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Meghalaya CM

New Delhi, Jan. 20: The Supreme Court today asked the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to investigate allegations that Meghalaya chief minister Mukul M. Sangma and his brother, state minister Zenith, were enjoying false tribal status.

The court asked the commission to examine the matter and file a report within eight weeks on the claims, made in two private petitions, that the Congress leaders were descendants from the Muslim community and, hence, not eligible for tribal status and reservations.

But while the bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and M.Y. Eqbal referred the matter to the commission “for inquiry and take appropriate action”, the judges made it clear they were “not making any comments on the merits” of the allegations.

The pleas have been filed by the All North East Indigenous Garo Law Promoters’ Association and an individual petitioner. Both Mukul and Zenith have been elected from constituencies reserved for tribals in the north-eastern state.

The Garo association has sought the disqualification of the chief minister and his brother from their posts on the ground that they were not entitled to hold the posts as they belonged to the minority community.

According to the petition, the Sangmas were the “children of a non-Garo, non-tribal woman (Muslim) and hence cannot claim the status of a Scheduled Tribe under personal laws applicable to the Garos.

Senior counsel Rohinton Nariman, appearing for the petitioner, told the court that the Garo society followed a matrilineal system and descent was always traced and accorded through the mother alone.

Under Garo laws — which has also been recognised statutorily —a father’s roots is of no relevance for determining the status of the offspring, Nariman told the court. In a Garo family, the children are deemed to belong to the mother’s clan.

For instance if a mother is a Sangma and the father from the Marak clan, the children would be treated as Sangmas and not Maraks.

“In the instant case (of the Sangmas), the mother of the respondents was a Muslim by faith and remained so till her death. She hailed from Nagaon in Assam. Consequently, the respondents cannot claim themselves to be a Scheduled Tribe belonging to the Sangma clan or Garo tribals,” the petition said.

The petitioners said they had moved the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes in November last year and claimed they did not get a response.

Before that, in October, Gauhati High Court had dismissed the plea of Tennydard Marak, the co-petitioner in the apex court, on the ground that “he did not have a locus standi” in the matter.

Lawyer Ranjan Mukherjee, who represented the state government along with advocate-general K.S. Kynjing in the apex court today, stressed the fact that the court had not given any opinion on the petitions and merely left the matter to the commission.

“The court asked the commission to consider the petition filed before it within a period of eight weeks,” Mukherjee said on phone from New Delhi.