The Supreme Court on Friday suggested even airdropping food and medicine in Manipur after Justice Gita Mittal Committee said the situation might turn dire with supplies dwindling due to road blockades, coupled with an outbreak of chickenpox and measles in relief camps lodging victims of ethnic violence.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud directed the Union and Manipur governments to take steps to ensure that food, medicines and essentials reach the affected areas.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for both Manipur and the Centre, said the government would take appropriate steps, but said the committee should remain within its “remit”, and ought to approach the government with hiccups rather than the court.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Lekhi, appearing for the Committee, said the panel was not formally informed about the appointment of nodal officers, representing the State and Centre, with whom they could liasion. Mr. Mehta said nodal officers were appointed and a formal communication would reach the committee “today itself”.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for petitioners, said the prices of essential items have “gone through the roof”. She said there was a serious risk of starvation in some parts of the State. “Lots of people are volunteering to supply food, but are unable to reach the people due to the blockades… The committee has no power to ask the armed forces to remove the blockades,” she submitted.
Blockades in the Moreh region and other areas, including the national highway from Dimapur to Imphal, were mentioned in the court.
Chief Justice Chandrachud said removing blockades was something “easier said than done”. It was a sensitive issue.
“The government is aware of this and will take appropriate steps after evaluating the situation… Blockades are also made by people… The manner in which blockades should be dealt with is left to the government. But consider all means of reaching them [people in the affected areas of Manipur], including airdrops,” the Chief Justice addressed the government side.
Chief Justice Chandrachud sought action from the government about the unidentified bodies of people killed during the violence still lying in mortuaries in the State.
“The government will have to take care of the bodies in the morgue. They are an invitation for diseases… Imagine what their condition would be by now,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for a petitioner, highlighted the destruction of 642 places of worship in the State. The court asked him to circulate a note detailing the grievance in the petition to the committee and the State government.
The government sought an adjournment to respond to the status reports filed by the Justice Mittal Committee. The court scheduled the next hearing on September 6.
The committee headed by Justice Mittal also has Justices Shalini Phansalkar Joshi and Asha Menon, both former High Court judges. The apex court had entrusted the all-women committee the task of providing the “healing touch” to Manipur by supervising, intervening and monitoring relief and rehabilitation, restoration of homesteads, religious places of worship, etc”. Chief Justice Chandrachud had hoped the committee, through its work, would endeavour to re-instill the Manipur people’s belief in the rule of law.