‘Arming tribals to counter Naxals unconstitutional’

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 10:50

New Delhi: Coming down heavily on the
practice of deploying vigilante groups like Salwa Judum in the
fight against Maoists, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the
Centre and Chhattisgarh Governments to desist from arming
tribals in the name of SPOs, saying it was "unconstitutional".

The court criticised the governments for supporting
and funding creation of Special Police Officers (SPOs) under
various titles like `Koya Commandos` and Salwa Judum, an armed
civilian vigilante group, whose numbers have gone up from
3,000 to 6,500 within a year.

It also took strong exception to the alleged use of
SPOs and members of Salwa Judum in the attack on Swami
Agnivesh in March this year and ordered a CBI inquiry into the
incident, dissatisfied with the probe by the Chhattisgarh

Giving statistics about the SPOs killed and injured
during the anti-naxal operations, the bench said: "It is also
equally clear to us that in this policy, of using local youth,
jointly devised by the Union and the States facing Maoist
insurgency, as implemented in the State of Chhattisgarh, the
young tribals have literally become canon fodder in the
killing fields of Dantewada and other districts of

While holding that the mandate of SPOs under the state
law was to help people in situations arising out of natural or
man-made disasters, and to assist other agencies in relief
measures, the bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S
Nijjar said "in the case of SPOs in Chhattisgarh, represent an
extreme form of transgression of constitutional boundaries".

The Bench, which criticised both the state government
and the Centre for compromising with educational qualification
and training programme for the SPOs, said that all appropriate
measures must be taken to prevent the operation of all such
groups, including Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos.
The court directed the Chhattisgarh Government to
immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner
aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or eliminating
Maoist/Naxalite activities in the state.

Further, the bench directed the Centre "to cease and
desist, forthwith, from using any of its funds in supporting,
directly or indirectly the recruitment of SPOs for the
purposes of engaging in any form of counterinsurgency
activities against Maoist/Naxalite groups".

On Agnivesh attack, the court said: "We order the CBI
to immediately take over the investigation of, and taking
appropriate legal actions against all individuals responsible
for the incidents of violence alleged to have occurred in
March 2011, in the three villages, Morpalli, Tadmetla and
Timmapuram, all located in the Dantewada District or its
neighbouring areas."

It asked the CBI to submit its status repor on the
preliminary investigation within six weeks.

The bench, which was critical of providing the young
SPOs with firearms, directed the Chattisgarh government to
disarm them forthwith by recalling all firearms issued to

"The word firearm as used shall include any and all
forms of guns, rifles, launchers etc. of whatever calibre,"
the bench said.

The court noted that the appointment of these tribal
youngsters as SPOs to engage in counter-insurgency activities
is temporary in nature was of serious concern.

"In fact the appointment for one year, and extendable
only in increments of a year at a time, can only be described
as of short duration. Under the new rules, freshly minted by
the Chhattisgarh Government, they can be dismissed by the
Superintendent of Police without giving any reasons
whatsoever. The temporary nature of such appointments
immediately raises serious concerns," the bench said.

"The state shall undertake such measures as are
necessary, and within bounds of constitutional permissibility,
to protect the lives of those who had been employed as SPOs
previously, or who had been given any initial orders
of selection or appointment, from any and all forces,
including but not limited to Maoists/Naxalites," it said.

The Bench cautioned against deployment of SPOs against
Maoists/Naxalites and Left wing extremism in their own
individual or private capacities and said it would be deemed
to be violations of human rights of other individuals or
violations of any disciplinary code or criminal laws that they
were lawfully subject to.
The court said employing the youth as SPOs not only
violates their fundamental rights but also of others as
guaranteed under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

"To employ such ill-equipped youngsters as SPOs engaged
in counterinsurgency activities, including the tasks of
identifying Maoists and non-Maoists, and equipping them with
firearms, would endanger the lives of others in the society.
That would be a violation of Article 21 rights of a vast
number of people in the society," the bench said.

"That they are paid only an ?honorarium? and appointed
only for temporary periods, are further violations of Article
14 and Article 21, it said."

The bench said even though the SPOs are are expected
to perform all the duties of regular police officers and place
themselves in dangerous situations, equal to or even worse
than what regular police officers face, they are only paid an
honorarium of Rs 3000 on temporary basis though they place
themselves in equally danger, and in fact even more, than
regular police officers, is to denigrate the value of their

"It can only be justified by a cynical, and indeed an
inhuman attitude, that places little or no value on the lives
of such youngsters.

Further, given the poverty of those youngsters, and
the feelings of rage, and desire for revenge that many suffer
from on account of their previous victimization, in a brutal
social order, to engage them in activities that endanger their
lives, and exploit their dehumanized sensibilities, is to
violate the dignity of human life, and humanity," the bench


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First Published: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 10:50

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