Army Deployment in Manipur Day #1: State of Manipur to Report on Action Taken to Curb ViolenceArmy Deployment in Manipur
On June 3rd, 2023, a 3-Judge Bench led by CJI Chandrachud heard a plea seeking Army Deployment to restore law and order in the State of Manipur. The Petitioner NGO, Manipur Tribal Forum sought immediate action to curb violence against the Kuki tribe.
On May 3rd, 2023, a group of protestors organised a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ to protest against the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) community. This resulted in a violent clash between different groups. The Nagas and Kuki tribes opposed the inclusion claiming that the Meitei community forms the majority population and enjoys political representation in the region.
On May 6th, 2023, the Manipur Tribals Forum Delhi filed a Public Interest Litigation at the Supreme Court, asking for a Special Investigation Team to be constituted to investigate the Manipur Violence. They alleged that the Union and the State Governments have condoned the attacks ‘on account of a non-secular agenda’. The petitioners claimed that the violence has led to 30 casualties and 132 injuries as of May 6th, 2023. Additionally, the CRPF camps providing shelter to several tribal people were in ‘deplorable and pathetic conditions’.
On May 8th, 2023, the SC ordered that basic amenities and rehabilitation efforts should be made available for the displaced tribals in the relief camps. The Bench urged the Government to make arrangements for the safe return of displaced people to their villages.
On May 15th, 2023, the Manipur Tribals Forum filed an Interlocutory Application (IA) at the SC. They requested the support of the Army in 85 villages where ‘attacks were likely to happen’ and in 124 villages which were ‘razed to the ground’.
On May 17th, 2023, the SC ordered the State to file a status report regarding the security measures taken in Manipur. The State maintained that the situation in Manipur had improved.
On June 8th, 2023, Manipur Tribals’ Forum Delhi filed another IA stating that the assurances made by the Government were false. They pointed out that the situation in Manipur had worsened, and that there had been 70 more deaths since the Union’s assurances. They further highlighted that the conditions of the relief camps have not improved.
On June 20, 2023, the SC’s Vacation Bench refused to urgently hear a plea seeking army deployment for control of the law and order situation in Manipur. The SC believed its intervention would ‘aggravate’ the situation in the State.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assures SC that Violence in Manipur is Under Control
SG Mehta assured that the ‘problem is being tackled’ by the various ground forces, such as the Police and the Manipur Rifles. He informed the Court that 355 relief camps have been set up to facilitate the rehabilitation of those affected by the communal/ethnic violence in the region. He argued that ‘taking an adversarial stand’ by deploying the Army is inadvisable. CJI Chandrachud asked if the State can provide a comprehensive status report outlining the steps taken to improve the situation, details of rehabilitation camps, and the current state of law and order. SG Mehta agreed.
Sr. Adv. Colin Gonsalves: Situation Worse Than Before
Sr. Adv. Gonsalves, appearing for the Manipur Tribal Forum, disagreed strongly with the Solicitor General’s version of events. He submitted that the death toll increased despite the Union Government’s assurances that the violence would be brought under control. He said ‘It (death toll) went from 10-20 when the assurances were given, to 110 (deaths) today—it’s accelerating’. He pointed out that two militant groups were making open threats on television and social media to ‘annihilate’ the Kuki tribe. He criticised the lack of action taken against these groups—‘No FIR, no action taken, not a single person arrested, even the person who came on television’.
Sr. Adv. Gonsalves alleged that the militant groups were being sponsored by the State and warned that the situation would continue to escalate as long as the militant groups were ‘allowed to kill’. He pointed out that there were three more killings and a beheading in Manipur, just the day before. SG Mehta interrupted Adv Gonsalves, exclaiming that ‘nobody allows any group to kill my lord, nobody allows!’ Sr. Adv. Gonsalves repeated, more directly taking names this time, that the dominant Meitei group is killing the Kukis. Mr. Gonsalves mentioned that the Kuki community was defending their villages on their own against the Meitei group.
Previously, the petitioner NGO has submitted a list containing the details of 100 members of the Kuki tribe who were killed so far.
Lastly, Mr. Gonsalves pointed out that the Army has identified the need to interfere in the violence in Manipur. He referred to two press releases made by the Army where they claim that they are not being permitted to ‘do their duty and protect the people under attack’.
International Meitei Organisation: Requests Union to do a Headcount of Militants
A counsel representing the International Meitei Organisation requested that the Union government conduct a headcount of all militants operating in Manipur and submit the information to the Court. CJI Chandrachud directed SG Mehta to seek instructions from the government and include the headcount in the report. SG Mehta stated that he may or may not include a headcount because ‘militants cannot be numbered.’
The Bench directed the State of Manipur to file an updated status report on July 10th, 2023. The case is scheduled to be heard next on July 10th 2023.