Plea challenges Meghalaya chief minister's tribal status

Shillong : The Meghalaya High Court Friday asked a petitioner who filed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the scheduled tribe status of Chief Minister Mukul Manda Sangma and the state government to produce copies of the necessary laws and rules.

Hearing the case, a division bench of Acting Chief Justice T.N.K. Singh and Justice S.R. Sen directed the Meghalaya government and the petitioner, Tennydard M. Marak, to produce the Reservation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act and Rules of Meghalaya, and a brochure on Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe published and issued by the central government.

It fixed Sep 6 for the next hearing.

Marak had filed the PIL alleging that Sangma, the Congress legislator from Ampati constituency in South West Garo Hills, had fraudulently obtained the Scheduled Tribe certificate.

However, Advocate General K.S. Kynjing, appearing on behalf of the state government, raised the maintainability of the writ petition in the form of PIL and also contended that the affidavit filed by the petitioner in support of the writ petition was not in the prescribed format.

The division bench thus permitted the advocate general to file a short affidavit on the two issues.

The respondents to the PIL include the state of Meghalaya, represented by the secretary to the department of welfare of scheduled tribes and scheduled castes, secretary to the home department, South West Garo Hills deputy commissioner, West Garo Hills deputy commissioner, and the chief minister himself.

Earlier, Marak had sent a complaint to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes demanding cancellation of the Scheduled Tribe certificate which was accorded to Sangma. He had also asked the Election Commission to take action against the chief minister.

Not only Marak, the All North East Indigenous Garo Law Promoter Association, had recently alleged that Sangma does not belong to the "Sangma" clan, and that he had used his surname only to obtain a Scheduled Tribe certificate.

In the past, certain groups and individuals had raised the issue because of the fact that the chief minister's late mother was a non-Garo. His family, however, had accused his rivals of political vendetta through personal attacks.

Sangma's brother and incumbent minister Zenith had recently clarified that their mother, Roshanara Begum, was a part and parcel of Garo society, having embraced its customary laws and traditions after her marriage and settling down in Ampati - the district headquarters of South West Garo Hills.

Known for her social work, Roshanara was posthumously accorded international recognition by the Bangladesh government for her humanitarian work during the 1971 Liberation War, which forced thousands of Bangladeshis to flee across the border into Garo hills to escape atrocities by Pakistani troops.

Moreover, the Manda clan, which Sangma belongs to, had recently come out in defence of the Garo Hills leader following the allegations.

The Mamong Manda Mahari Kumonggrikani (Central Malicia Clan Association), had said that the allegation raised was "baseless" and untrue, which were designed to malign the image of the chief minister.