Manipur Violence: 27 cases transferred to CBI to be heard by session judges in Assam

Supreme Court accepts SG Mehta’s contention that “security issues” in Manipur would make it difficult to conduct trials there

Today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Manipur government, suggested that the 27 criminal cases being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be heard by judges recommended by the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court. 

Mehta: Permit trials in the Manipur violence cases through video conferencing 

Mehta proposed that due to “security issues” in certain parts of Manipur, arrangements should be made for witnesses, accused individuals, and victims to appear before judges in Assam via video conferencing. Senior Advocate Indira Jaising resisted, contending that other neighbouring states could be considered and that the Manipur government had not presented a “proper reason” for suggesting Assam. 

Mehta mentioned that Assam had better travel connectivity with Manipur compared to other states, which would facilitate the physical appearance of officers, witnesses, victims, and individuals in judicial custody, if necessary. He also noted that assigning judges from Assam could help mitigate concerns of potential bias arising out of judges “belonging to a particular tribe.” 

For the petitioners, Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves expressed his disapproval and argued in favour of continuing the hearings in Manipur itself. CJI Chandrachud noted the potential risks associated with this approach and suggested that video conferencing might be a suitable alternative for conducting the proceedings. However, a counsel pointed out that internet connectivity in Manipur has not been fully restored, Mehta quickly assured that measures would be taken to address the internet connectivity issue. 

Jaising recommended that people should have the option of appearing in person before the court. Mehta was less enthusiastic about this idea, noting that this would flood the CBI with “hundreds of applications” requesting security for travel to Assam. The Chief Justice agreed with the petitioners and emphasised that the Court cannot compel individuals to participate solely via online means and that they should have the option to appear in person before the judges in Assam. 

Accepting Mehta’s recommendations, CJI Chandrachud directed the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court to propose the names of one or more judges to oversee trial proceedings. It was clarified that trials will resume within the state of Manipur once the situation has returned to normalcy.  

In his order, CJI Chandrachud instructed that any witness statements should be recorded by a local magistrate designated by the Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court.

Petitioners: Expert committee needs administrative assistance 

Earlier this week, the Court placed on record three reports put together by an expert committee tasked with overseeing humanitarian aspects of the Manipur violence. 

In continuation of her contention that the committee was in dire need of administrative assistance, Senior Advocate Vrinda Grover submitted a list of suggested procedural directions. CJI Chandrachud assured that the Court would pass directions on some of the procedural directions suggested by Grover. 

Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing on behalf of the expert committee, highlighted that the local experts recommended by the committee for overseeing compensation for victims, psychological assistance, mental health care, medical care, relief camps, etc., need to be urgently appointed. Mehta said that the Manipur government had some  “concerns” about the recommended experts. The Supreme Court will pass directions after hearing these concerns on 1 September.