Army Deployment in Manipur | Day 3: Supreme Court Refrains from Deploying the Army and Paramilitary Forces in the StateArmy Deployment in Manipur
Today, a 3-Judge Bench led by CJI Chandrachud heard suggestions from the petitioners related to army deployment during the Manipur Violence. Yesterday the Supreme Court had allowed the contesting parties to make concrete suggestions for improving the situation which may be considered by the State of Manipur and by the Union of India. Advocate Nizam Pasha, representing the Zomi Students Federation, and Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the Manipur Tribals Forum made a separate list of suggestions. The Zomi Students Federation, one of the petitioners in this case, produced a list of 13 suggestions.
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.
Suggestions submitted by Advocate Nizam Pasha
Referring to the suggestions formulated by Adv. Pasha’s as ‘genuine constructive suggestions’ the Solicitor General went on to read them in the open court.
- As per Zomi Students Federation, several bodies were lying unidentified and unclaimed in mortuaries across Imphal and families of missing persons are unable to reach the mortuaries. They suggested that the State of Manipur may designate an officer who can facilitate mortuary visits for the families. This would enable the process of identification and handover of dead bodies. Responding to this, SG Mehta said that he had no reason to object to the suggestion.
- Pasha suggested that there is an acute shortage of doctors in district hospitals in the Hill districts, and asked for doctors deputed by the Health Ministry to be sent to these districts. SG Mehta responded, “If this is true, there cannot be any objection”.
- Pasha also pointed out that there is a shortage of essential medicines in the district hospitals in the Hill districts. To this SG Mehta replied,“Take it from me, my lord, it will be taken care of.”
- It was suggested the state should make arrangements for the students of medical colleges in the affected area to attend classes at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, located in Imphal. SG Mehta assured that such arrangements would be made.
- Pasha asked for the postponement of examinations to be conducted by the Manipur University schools and colleges in the Hill districts have been converted into relief camps. A large number of students and university staff fled their homes. SG Mehta stated that he will take instructions from the Manipur government regarding the suggestion.
- The Zomi Students Federation demanded that helicopter services be extended to certain affected areas. SG Mehta offered to consult the Manipur Government regarding the suggestion.
- Suggestion was made to restore Jio and Vodafone cellular (telephone) services in Manipur.
- Pointing to the circular issued by the Manipur Government on June 26th, 2023 which stated that disciplinary action will be taken against Government employees who fail to report to work, it was demanded that it be reconsidered. SG Mehta refuted this suggestion by stating—“We can’t have a position where government employees say that we won’t be able to come out of work. We have assessed the situation.” CJI Chandrachud suggested that the government can consider the circumstances of a government employee before taking disciplinary action. SG Mehta stated that such an exercise is already being carried out.
- It was pointed out that relief camps have an acute shortage of drinking water, food, sanitation, shelter etc. SG Mehta stated that the suggestion would be immediately attended to. Pasha suggested that the petitioners, the Zomi Student Federation, can prepare a ground report on the present situation in Manipur. SG Mehta vehemently opposed this suggestion claiming that any such ‘fact-finding missions’ turn out to be biased. He stated, “Let fact-finding be confined to affidavits filed by the Government”.
- The Court should issue directions restraining all central and state government employees from making any remarks that are particularly directed at a specific community, the Zomi Student Federation recommended. SG Mehta refused to entertain it and said, “I don’t think this is necessary. Nobody should do that. Directions are not necessary”.
- The petitioners also suggested that the Inter-Agency Unified Command, which is currently chaired by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, should be chaired by the Security Advisor, as per the direction of the Home Ministry. This suggestion was read out by CJI Chandrachud to which Mehta agreed.
- They demanded that the Manipur government announce the number of arms which were looted from the armouries of the police. SG Mehta argued that it would be inadvisable to currently release the figures and put them in the public domain, and claimed that the arms have since been recovered.
- It was suggested to form a supervisory committee chaired by a retired High Court judge with representatives from the affected communities. When SG Mehta claimed that there are such committees in existence, Adv. Pasha pointed out that these committees lacked representation from the Zo-Kuki tribe.
The Supreme Court ordered that the administration should consider the suggestions and implement a ‘positive action’ within the next three days. This did not include suggestions 5,6,7 and 13 as SG Mehta had to consult the Manipur government regarding them.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves: No FIRs against Members of Assailant Groups
Gonsalves suggestions were a reiteration of his arguments that were made earlier last week. He claimed that assailant groups are protected by the Union and the Manipur Government and that no FIRs were being registered against members of such groups, even when they are notified as terrorist groups under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
Gonsalves strongly advocated for the deployment of the Army and Paramilitary forces in Manipur. However, CJI Chandrachud responded that the Court has never issued any directive regarding the deployment of the Army or Paramilitary forces in the past. He emphasised that such decisions should be left to the discretion of the Union government.
Gonsalves also suggested that the Manipur Government should provide compensation to the affected families and undertake the reconstruction of villages and places of worship that were impacted by the violence, which was accepted by the Court.
Listing out areas where future attacks were anticipated, Gonsalves requested the Court to direct the deployment of the Army and Paramilitary forces in those areas. The Court dismissed this request but urged both the Union and the Manipur Government to take note of the suggestion.