Bijapur: Special police officers (SPOs) in Chhattisgarh are relieved by the state`s decision to allow them to join the regular police force, days after the Supreme Court ordered that these tribal youths roped in to tackle Maoists be disarmed for committing gross human rights violations.
The SPOs, who were afraid of being targeted after being stripped of their arms, are jubilant that the government on Friday cleared the decks for their appointment as constables.
"Thank god, my arms will be returned, I am happy, very happy by the approach of the government to back us," remarked Mahendra Sakni, an SPO since early 2006, at the Kotwali police station in Bijapur, about 450 km from the state capital Raipur.
On July 5, the Supreme Court pulled up the government for perpetuating gross violations of human rights and said the practice of using tribals as SPOs in the fight against Maoists must stop immediately. The court said the use of ill-trained and unqualified tribals as SPOs was against the moral and constitutional mandate of the government.
Chetan Durgam, 32, who is also posted as SPO at the Kotwali police station in Bijapur, hailed the government decision. "It will send a message among youths across Bastar that the government is serious about taking on Maoists," he said.
"It`s very good news that the government has decided to take SPOs into the police force, it will keep high the morale of youths who want to stamp out Maoists and restore peace in the entire Bastar," Durgam told a news agency.
The apex court`s July 5 order was widely hailed by the human rights activists who maintain that the Chhattisgarh government has armed roughly 5,000 SPOs as "non-state actors" to kill its own citizens.
The SPOs were branded as "terror boys" by right activists as they were always spotted striding down jungle roads in the state`s restive Bastar region with AK-47s on their shoulders. They have been stripped of their arms after the court rap and were fearing reprisals from Maoists.
To find a way out, a cabinet meet chaired by Chief Minister Raman Singh decided Friday to relax the academic, physical and age criteria - to be applicable only for local people - in the upcoming constables` recruitment drive in the sprawling 40,000 sq km Bastar region which is made up of Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Kanker and Bastar districts.
The mineral rich Bastar region has witnessed deadly blasts in recent years by Maoists where police and paramilitary personnel are engaged in a fight to regain up to 10,000 sq km forested areas where Maoists have established their own authority.
Singh told newsmen on Friday after the cabinet meet that by diluting the criteria for recruitment of locals in insurgency riddled Bastar, about 80 percent SPOs would be able to become constables. The remainder 20 percent would be educated at the government expense so that they too would be able to become constables in years ahead.