In a significant development, the Supreme Court has directed the transfer of 27 cases investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the ethnic conflicts in Manipur to designated judges in Assam. The move, aimed at ensuring victim and witness protection, expediting trials, and maintaining fairness, was prompted by the need for a conducive trial environment amidst the prevailing situation in Manipur.
The bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, accepted the request made by Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta to shift the CBI cases to magisterial and sessions courts in Assam. The decision stems from concerns regarding potential aspersions against trial judges in Manipur, who might belong to one of the involved communities, and the overall environment in the region.
Acknowledging the complexity of the situation, the bench asked the chief justice of the Guwahati High Court to nominate suitable trial judges for the 27 CBI cases. The court emphasized the need for a fair justice delivery process and highlighted that statements of victims would be recorded in Manipur or their current place of residence, in the presence of a local magistrate.
The court also addressed logistical challenges by allowing the production, remand, and custody of accused to occur online due to distance and security reasons. Additionally, test identification parades (TIP) will be conducted in Manipur under the supervision of a local magistrate. Investigating officers will be permitted to apply for search and arrest warrants online. The bench suggested that judges conversant with the languages spoken in Manipur be designated.
While the decision received support from various quarters, there were reservations expressed by some, including senior advocates Indira Jaising and Colin Gonsalves. They questioned the selection of Assam for trial proceedings and advocated for the continuation of trials in Manipur. In response, the court urged legal experts to acknowledge the realities on the ground and strive for smooth trial preparations.
The bench underlined its willingness to review the decision to shift cases to Assam if circumstances evolve, allowing for trials in Manipur. The court assured that its orders were aimed at achieving a judicially balanced and fair outcome.
The move comes in the backdrop of ethnic clashes between the tribal Kukis and dominant Meiteis, resulting in loss of lives and displacement of tens of thousands. Amid this complex scenario, the Supreme Court’s decision seeks to address the challenges of fair trials while respecting the rights and security of victims and witnesses.
Furthermore, the bench also issued directives on infrastructural facilities and financial allocation for a high-powered committee of retired women high court judges. The committee, appointed by the court to evaluate rescue, relief, and rehabilitation measures in Manipur, focuses on addressing the plight of victims who have lost identification documents and require adequate compensation for rebuilding their lives.
Sources By Agencies