Amidst stiff oppostion from the Scheduled Tribes (ST) of Manipur to the demand for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list by some organisations namely, Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM), World Meitei Council and Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union, the High Court of Manipur on April 19 has directed the Manipur Government to submit its recommendation for the inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the Scheduled Tribes list to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs and to consider the case within four weeks.
Noting that the Manipur Government had been dragging its feet on the inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST list for 10 years now, the directive of the Manipur High Court came following a writ petition filed by eight petitioners who are the members of Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union being Regd. No. 15 of 2022.
The writ petition sought issuance of a writ of mandamus directing the state government to submit recommendations in reply to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ letter of May 29, 2013 within two months or within a time frame and to include Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list of Indian Constitution as a “tribe among tribes of Manipur”.
The petition maintained that the tribal status of Meetei/Meitei existed before 21.9.1949 (before signing of the Merger Agreement) as part of the terms and conditions of the Merger Agreement of Manipur into the Indian Union. It also sought the directive of the High Court to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to restore the Scheduled Tribe status of Meetei/Meitei community.
Further, the petition stated that in reply to the representation submitted by STDCM, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India wrote a letter dated 29.5.2013 to the Government of Manipur whereby requesting for specific recommendation along with the latest socio-economic survey and ethnographic report. Despite the letter dated 29.5.2013, the Government of Manipur failed to submit the recommendation to the reason best known to them.
The petition submitted that during the preparation of Scheduled Tribes list of India under Article 342 of the Constitution of India, the Meetei/Meitei community are left out. However, there is documentary evidence showing the earlier Meetei/Meitei community also belonged to the tribe community, said the petition.
On April 18, 2022, the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union submitted a representation to the Union Minister of Tribal Affairs with a copy to 12 authorities, including the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur seeking inclusion of Meetei/Meitei Tribe of Manipur in the list of Scheduled Tribes under Indian Constitution.
Notably, on May 31, 2022, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs forwarded the representation to the Secretary, Government of Manipur to submit recommendation. But the recommendation has not been submitted and the issue of inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list of the Constitution has been pending for nearly ten years said the petition.
“I am directed to refer to this Ministry’s letter of even number dated 06/03/2019, 23/07/2021, 15/02/2022 & 07.04.2022 and to forward herewith a representation dated 18.04.2022 of Shri Salam Gourakishwor Singh, Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union, Kabo Leikai, Imphal East District, Manipur 795005, which is self-explanatory, for action as deemed appropriate.
- Scheduled Tribes (STs) are notified under Article 342 of the Constitution. Government of India had on 15.6.1999 (and further revised on 25.6.2002) approved modalities for determining claims for inclusion in and other modifications in list of STs. As per those modalities only proposals recommended and justified by the state Government concerned and agreed to by RGI as well as NCSI are considered for amendment of legislation. All the actions are taken as per approved modalities. The recommendation of the concerned State Government is pre-requisite to process the case further,” the letter stated.
Moreover, the April 19 order of Manipur High Court stated, “Nothing has been produced by the respondents, particularly the respondent State to show that they have sent reply to the letter dated 29.5.2013 of the Government of India, Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Thus, the issue of inclusion of Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list of the Constitution is pending for nearly ten years and above.”
“No satisfactory explanation is forthcoming from the side of the respondent State for not submitting the recommendation for the last 10 years. Therefore, it would be appropriate to direct the respondent State to submit its recommendation to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs within a reasonable time,” the order added.
Therefore, the High Court of Manipur directed the Manipur Government to submit the recommendation in reply to the letter dated 29.5.2013 of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, and also to consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list, expeditiously, preferably within a period four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order in terms of the averments set out in the writ petition and in the line of the order passed in WP(C) No. 4281 of 2002 dated 26.05.2003 by the Gauhati High Court, under which Chongthu, Khoibu and Mate tribes have been included in the List of Scheduled Tribes.
However, tribal student bodies including All Tribal Students Union Manipur (ATSUM) stand with stiff opposition to the demand for inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in ST list, and reacting to the April 19 Manipur High Court order, ATSUM said that they have decided to discuss the matter minutely as a legal process is involved in the issue.
Earlier, the ATSUM on March 23, 2023 reaffirmed their opposition to the demand for ST status by the Meitei community in Manipur.
A consultative meeting of the tribals chaired by senior Tribal leader Ngachonmi Chamroy, on ‘the demand of Meetei/Meitei and Meitei Pangal communities for inclusion in ST category’ was held at the Amity Hall, Adimjati complex in Imphal. The meeting was attended by many prominent tribal leaders of Manipur, including Apex organisation leaders, women and student leaders.
During the consultative meeting, the leaders present reaffirmed their support to the causes ATSUM is championing for the ST people of Manipur. Members from different hill districts expressed their fear and anxiety if ST status was to be granted to the Meetei/Meitei and Meitei Pangal communities, which they said will open flood-gates to further exploit the Scheduled Tribes in Manipur.
The consultative meeting unanimously reaffirmed its opposition to the ST status demand of the Meitei communities. The meeting also endorsed ATSUM to continue pursuing the matter and chalk out action plans to consolidate the voice of the people, reports added.
On the other hand, a 7-member STDCM team on April 17, 2023 had submitted a memorandum to the Outer Manipur MP Lorho S Pfoze, seeking his cooperation in the inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the ST list.
The Meetei/Meitei will likely become a minority on its own ancestral land if the issue of demographic imbalance is not taken seriously, the memorandum stated.
Meanwhile, the Hills Area Committee (HAC) of the Manipur Legislative Assembly in its meeting held on April 20, 2023 has unanimously resolved to urge the Government of Manipur and Government of India to go for Appeals against the Manipur High Court’s order, taking into account the sentiments, interests, and rights’ of Manipur’s Scheduled Tribes of Manipur.
The HAC stated that the Committee is perturbed/aggrieved by the April 19 Order of the High Court of Manipur directing the Government of Manipur to recommebd for inclusion of Meitei/Meetei community in the Scheduled Tribes list of the Constitution of India in spite of strong opposition from the Scheduled Tribes of Manipur.
The statement further noted that the HAC, as a Constitutional Body of the Hill Areas of Manipurn was neither made a party to the case nor consulted. The HAC also has neven given any recommendation or consent.
Further, the HAC mentioned that the Meitei/Meetei community of Manipur are already protected under the Constitution of India and categorised as General, Other Backward Classes (OBC), and Scheduled Caste (SC).
Now, the Government of Manipur is caught between the Order of the High Court of Manipur to send the recommendation for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list and stiff opposition from the bodies of Scheduled Tribes of Manipur and the HAC.
If the Government of Manipur does neither comply with the order of the High Court of Manipur nor appeal to higher court against it, the State Government has to face contempt of court.
If the State Government does not go for appeal to the higher court against the order, the HAC and other tribal bodies will say Manipur Government is acting against the interests and rights of the Scheduled Tribes of Manipur while the propagators for Meitei’s inclusion in the ST list claim that inclusion of Meiteis in the ST list will provide a constitutional protection for the Meiteis and Manipur’s land from the immigrants. Here, it may be noted that under Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, which has been in force in Manipur since December 2019, sale and transfer of Manipur’s land to non-natives are not allowed.
Though the recommendation of the State Government is not final for inclusion of Meitei in the ST list, it will further the rift between the Meiteis and Scheduled Tribes of Manipur if the Government of Manipur fails to take a politically correct decision as the they have a threat perception that their land will be grabbed by the Meiteis as ST.
Nevertheless, whether the recommendation for inclusion of Meitei in ST list will protect the land and unity of Manipur or not, time will tell.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics