‘Arming tribals to counter Naxals unconstitutional’
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Last Updated: Wednesday, July 06, 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 Government.

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 Chhattisgarh."

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 SPOs.

"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 lives.

"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 said.


First Published: Wednesday, July 06, 2011, 10:50

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