NEW DELHI, June 20 (PTI): Amid continued ethnic violence in Manipur, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined urgent hearing of a petition seeking Army protection for the minority Kuki tribes and prosecution of communal groups attacking them, while conceding it’s a “serious” law and order issue which the administration should tackle.
A vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and M M Sundresh said any interference by the court will create more problems in the state.
“This is a serious law and order issue. Let the administration look into the issue. Can the Supreme Court order individual protection? Our interference will create more problems. It can aggravate the situation. We hope courts are not required to pass such an order that Army or central forces should be deployed,” the bench observed.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves mentioned the matter on behalf of the petitioner NGO, Manipur Tribal Forum, saying solemn assurances were given that nobody will die but despite that 70 tribals have been killed.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the State, opposed the prayer for urgent hearing, and asserted security agencies are on the ground doing their best to stem violence and restore normalcy.
“Similar prayer was made before (summer) vacation which was not considered. This can wait. Public interest can wait,” he said, adding the main matter pertaining to the Manipur High Court’s order for grant of Scheduled Tribe status to the majority Meitei community, which set off a chain of violence in the northeastern state, has been posted for hearing on July 17.
Contending that tribals cannot be abandoned, Gonsalves said by then 50 more people will have been killed.
“From where did you get these calculations?” the court asked Gonsalves and posted the matter for hearing on July 3.
The Manipur Tribal Forum has alleged the central government and the chief minister of Manipur have jointly embarked on a communal agenda aimed at “ethnic cleansing” of Kuki tribes in the northeastern state.
The NGO urged the apex court not to rely on “empty assurances” given by the Centre and sought Army protection for the Kukis.
More than 100 people have lost their lives in bloody clashes between between Meitei and Kuki communities which first broke out on May 3 after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts of the state to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribal Nagas and Kukis constitute another 40 percent of the population and reside in the hill districts.
NGO ‘Manipur Tribal Forum’, which has filed an interlocutory application in the apex court, said the assurances by the government authorities have been made in a non-serious fashion and are not intended to be implemented.
“The reason why this court ought not to rely anymore on the empty assurances given by UOI (Union of India) is because both the UOI and the Chief Minister of the State have embarked jointly on a communal agenda for the ethnic cleansing of the Kukis,” it alleged.
The NGO claimed despite assurances, 81 more Kuki people have been killed and 31,410 displaced since May 17, when the top court last heard the matter.
The petition said the narrative that there is a “clash” between the two communities- the majority Meiteis and the tribals- is far from truth as the two have coexisted since long.
“Such a narrative misses the fact that the two communities have co-existed for a long time despite their sometime deep-rooted differences and, secondly, that the unique situation presently existing is of a couple of armed communal groups linked to the party in power in the State, carrying out a predesigned communal attack on the tribals.
“The ‘clash’ narrative camouflages the presence of these two groups behind all the attacks and renders them immune from prosecution thereby emboldening them to carry on further attacks,” the petition alleged.
It sought constitution of an SIT headed by former Assam police chief Harekrishna Deka to go into the violence and an ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 crore to the kin of each of those killed within three months. It also demanded a permanent government job to a member of the families of those slain.
On May 17, the top court had directed the Manipur government to take steps to foster confidence and ensure peace and tranquillity in the state torn by ethnic violence, asserting that being the top-most court it can ensure that the political executive exercises its power and does not turn a blind eye to the situation.
Taking note of the submissions on alleged provocative statements by Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, the top court had asked Mehta to advise him to exercise restraint.
The state is in the throes of a bloody conflict between the Meiteis and tribal Kukis since 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 majority community.
The apex court is seized of a batch of pleas on the Manipur situation, including one by a ruling BJP MLA challenging the high court order on Scheduled Tribe status to the Meitei community, and a PIL by the tribal NGO for an SIT probe into the violence that has rocked the northeastern state.