Manipur High Court revokes inclusion order for Meitei community in ST List

The March 27, 2023 directive, believed to be a catalyst for ethnic unrest that claimed over 200 lives, was rescinded by a single judge bench.
Last Updated 22 February 2024, 12:30 IST

Guwahati: In what may upset the majority Meitei community demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) tag, a bench of Manipur High Court on Wednesday removed a key paragraph of its order in March last year, in which it had directed the BJP government in the state to consider the inclusion of the community into the ST list. 

Disposing a review petition filed by the Meitei Tribes Union, Justice Golmei Gaiphulshillu on Wednesday ordered for deletion of the paragraph as it was against observation of a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court in 2001.

The order was made on March 27, 2023 by a bench of Justice MV Muralidharan, who was then the acting Chief Justice of Manipur High Court.

Interestingly, the Meitei Tribes Union had moved the High Court seeking a directive to the state government for inclusion of the Meiteis in the ST list. 

The bench, while ordering for deletion of the paragraph 17 (iii) of the order of Justice Muradharan's bench, referred to the Supreme Court's order on State of Maharashtra Vs Milind & Ors. [(2001) 1 SCC 4], which stated that States have no power to amend Presidential Orders. 

"Courts cannot and should not expand jurisdiction to deal with the question as to whether a particular caste, sub-caste; a group or part of tribe or subtribe is included in any one of the Entries mentioned in the Presidential Orders issued under Article 341 and 342 particularly so when in Clause (2) of the said Article, it is expressly stated that said orders cannot be amended or varied except by law made by Parliament," the Supreme Court had said. The apex court had further said the power to include or exclude, amend or alter Presidential Order is expressly or exclusively conferred on and vested with the Parliament and that too by making a law in that regard.

Trigger of the violence

The order of the HC on March 27, 2023 is considered as one of the triggers of the riot between the Meiteis and the Kukis that broke out May 3 last year. More than 200 people have been killed and over 60,000 others have been displaced so far and sporadic incidents of firing between armed persons belonging to both the communities have still kept Manipur troubled. The All Manipur Tribal Union and few others had filed an appeal against the HC order while Dinganglung Gangmei, Chairman of Hill Area Committee of Manipur Assembly also filed a special leave application in the Supreme Court challenging the HC's order. 

Refusing to comment on the HC order, a senior leader representing the Meitei community on Thursday told DH that their agitation for ST status would continue as the Centre can only fulfil the demand by amending the Presidential Order in the Parliament. 

At least 34 tribes in Manipur are in the list of ST at present but Meiteis are still not in the list. Meitei organisations claim that Meiteis can't buy land in the hills (where mainly Kukis and Nagas are in majority) as they are not STs. This led to growing anger and discontentment among the Meiteis, who constitute nearly 53 per cent of Manipur's population. They say that Meteis had enjoyed the status of "Tribe among the Tribes of Manipur" before the Kingdom of Manipur was merged with Indian Union in 1949, but they were not included as STs after the merger. 

(Published 22 February 2024, 12:30 IST)

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