SC ire over Salwa Judum
Last Updated: Thursday, February 05, 2009, 00:00
New Delhi, Feb 05: The government cannot arm common men or those associated with Salwa Judum, a people's movement to combat Naxalism in Chhatisgarh, to curb the unlawful activities of Naxalites, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

"We do not underestimate the enormity of the problem (Naxalism). But state should not encourage the common man by arming them to fight Naxalites," a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice P Sathasivam observed.

The Bench said that "arming common men will create a dangerous situation...unless legal powers are vested, you can't arm people."

The Bench expressed its concern that such has been the law and order situation in the Naxal affected areas that the common people are virtually in a dilemma on how to tackle the problem facing them.

"Common men are under dilemma whether to support the government or Naxalites," the Bench observed when senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for Chhatisgarh, said that "Naxalites are running a government within the government".

The court made the observations while perusing the action taken report (ATR) filed by the Chhatisgarh government on the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its report.

The NHRC had probed the alleged human rights violation by Salwa Judum in Chhatisgarh and had pointed to incidents of burning and killing on which FIRs were not registered and cases of high-handedness of the Special Police Officers, civilians armed with weapons to fight Naxals.

The Bench was of the view that instead of arming common men, the state governments should properly utilise the funds granted to them under schemes sponsored by the Centre for the economic upliftment of the villagers and tribals.

"Huge amounts are being allocated under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). The state governments should utilise it properly to economically empower them (villagers and tribals) and to improve the infrastructure," it said, adding that "arming common men was not a remedy to counter Naxalism".

Senior advocate T R Andhyarujina, appearing for those on whose petition the apex court had ordered an NHRC probe, said the "state is not permitted to create a private body".

Denying that common people were armed to counter outlaws in Chhatisgarh, another senior advocate Ranjit Kumar appearing for it, said "that is not happening".

He said "Salwa Judum is dying out. We are strengthening our police force". Kumar said Salwa Judum came into existence as a means to counter the activities of Naxalites.

His submission was supported by his senior colleague Venugopal who said "Salwa Judum has practically disappeared" but the activities of outlaws are alarming and continuing uninterrupted and was evident with the recent incident in Maharashtra where 15 policemen became their victims.

He said the law and order situation in Naxal affected areas cannot be treated in a simple way.

"The law and order situation is not normal. It is an extreme situation (in Naxal infested areas)," the senior advocate said.

However, the court repeatedly reminded the Chhatisgarh government that Salwa Judum was getting its support and this fact has found mention in the NHRC report.

This was refuted by Venugopal who said arms like country made weapons were procured by Salwa Judum in illegal manner like Naxalites.

The Bench, however, said it was difficult to accept that logic. "It is difficult to accept your submission. Our view was that Salwa Judum was getting arms from the state government," it said.

Meanwhile, the court adjourned the matter for four weeks asking the petitioners to file their reply to the ATR placed by the Chhatisgarh government in which it elaborated on steps taken on the recommendation of the NHRC.

The court asked the state government to supply the copies of the FIR annexed by it in the ATR to the petitioners.

The Chhatisgarh government in its report said pursuant to the NHRC recommendation it has registered FIRs against the Special Police Officers who have been found guilty of misconduct. Schools which were used for stationing the security forces have also been vacated.

Further, relief work has been undertaken in 206 villages and now around 35,000 people are in relief camps.

The state government had assured the Supreme Court that further action would be taken on the recommendation of the NHRC.

In an exhaustive report supported by documents, NHRC had inquired into alleged human rights violations by activists of Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh even as the Centre had approved the state government's stand.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, February 05, 2009, 00:00

comments powered by Disqus