on Thursday allowed tribal organisations to appeal against its March 27 order, which directed the Manipur government to recommend the Scheduled Tribe status for the Meitei community.
A division bench comprising Justices Ahanthem Bimol Singh and A Guneshwar Sharma in its order noted that the “main grievances raised by the applicants are that they will be prejudicially affected if they are not given a chance to have a say or to raise objection in the matter of granting ST status to the Meitei community”.
In March, a single-judge bench of then-acting Chief Justice MV Muralidharan had passed an order on a petition by members of the Meitei Tribes Union seeking directions to the Manipur government to act on their pleas for the community’s inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list.
The order led to widespread protests in Manipur. Several organisations led by the All Manipur Tribal Union moved the Manipur High Court on May 3, seeking permission to file a third-party appeal against the March order.
On May 3, large-scale violence broke out after thousands of people participated in a protest march to oppose the Meitei community’s demand. Over 200 people have been killed in the state since the ethnic conflict started and nearly 60,000 persons have been forced to flee their homes. The state has also reported cases of rape and murder, and mobs have looted the police armoury and set several homes on fire despite the heavy presence of central security forces.
Appearing for the tribal bodies, advocate Colin Gonsalves argued before the High Court that the Meitei community’s claim to the Scheduled Tribe status did not have merit. He also said that giving them the status would hurt the rights and benefits Scheduled Tribes are entitled to, since the Meiteis are the state’s dominant community.
The members of the Meitei community account for 60% of the state’s population and are largely concentrated in the Imphal Valley.
In response, senior advocate M Hemchandra, representing the private respondents from the Meitei Tribes Union, argued that Meiteis had been left out at the time of preparation of the Scheduled Tribes list under the Constitution despite “various records” showing the community’s status as “Meitei tribes”.
In May, the Supreme Court 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. A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud observed that there were several orders by the Supreme Court stating this.