Manipur: SC asks government to look into ban imposed on Mao community by SAPO
Supreme Court of India

Imphal: In a significant development, the Supreme Court of India on Monday directed the Union of India to look into a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in connection with the current blockade and quit notice imposed or served by the Southern Angami Public Organisation (SAPO) of Nagaland on the Mao Community of Manipur.

The PIL in regard to the case was filed by Khurajam Athouba, convener of the Mao-Imphal Market Co-Ordination Committee and vice-president of IPSA, under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.

The first hearing of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in connection with the case was held on Monday before a three-judge bench of the Apex court, comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice JB Pardiwala.

Therein the SC bench asked the Union of India, through the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, to look into the issue of the complete ban on settlement, residency, trade & commerce, and movement of the Mao tribe members through the Southern Angami Tribe settlement areas in the state of Nagaland and through National Highway 2 (Asian Highway No.1).

Since December 15, 2022, the Southern Angami Public Organisation (SAPO) and the Southern Angami Youth Organisation (SAYO) have imposed a blockade on settlement, residency, trade & commerce, and movement of Mao Tribe members through Southern Angami Tribe settlement areas in Nagaland. Various incidents of violence, such as the burning of vehicles and harassment of Mao Tribe members, have occurred as a result.

The Southern Angami Tribe members have sought to link the blockade and incidents of violence to their alleged traditional and tribal rights over the 32.29 sq. km Koziirii Forest and two-thirds of the Dzuko valley (11.28 sq. km), which are otherwise within the undisputed constitutional boundary of Manipur, as per the petitioner.

Although efforts have been made in the past to resolve the issue through tribal bodies, nothing substantial has come about as of now, the petitioner stated.

Additionally, the petitioner stated that for the past 105 days, neither the state of Nagaland nor the Union of India has taken any steps to safeguard the basic fundamental rights of the Mao Tribe. In such circumstances, it was deemed necessary to approach the highest court of India for its due intervention to ensure speedy justice.

The petitioner further highlighted that the embargo on the Mao Tribe people’s access to National Highway No.2 (Asian Highway No.1) has severely affected their movement and business.

The petitioner, Athouba, filed the PIL in February 2023 through his lawyer, Ngangom Junior Luwang, Advocate, Supreme Court of India. The petition sought due protection of the inviolable Fundamental Rights of the Mao tribe people by providing adequate security protection, due compensation to the Mao tribe victims of the unlawful acts of SAPO and SAYO, and a declaration of these two organizations as unlawful associations under Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

The Court has fixed the next hearing on March 20 since the matter is urgent. Also, the Solicitor General has been specifically asked to render all possible assistance.

“It is expected that the instant Public Interest Litigation could become a precedent from the point of possible legal ramifications on highway blockades by vested groups and serious inconvenience caused to the public,” added the petitioner.

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