Editorial: Flawed Verdict, Flawed Review

Editorial: Flawed Verdict, Flawed Review

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Friday, February 23, 2024, 09:34 PM IST
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A judgment is either upheld or nullified by a higher bench or a higher court. In the case of the controversial judgement given by former Acting Chief Justice MV Muralidharan of the Manipur High Court on March 27, 2023, these two options were not exercised. Instead, Justice Golmei Gaiphulshillu, who heard the “review” petition, ordered the deletion of an order from the impugned judgement. The deleted portion asks the Manipur government to “consider the case of the petitioners for inclusion of Meetei/Meitei community in the ST list expeditiously, preferably within a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.” Justice Gaiphulshillu quotes a Supreme Court order which bars state governments from adding or deleting tribes from the ST list. In effect, the rest of Justice Muralidharan’s verdict prevails.

What it implies is that the government has to recommend the inclusion of the Meitei community to the Tribal Welfare ministry, which will do the needful. The basic question is how a judge, who did not even know that the state government has no authority to include Meiteis in the ST list, could be relied upon to recommend other measures. As is usually done, the bench that reviewed the verdict should have written its own verdict and not resorted to this shortcut. After all, it was Justice Muralidharan’s order that led to unprecedented violence in which hundreds of people were killed, tens of thousands were displaced, and churches, houses, and schools worth billions of rupees were destroyed. He was transferred from the Madras High Court to the Manipur High Court because of two controversial judgments which proved beyond a shadow of doubt that there was something totally unacceptable in his verdicts.

Ideally, the Supreme Court should have taken the initiative to hear the case afresh given the influence the Meiteis and the Kukis wield in the state. Instead of allowing the revival of a judgment found inadequate in many respects, the apex court should at least shift the case to another state, as was done in the case of the Gujarat riots. Otherwise, this will set a bad precedent. Every judgment has an element of certainty. It has to be accepted or rejected in its entirety. An exception was made only when, following public criticism, the then Chief Justice P Sathasivam expunged some of his uncharitable and unwarranted remarks about Australian missionary Graham Staines from his own verdict.

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