The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Manipur government to apprise the Supreme Court-appointed committee of the steps taken to secure places of public worship in the state where ethnic clashes have claimed more than 170 lives since May.
A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, which was considering the issue of restoration of places of worship, was informed that the state government had earlier filed an affidavit in the Supreme court and religious shrines have been identified and secured.
“The Government of Manipur shall within a period of two weeks furnish to the court-appointed committee a comprehensive list following the exercise of identification of all religious structures in the state which has been carried out,” said the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.
It clarified the identification of such places shall cover all religious denominations, irrespective of the nature of the religious structures which have been damaged or destroyed during the strife.
“The government of Manipur shall apprise the committee of the steps which have been taken to secure the place of public worship,” it said.
The bench said based on their identification, the court-appointed committee will prepare a comprehensive proposal for the way forward including with regard to restoration of places of public worship which may be damaged or destroyed during the violence.
“We clarify that committee will be at liberty to take a comprehensive view of the matter including dealing with supervening developments including in regard to the illegal encroachment/occupation of places of public worship,” it said.
The bench said the committee will be at liberty to present its next report before the court so a suitable order can be passed.
“State of Manipur as well as the Director General of Police shall coordinate with the committee so that interim suggestions of the committee can be implemented without further delay,” the bench said.
On the upcoming Christmas celebrations, the court said a large number of people belonging to various communities would currently be in relief camps across Manipur.
It noted that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre and the state, have assured the court that necessary steps will be taken to ensure that those in the relief camps are in a position to observe all ceremonies related to the festival.
The Supreme Court is seized of a batch of pleas, including those seeking court-monitored probe into cases of violence, besides measures for relief and rehabilitation.
It had appointed an all-woman committee of former high court judges headed by justice (retd) Gita Mittal and comprising justices (retd) Shalini P Joshi and Asha Menon.
During the hearing on Friday, Ms Bhati told the bench that “herculean efforts” were being made both by the Centre and the state to carry out the directions passed by the court and they will come back with an updated status report when the court reopens after the winter break.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for one of the petitioners, said at the last hearing he had flagged two aspects including the one related to restoration of places of worship in Manipur.
“What is being done by the state to protect those places of public worship which were vandalized so at least they are not encroached upon? What is the policy of state of Manipur in regard to restoration of these? What is the state doing to restore these places of worship?” the CJI asked.
Ms Bhati referred to the affidavit filed earlier by the chief secretary of Manipur.
The bench noted in its 9th report dated September 13, 2023, the court-appointed committee had made certain recommendations with regard to places of worship across all religious denominations.
It also noted that as per the affidavit filed by the state, its home department has issued directions to all superintendent of police (SPs) to identify the properties where theft and looting occurred, and to ensure the protection of such properties.
The bench said the matter will be heard again upon re-opening of the Supreme Court after the winter break.
Manipur descended into chaos and untrammelled violence in May over a high court order directing the state government to consider including the non-tribal Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes.
This order led to rampant ethnic clashes between the tribal Kuki and non-tribal Meitei communities. More than 170 people have been killed and several hundred others injured since ethnic violence first broke out in the state on May 3 when a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status.