The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Manipur government to submit an updated status report by July 10 to furnish details of the steps taken to curb the ethnic clashes that have overrun the northeastern state since early May, claiming at least 130 lives.
While the state government submitted that, the situation is improving, albeit “slowly”, the top court called for the latest report setting out the measures undertaken to maintain law and order, besides details of rescue and rehabilitation of those affected by the violence and recovery of arms being used in the riot-hit state.
“Let us have an updated status report. It should have details like rehabilitation camps, law and order, recovery of arms etc,” a bench led by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who represented the state government.
Mehta, during the brief hearing, submitted that additional forces have been deployed in the state to ensure law and order and that an adequate number of relief camps have also been set up. “The situation is improving, although slowly. There are additional forces deployed too. 355 relief camps are there. I would request the counsel for the petitioner not to give it a communal tone by mentioning Christians etc. Humans are dying in that state,” the SG argued.
Responding, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, who appeared for a non-governmental organization, Manipur Tribal Forum, claimed that Kukis are being killed by Meiteis despite assurances by the Manipur government in the Court.
At this, the bench asked the SG to file a fresh status report and fixed the next hearing on July 10. The Court is seized of a clutch of petitions relating to the ethnic violence between the Meities and the Kukis.
Ethnic clashes have engulfed Manipur since early May, leading to widespread deaths, injuries and displacement. The state’s fault lines were exposed in the first week of May after a rally by a tribal Kuki group to protest against a court-ordered move to consider the inclusion of the dominant and politically stronger Meitei community to the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list sparked a wave of violence between the two communities.
The three violent days between May 3 and 6 that closely followed a controversial high court order and the protest march left 115 dead, over 310 injured, and over 40,000 displaced from their homes. On March 27, a single-judge bench of the high court directed the state government to consider sending within four weeks a recommendation to the Center on the demand for the ST status by the Meitei community. The order, released in April, asked the Manipur government to make its stand clear to the Union tribal affairs ministry.
Last month, the Union government formed a three-member inquiry panel led by former chief justice of Gauhati high court Ajai Lamba, and also a peace committee to restore amity among warring ethnic groups. But the Kuki representatives have refused to associate with the peace committee citing the presence of chief minister N Biren Singh, who has been accused by the Kukis of favoring his community, the Meitei.
Comprising at least 53% of Manipur’s population, the majority Meitei community is considered relatively affluent while the Nagas and Kukis, who constitute about 44% of the population, mainly live off agriculture on the hills and are economically deprived. While the Meiteis are mostly Hindu, the Nagas and Kuki-Zomis are mainly Christian. Manipur has a nearly equal population of Hindus and Christians, at a little over 41% each, according to the 2011 census.
Apart from being the majority community, the Meiteis also have more representation in the state assembly. That’s because 40 of the 60 Assembly seats in the state are from the Imphal valley region – the area that is mostly inhabited by the Meiteis. But the fertile valley makes up about a tenth of the total land mass of the state while the hills account for 90%.