By Our Staff Reporter
IMPHAL, Apr 19 : The High Court of Manipur has directed the State Government to send the recommen- dations to add Meetei/Meitei in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list of the Constitution to the Centre (Ministry of Tribal Affairs) expeditiously.
The directive of the High Court came after hearing a petition filed by the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union (MTU).
The Court also directed the Government 'to consider the case preferably within four months.'
Notably, the Ministry had sought the recommendation from the Manipur Government to enlist the Meitei/Meetei in the ST list in May 2013.
The Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM) and others who back the demand that the Meiteis be included the ST list of the Constitution have welcomed the directive of the High Court, which has come amid the intense opposition raised by the All Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM).
Recently, STDCM had also submitted a memorandum to Outer MP (Lok Sabha) Dr Lorho S Pfoze to convince ATSUM and other organisations which are against the ST demand of the Meetei/Meitei.
It may be noted that the majority of valley MLAs have already endorsed the demand of STDCM and its supporters at least individually though the State Government hasn't said anything concrete about the addition of Meetei/Meitei in the ST list so far. Chief Minister N Biren has also been maintaining a stoic silence on the matter.
While STDCM, World Meetei Council, Meetei Tribe Union and other organisations have been demanding tribal status for Meetei/Meitei, some hill based organisations have dubbed the demand illogical.
ATSUM met the Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda yesterday in Imphal and apprised the latter about their opposition over the ST demand for Meetei/Meitei.
Reportedly, ATSUM has decided to discuss the matter minutely as a legal process is now involved in the issue.
The direction of High Court of Manipur Single Bench of Acting Chief Justice MV Muralidaran came after hearing the writ petition (c) filed by secretary of the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union Mutum Churamani and seven other members on behalf of MTU against the State of Manipur.
During the hearing, the Court heard the submission of Ajoy Pebam who is counsel of the petitioners and Government Advocate Ch Sundari and Deputy Solicitor General of India Kh Samarjit representing the State Government and Union of India respectively.
By consent, the writ petition was taken up for disposal at the admission stage itself.
According to the petitioners, Meetei/Meitei used to be a tribal group before the Merger Agreement was inked on September 21, 1949 and as such their demand is restoration of the tribal status of the ethnic group.
The counsel of the petitioners said that Meetei/Meitei lost the tribal tag after signing the Merger Agreement and restoration of the status is imperative to preserve the ancestral land, tradition, culture and language of the ethnic group.
Reportedly, various documentary references were also placed to prove that Meetei/Meitei is still a tribe as per Articles 342(1) and 366 (19) (23) (25) of the Constitution.
'Unfortunately Meetei/Meitei was left out while preparing the ST list under Article 342 of the Constitution,' it added.
The counsel further submitted that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had written to the then Government of Manipur to send the recommendations to verify whether Meetei/Meitei can be added in the ST list on May 29, 2013 as a response to a representation submitted by STDCM.
The successive Governments in Manipur, however, failed to submit the recommendations for reasons best known to them, added the counsel for the petitioners.
The counsel for the petitioners also contended that Chongthu, Khoibu and Mate were enlisted in the ST list as per an order of the Gauhati High Court dated May 26, 2003.
The Court also heard the submissions of the Deputy Solicitor General of India and the Government Advocate and observed that the grievances of the petitioners is that Meetei/Meitei lost the tribal status after Manipur merged with the Union of India.
The Court also observed that the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union submitted a representation to the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs on April 18, 2022 to include Meetei/Meitei in the ST list while the Ministry of Tribal Affairs forwarded the said representation to the Secretary of Manipur Government on May 31, 2022 as recommendation of the State Government is a prerequisite to process the case.
At that juncture, the counsel for the petitioners submitted that the successive Governments of Manipur have been violating the right to equality and right to life with dignity which are enshrined under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India by not forwarding the recommendation.
The Court then observed that the State has not given any satisfactory explanation for not submitting the recommendations which the Centre has been seeking for nearly 10 years.
The High Court of Manipur, after disposing of the writ petition, directed the State Government to submit the recommendation to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs and also 'consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei in the ST list, expeditiously, preferably within four weeks.'