By : Ningombam Bupenda Meitei
This writing of mine, which could also be perceived as a personal opinion, is indeed a matter of public importance. It is to present a constitutional argument on the basis of the statement made by the incumbent Chief Minister of Manipur in the ongoing Manipur Legislative Assembly’s session. The statement of the Chief Minister is reported in The Sangai Express (English Edition), dated the 3rd of August, 2017 (https://www.thesangaiexpress.com/st-status-meiteis-can-recommended-report-msc-st-biren-respect-elected-members-cm-bureaucrats/ ). The argument is: the Chief Minister’s referring of Meitei/Meetei ST demand to Manipur State Commission for ST is ultra vires. Therefore, the withdrawal of the statement, stated by the Chief Minister of Manipur in the State Legislative Assembly with regard to referring the matter of Meitei/Meetei for ST demand to Manipur State Commission for ST, has to take place before this session of the House ends.
Manipur Cabinet under the state’s Chief Minister shall recommend for the state’s Governor to recommend Meitei/Meetei ST to the Government of India. In case of a need for a report to be submitted for the required facts, the Chief Minister may constitute a Committee headed by the state’s Chief Secretary to look into the matter to expedite the recommendation of Meitei/Meetei for the inclusion in the ST List of India to the centre.
It is in this regard, that the Chief Minister’s statement, on the floor of the House in the Legislative Assembly, on referring the issue to the Manipur State ST Commission, is constitutionally not viable. Therefore, to honour the House, the Chief Minister shall withdraw the statement from the House while the House is in session; otherwise, the statement, which cannot be prevailed upon by any executive order taken outside the House, has to go through for the next winter session, in December, to be looked into whether the statement ought or ought not to be there in view of the jurisdiction and powers of the said Commission, enshrined under the Manipur State ST Commission Act 2014, with regard to making any report on a community which is not yet enlisted in the ST (Scheduled Tribe) List of India. Therefore, in preserving the spirit of the Constitution of India, there needs to be a review or a discussion on the said statement tabled by the Chief Minister in the House with regard to the demand of Meitei/Meetei for ST.
The reasons why there needs to be a discussion on the Chief Minister’s statement in the House are;
(1) On National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST):
On the 89th Amendment of the Constitution coming into force on 19th February 2004, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been set up under Article 338A on the bifurcation of the erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution.
(Source: http://tribal.nic.in/Content/National Commission for Scheduled Tribes Organisations.aspx )
(2) On Manipur State Commission for Scheduled Tribe (MSCST):
On the floor of the House in the last Manipur Legislative Assembly, the then Deputy Chief Minister & Tribal Affairs Minister stated in the House, while passing the Manipur State Commission for the Scheduled Tribes Bill 2014, that: “National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has already been set up at the national level. In line with this development, the need for establishment for the State Commission for Scheduled Tribes was also growing in the State.”
(Source: http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/house-okays-st-commission-bill/ )
In view of (1) & (2), it concludes that NCST is to oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution, and therefore, the establishment of MSCST, on the line of NCST, shall also be to oversee the implementation of various safeguards provided to Scheduled Tribes in Manipur under the Constitution of India. It is in this regard, that Meitei/Meetei community which is not ST, as yet, under the Constitution of India, is not sanctioned/ safeguarded/ constitutionally granted under the Constitution of India to refer its demands for the inclusion in ST List of India to the said State Commission for ST.
By referring the matter to the said State Commission for ST, Manipur Chief Minister, on the floor of the House, has dishonoured the Constitution of India - which empowers the Act on only ST’s safeguards - and therefore, knowingly (if so, then it leads to misleading the House) or unknowingly (if so, then officials reporting to the Chief Minister need to be corrected) has also misled the House. It is at this point, there arises a need to withdraw the statement stated in the House to preserve and protect the ethos and sanctity of the Constitution of India. And, the withdrawal of the statement has to take place before this session of the House ends, otherwise either the whole state has to wait for a Special session or the next session in the winter to discuss/ debate on or withdraw the statement.
The very act of the Chief Minister’s referring the matter on a community which is not ST to the State Commission for ST is beyond the Act established to form the said Commission. Neither the Chief Minister has an authority to refer the matter to the said Commission nor the said Commission is empowered under its Act, as per the Constitution of India, to even make any assessment on whether Meitei/Meetei is to be recommended for ST or not. Hence, the act and the aforementioned statement stated by the Chief Minister on the floor of the House stands ultra vires.