Manipur violence: Can’t go by sentiments, says SC

New Delhi:  The Supreme Court said it cannot go by sentiments and has to act as per law, as it refused to entertain a petition seeking contempt action for alleged non-compliance with the top court’s order on the protection of properties of people displaced during the Manipur violence.

A vacation bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal said it was not satisfied with the contention that a case of contempt was made out against the respondents, including Manipur’s Chief Secretary, and the petitioners can take recourse to remedy which may be available under the law.

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Manipur, told the bench that no case of contempt was made out, and the state and the Centre are on the ground doing everything they can to assuage public concerns.

“The effort is to keep the pot boiling which is very unfortunate,” Ms Bhati said, adding that the state was duty-bound to protect all and can file an updated status report on the issue.

The top court was hearing a petition claiming the respondents committed contempt of its September 25, 2023 order on protecting the properties of those displaced during the ethnic conflict.

“Who according to you are in contempt?” the bench asked the petitioner’s counsel who said the Chief Secretary and others are.

“They are not the encroachers,” the bench shot back.

When the advocate said the petitioners are living outside Manipur and are not in a position to go anywhere near Imphal, the bench said, “That does not mean that notice be issued against the Chief Secretary”.

Ms Bhati referred to last year’s order which said Manipur and the Centre have a week to respond to the directions, including ensuring protection of properties of displaced persons and preventing their encroachment.

“We had filed a status report. We can file an updated status report,” she said, adding the state is duty-bound to protect its citizens and their properties.

“Manipur is still in a situation of uneasy calm as we speak. There are conflicting views and the state and central government are trying to assuage everyone,” Ms Bhati said. When the counsel for the petitioners claimed that their properties were looted in the presence of the police and they could place those videos before the court, the law officer objected to it and said wild allegations were being made.

“They (authorities) are duty-bound to protect the properties. They are duty-bound to carry out the orders of this court and the government. No doubt about it,” the bench said.

Observing that no contempt was made out against the Chief Secretary and the other respondents, the bench observed, “Don’t pressure officers like this”.

It said the petitioners may file appropriate proceedings as permissible under the law.

“All sympathies for you. Your properties need to be protected but that does not mean that we have to issue contempt notice to the respondents.,” the bench said.

When the petitioners’ lawyer said, “Your lordships may kindly see the message that goes out today…”, the bench observed, “We have to go as per the law. We cannot go by sentiments.”

The bench said it was not satisfied with the claim that contempt proceedings were maintainable against the respondents in connection with the September 25, 2023 order.

“It is needless to say that petitioners shall be at liberty to take recourse to the remedy as may be available under the law if they are aggrieved by any other action or inaction on the part of the respondents,” it said.

Manipur descended into chaos and violence in May last year over a high court order directing the state government to consider including the non-tribal Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes.

More than 170 people have been killed and several hundred others injured since ethnic clashes first broke out in the state on May 3 last year when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community’s demand for ST status.