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Supreme Court Seeks Report on Illegal Arms Recovered from All Sources in Manipur

In a momentous milestone, the Supreme Court of India has requested a complete status report from the Manipur government regarding the recovery of weaponry and ammunition that were taken from the police and state armoury. These incidents occured during ethnic hostilities between the Meiti and Kuki communities in the region, starting as early as May. The Supreme Court, understanding the sensitivity of this matter, has emphasised the significance of a comprehensive investigation, regardless of the parties involved.

A Cautious Approach

The bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, has asked that the report be shared solely with the court at this point. The Manipur state government has raised fears that making the findings public may lead to widespread panic. Chief Justice Chandrachud highlighted the necessity for transparency and neutrality in resolving this case, underlining that the state must take decisive actions against the illegal possession of weaponry, regardless of which side is accountable.

Upholding Justice

The panel, composed of justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra in addition to Chief Justice Chandrachud, highlighted the sensitivity of the matter. It was determined that Manipur would submit a status report on the arms recovery activities, along with a thorough roadmap. This direction was issued in compliance with a previous judgment dated August 7, in which the court had urged the state administration to initiate an investigation into the stealing of weaponry and ammunition from both the police and state armoury.

Equal Treatment for All

During the hearing, senior counsel Sanjay Hegde and Gopal Sankaranarayanan voiced concerns over the seizure of armaments, adding that some terrorists had exhibited the looted weaponry on August 15. While certain lawyers cast fingers at specific populations for the theft and ownership of these weaponry, the bench maintained a principled stance. The judges stressed the necessity to address the core cause of human misery, irrespective of the source. They emphasised that uniform treatment and disarmament are required, regardless of the accountable parties.

The State’s Commitment

In its order, the court officially recorded that the state administration would submit a status report on the recovery of weaponry. Importantly, this report would remain confidential with the court, at least for the time being. During the proceedings, the court also took note of statements made by the Manipur chief secretary in an affidavit. It was established that there were no shortages of vital goods, such as food items and medicines, in the relief camps. The state government has been aggressively addressing any concerns in this regard.

Ensuring Adequate Supplies

The court issued a directive during a prior hearing on September 1, underlining the need of guaranteeing the ongoing provision of food, medicines, and other vital supplies to persons affected by the ethnic unrest in Manipur. Recognizing the “humanitarian aspect” of this scenario, the court acted to safeguard the well-being of the afflicted populace. Addressing allegations of road blockades, the bench ordered both the national and state governments to take all necessary actions to remedy the situation, including the removal of blockades.

The Role of the Retired Judges’ Committee

The court’s involvement came following a report from a committee of retired women judges. This committee, formed by the Supreme Court, had been tasked with examining the efficiency of relief and rehabilitation initiatives in Manipur. The committee voiced concerns regarding the delivery of food and essential commodities to the victims of violence, particularly those sheltered in relief camps. Additionally, the outbreak of measles and chickenpox in several relief camps was brought to the court’s attention on September 1.

Addressing Misleading Claims

An affidavit presented by the Manipur chief secretary rejected both accusations, characterizing them as false and misleading. It was emphasized that just one instance of chickenpox had been documented, and there were abundant supplies of food and basic materials in all aid camps, including Moreh, which was referenced by some petitioners.

Protecting Religious Institutions

The declaration also disclosed a worrying fact: 386 houses of religious worship had been destroyed across the state during the unrest. However, the state administration is committed to restore all religious institutions, regardless of the group they belong to. Responding to a motion in court that referenced the huge destruction of churches in the state, the government emphasized that selective spotlighting of religious places from one community could lead to a perilous situation. Therefore, the court was urged to intervene and prevent any such endeavors.

Collaboration for Expertise

During the proceedings, the bench requested the Union home secretary to meet with the committee of retired judges. This committee, comprising of justices Gita Mittal, Shalini P Joshi, and Asha Menon, will finalize the list of experts who can aid in their task. These professionals will play a critical role in analyzing the relief, rehabilitation, and other concerns on the ground.

Ethnic Clashes and Their Origins

The ethnic hostilities in Manipur have their roots in the dispute between the indigenous Kukis and the dominant Meiteis. The conflict started erupted on May 3 during a demonstration against a court-ordered amendment to the state’s reservation matrix, which conferred Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the Meiteis. The violence swiftly extended throughout the state, displacing tens of thousands of people who fled their burning houses and neighborhoods, many crossing state borders. Tragically, at least 163 people have lost their lives in this bloodshed.

Ensuring Justice and Protection

The Supreme Court has been actively reviewing a bundle of petitions seeking various protection and rehabilitative measures. On August 25, the court took the critical step of transferring 27 cases under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to designated judges in Assam. This measure attempts to secure the protection of victims and witnesses and accelerate fair and fast trials.

The Cases at Hand

Of these 27 incidents, 20 are related to felonies such as rape, molestation, and murder of women. One especially disturbing case features a 30-second video clip showing two Kuki women being stripped and paraded naked by a mob. This occurrence prompted the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognizance, resulting to the transfer of the matter to the CBI.