THE Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre and Manipur government to ensure that food, medicine and other essential supplies reach the violence-hit areas of the state, which has been witnessing ethnic clashes since May.
Told about blockades preventing supplies from reaching the affected populations, a bench presided by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud asked agencies to consider all options, including airdropping essential supplies if necessary, keeping in mind the humanitarian situation.
“We direct that both the Union government and government of Manipur should ensure that basic supplies of food, medicine and other essential items continue to be distributed in the affected areas. Let no part of the population suffer on account of an existing or apprehended blockade,” the bench, also comprising Justice J B Pardiwala, said in its order.
“The manner in which the blockade should be dealt with is for the law enforcement agencies to determine, but bearing in mind the humanitarian situation involved, the government should explore all possible options, including the airdropping of supplies if it becomes necessary,” it said.
The directions were issued after Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the SC-appointed committee of former judges, pointed out that there was blockade at Moreh as a result of which food supplies could not be delivered. She also informed the bench that there is an outbreak of chicken pox and other diseases in some of the relief camps.
Appearing for some of the petitioners, Senior Advocate Indira Jaising also referred to the Moreh blockade and said there is serious risk of starvation as a result of the absence of food supplies.
Yet another counsel pointed out that such blockades are there in other parts as well, including National Highway 2.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the Centre as well as the Manipur government are aware of the situation on the ground and that adequate steps would be taken to ensure that the grievances in regard to distribution of food supplies are addressed.
On the blockades, CJI Chandrachud said the committee is not dealing with that and added that “assuming there is a power even in the court, removing a blockade is not just about directing the armed forces to just sort of go in and remove a blockade”.
“They also have to weigh the possible loss of human lives, so many sensitive issues… what we will do is we will record the statement of the SG that the government is aware of these things and we will say that the government should take appropriate steps after evaluating the situation,” he said.
“One option is of course to lift the blockade. That’s easier said than done. If you are unable to lift the blockade for whatever reason, because you are dealing with human beings who are blockading as well, you may then consider alternate means, including airdropping supply…,” the CJI observed orally.
The court also asked the committee why it is arguing before it instead of sharing its concerns with the government. “The committee can point it out to the government. Ultimately, the government will have to take action,” said the CJI.
Arora said that although the court had directed appointment of two nodal officers, one each by the Centre and the state, the committee is yet to receive any official intimation of their appointment.
Mehta said they had been appointed and that it will be officially communicated to the chairperson of the committee Friday itself.
The court also directed that a communication in that regard shall be provided to the chairperson of the committee within the next 48 hours. “These nodal officers shall act as the points of contact for facilitating the meetings and all other directions of the committee…”, it said.
The court also asked the SG to take instructions on issues such as disposal of bodies kept in the morgue.
“Government will have to take a call of bodies which are kept in the morgue. One can quite well understand what the conditions in the morgue will be. This is only an invitation for disease. Ultimately, these bodies will have to be dealt with in a dignified manner…,” said the CJI.
The SG said he will take instructions and respond.
The court also asked an applicant, who wanted three more FIRs to be transferred to the CBI, to give copies to the SG so that he can look into them. “Give copies of the three FIRs to SG. He will verify… So that he can seek instructions from the Director General and make a statement before us… If they stand on the same footing as the earlier FIRs transferred to the CBI, these will also be transferred,” the CJI said.