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Manipur High Court Cancels Order Seeking Meitei Tribe Inclusion in ST Status

In a development that may disappoint the majority Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, the Manipur High Court bench has made a significant alteration to its previous order from March last year. The particular paragraph of the order, which directed the BJP-led government in the state to consider including the Meitei community in the ST list, has been removed. Justice Golmei Gaiphulshillu, while disposing of a review petition filed by the Meitei Tribes Union, issued the order for the deletion of the paragraph, citing conflict with a 2001 observation of a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court.

The initial order was issued on March 27, 2023, by a bench led by Justice MV Muralidharan, who was then serving as the acting Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court. Intriguingly, the Meitei Tribes Union had approached the High Court seeking a directive to the state government for the inclusion of the Meiteis in the ST list.

The High Court bench, in its decision to remove paragraph 17 (iii) from Justice Muradharan’s order, referenced the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of State of Maharashtra Vs Milind & Ors. [(2001) 1 SCC 4]. The apex court had emphasized that states do not have the authority to amend Presidential Orders related to ST status, which can only be done by Parliament through legislation.

The aftermath of the HC order on March 27, 2023, is believed to have contributed to the outbreak of riots between the Meiteis and the Kukis on May 3 of the same year. The violence resulted in more than 200 casualties and the displacement of over 60,000 individuals, with sporadic incidents of armed confrontations between members of both communities continuing to trouble Manipur. Various groups, including the All Manipur Tribal Union, filed appeals against the HC order, while Dinganglung Gangmei, Chairman of the Hill Area Committee of the Manipur Assembly, lodged a special leave application in the Supreme Court contesting the HC’s decision.

While declining to comment on the HC’s ruling, a senior leader representing the Meitei community reiterated that their agitation for ST status would persist, emphasizing that only Parliament has the authority to fulfill this demand by amending the Presidential Order. Currently, 34 tribes in Manipur are listed as STs, but the Meiteis remain excluded. Meitei organizations argue that their exclusion prevents them from purchasing land in the hills, where Kukis and Nagas are the predominant tribes, leading to growing frustration among the Meiteis, who constitute a significant portion of Manipur’s population. They assert that prior to Manipur’s merger with the Indian Union in 1949, Meiteis enjoyed the status of “Tribe among the Tribes of Manipur,” but this status was not extended to them post-merger.

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