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Home > Human Rights > Court battle against use of "state armed mercenaries" in Chhatissgarh

Court battle against use of "state armed mercenaries" in Chhatissgarh

7 May 2011

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The Hindu, May 6, 2011

Court reserves verdict in Salwa Judum case

J. Venkatesan

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved verdict on the petition for a direction to the Chhattisgarh government to disband and disarm Special Police Officers and to set up a mechanism for relief and rehabilitation of victims of violence in the State.

A Bench of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar reserved verdict at the conclusion of arguments from senior counsel Ashok Desai, appearing for social anthropologist Nandini Sundar and others, senior counsel M.N. Krishnamani for the State and Additional Solicitor-General Harin Raval for the Centre.

Mr. Desai submitted to the court that besides providing immediate relief to the victims, SPOs should be disbanded and disarmed. He said the State must condemn all forms of civilian violence, whether Salwa Judum, Naxalite or SPOs. He suggested that a monitoring committee be set up for rehabilitation of people in the villages of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli.

He said: “The SPOs are not there to provide a source of employment to the locals. You are arming them and giving them extraordinary powers. You can give them some other employment. The Chhattisgarh Act, which was passed in democratic India, is actually more regressive than the 1861 colonial act.”

Need for SPOs

Mr. Krishnamani justified the role of SPOs and said historically they had played a very useful role. Justice Reddy remarked, “Yes, historically, from the days of the British.” Mr. Krishnamani said “if the SPOs are to be disbanded in one State, they must be disbanded in all States. If the SPOs are not armed, they will be killed. We need SPOs because they are locals, they know the language and can identify Maoists.”

Justice Nijjar intervened and said: “That is precisely our concern – that they are from the same population and this is a form of divide and rule.”

When Justice Reddy asked counsel, “Is it written on someone’s forehead that he/she is a Maoist?,” Mr. Krishnamani said “they know because they are former Maoists themselves.”

When Mr. Krishnamani alleged that the petitioners were Maoist supporters, Justice Reddy, who was shocked at the insinuation asked counsel: “Are you saying [petitioners] Ram Guha, Nandini Sundar, Sarma, Swami Agnivesh are Maoists. That is exactly the problem. Don’t divide society into pro and anti-naxalite supporters. Suppose if a Naxal comes to court and is shot dead at the gates, and people protest at this procedure, will they become Maoists. Once an organisation is declared a terrorist or banned organisation is Article 21 of the Constitution [right to life and liberty] suspended?”

The Centre’s standing counsel Atul Jha said, “the State needs 70 battalions but currently it has only 40 and so they need SPOs.” Justice Nijjar asked counsel, “So if you only have 50 per cent strength you should ask for more battalions, not arm SPOs. If they are given training equivalent to a constable, what is the advantage in calling them SPOs?

When Justice Reddy asked him whether any rules had been framed under the Police Act, he said “No, the matter is pending before the police reforms commission.”

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Mathrubhumi

Don’t divide people into pro, anti-Maoist supporters: SC

Posted on: 06 May 2011

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday mocked the Chhattisgarh government’s contention that the civilians designated as Special Police Officers (SPOs) have historically played a useful role, saying this historic role commences with the days of British Raj and involves the policy of divide and rule.

’Yes, historically from the days of British (Raj), and the recruitment of SPOs from the local population is a form of divide and rule (policy),’ said the apex court bench of Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar.

The court observation came when senior counsel M.N. Krishnamani appearing for the Chhattisgarh government, told the court that ’the SPOs have historically played a very useful role’. He said the state government needed SPOs because they are locals, they know the language and can identify Maoists.

The apex court observation came as it reserved its verdict on the petition of Delhi University’s Prof. Nandini Sunder seeking disbanding of the Salwa Judum civil militia, appointment of SPOs and their arming and the rehabilitation of displaced tribals who fled their villages after being caught in the cross-fire between the security forces and Maoists.

Appearing for Prof. Nandini Sunder, senior counsel Ashok Desai sought direction of the court for immediate relief that included disbanding and disarming of the SPOs, asking the Chhattisgarh government to condemn all forms of civilian violence, whether by Salwa Judum activists, Maoists or SPOs.

He also sought compensation to all the victims of violence, a monitoring committee for rehabilitation, and immediate relief to the victims of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli.

As Desai pressed for the disbanding of the SPOs, Krishnamani said then SPOs should be disbanded in other states as well. At this, Desai said: ’Each state has a different provision (for the recruitment of SPOs).’

As Krishnamani pressed that SPOs being local are able to identify the Maoists, the court asked if it was written on their forehead that they are Maoists.

The court asked the senior counsel to put it on record his contention that petitioner Nandini Sunder and others were Maoist supporters.

The court asked the Chhattisgarh government not to divide the society into pro- or anti-Maoist supporters. The court further asked Krishnamani to visualise a situation that a Maoist comes to the apex court and he is killed at the door and people protest over it. Does that make all the protesters Maoists? it asked.

The court said that merely because an organisation is declared terrorist or banned, does not suspend Article 21 guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty.

At this Krishnamani said that the question is whether Maoism should be controlled. And if that is so, then the central government has devised the policy of recruitment of SPOs.

The court said that the government’s responsibility in protecting the life and liberty of citizens was not in dispute but the methods to achieve the same were in question.

As Krishnamani said that Punjab was a good example of deploying the SPOs, Justice Nijjar said: ’We are not votaries of the Punjab model.’

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The Hindu, May 4, 2011

Court warns Centre, Chhattisgarh against appointing SPOs

by J. Venkatesan

Even as the Centre and the Chhattisgarh government justified the appointment of Special Police Officers (SPOs) to tackle naxalites, the Supreme Court warned them that a dangerous situation would arise if these officers turned against the State.

During the last hearing, a Bench of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar disapproved of the appointment of the SPOs taking shelter under the colonial 1861 Police Act, which provides for such appointments for a short period.

During the resumed hearing on Wednesday, Justice Reddy referred to the affidavit filed by Chhattisgarh stating that 6,500 SPOs were appointed in the State. “Within one year you have appointed 3,000 SPOs. You are playing with the so-called SPOs. A dangerous situation would arise if they turned against the State. God save this country. How can you justify arming them after giving two months training?”

Justice Reddy told the State: “You [State] think they [SPOs] are effective in [the] fight against the naxals. You say SPOs are part of the strategy and recruited initially for three months. If they turned against the State, think how dangerous they would be.”

The Bench, hearing petitions filed by social anthropologist Nandini Sundar and others questioning the appointment of the SPOs, was shocked to note that the minimum educational qualification for appointment of an SPO was V standard. Justice Reddy wondered whether such a qualification was considered enough by the State to provide the SPOs with arms training and make them acquainted with the knowledge of penal laws.

Senior counsel Ashok Desai, appearing for the petitioners, pointed out that it was a power given to the State to deal with a particular situation for a limited duration. While last year the number of SPOs in Chhattisgarh was only about 3,500, this year it was 6,500.

It would be dangerous to arm them after a two-month training, he said and wanted remedial measures to be put in place. Even day before yesterday two villages were burnt in Chhattisgarh, he pointed out.

In its response, the Chattisgarh government said: “Persons aged over 18 years who are physically and mentally fit, well aware of the geography of the area are appointed as SPOs. These SPOs had been sanctioned by the Centre not only for Chhattisgarh but also for the States of Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.”

“The SPOs appointed as per the guidelines of the government of India are given training for two months in musketry, weapon handling, first aid and medical care, field and craft, drill, UAC and Yoga training. Apart from the above, the basic elementary knowledge of the following subjects has also been included in the training curriculum of SPOs such as Law, Police Regulation and Police Act, Human Rights and Indian Constitution.”

The State said the Chief Minister wrote to the Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court on May 3 requesting the services of a sitting judge to head the commission of inquiry to probe into various incidents, including the attack of Swami Agnivesh.

Centre’s affidavit

The Centre, in its affidavit, said: “The SPOs have been found to play a useful role in collection of intelligence, protection of local inhabitants and ensuring security of property in disturbed areas.

Relevant role

“Their role is especially relevant in insurgency situations where they provide a modicum of security to local communities living in far-flung areas who are targeted by terrorists and insurgents.”

It said though financial assistance was provided, it was the responsibility of the State concerned to make the appointments. Arguments will continue on Thursday.

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Indian Express

Maoists: SC raps govt on hiring locals for ‘Rs 3,000 and a gun’

Tue Apr 26 2011, 01:04 hrs New Delhi:

Shortage of manpower to fight Naxals is no excuse to hire locals for “Rs 3,000 and a gun”, the Supreme Court told the government on Monday.

“You give them Rs 3,000 and a gun?” the court asked the Chhattisgarh government’s counsel Harish Salve.

“Just give them a gun and ask them to go fight insurgents... how can you have such persons appointed as Special Police Officers (SPOs)? How can you allow this to go on?” a bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy and SS Nijjar asked.

Often portrayed as “mercenaries” of the state police who commit human rights atrocities, it is the first time the Supreme Court questioned the wisdom behind the government’s policy to hire poor locals caught in the crossfire between the Naxals and security forces and arm them “against each other”.

“How can you have such persons appointed as SPOs? How can you allow this to go on? We would like to know district-wise how many SPOs are there, what they do, how they are picked, any instances they have been injured, has someone died, how many and do you take care of their families or pay them pension. We want to know all of this,” the court asked.

Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the Centre, explained that the SPOs form an auxiliary force as there is a severe shortage of manpower coupled with an inhospitable terrain in affected areas.

But the court made it clear that employing locals to fight the government’s battles against insurgents “should not go on”. “We are of the considered opinion that this practice of using them should not go on, it is not constitutionally valid and will have severe implications,” Justice Reddy spoke for the bench.

Subramanium countered by submitting that “this is not a brainwave by a person sitting in an office”. “This was taken after consultation with the state government. Your Lordships should also consider the number of officers killed. In Chhattisgarh alone, the toll is alarming.”

Subramanium pointed out an instance when a truck and a jeep were blown off by a landmine. “How do you protect these areas? These inhospitable areas? These people know the language, they know the terrain... Besides these people’s groups force them to go along with them, if they don’t, they are seen as conspirators,” he said.

“These conditions — knowing the terrain, the language, etc, cannot justify this act of dividing people, arming one against the other,” the court hit back.

The discussion came after Nandini Sunder told the bench that ever since she filed a PIL in 2007 highlighting rights violations in Naxal-hit areas, 17 hearings have passed by with eight adjournments alternately sought by the Centre and the state government.

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The Times of India

Centre foots 80% of militia bills, SC worried

TNN, Apr 19, 2011, 02.11am IST

NEW DELHI: Stunned by the disclosure that the Centre met 80% of the costs to maintain an army of Special Police Officers (SPOs) for anti-naxal operations in various states, the Supreme Court on Monday wanted to know the control the Union government exercised over the parallel untrained yet armed civilian force.

What worried a Bench of Justices B S Reddy and S S Nijjar was the fact that the SPOs without any formal training in handling lethal weapons were being handed AK-47 assault rifles for self-defence during an ambush by naxals, though they were mainly tribal youth engaged as guides and translators to help in combing operations in naxal-infested areas.

The Chhattisgarh government had in its affidavit said that like other naxalite-affected states, it had an SPO strength of around 6,500 who were paid Rs 3,000 per month each, of which 80% was met by the Centre and the balance by the state.

Petitioner Nandini Sundar, joined later by social activist Swami Agnivesh, had alleged that these SPOs were the official name given to the Salwa Judum, a village defence force, notorious for the atrocities committed by them on tribal people.

"The affidavit raises serious questions. We are stunned that you keep on supplying AK-47s to them. This self-armed group what training are you giving them especially when they are spread across seven states and they use 80% of funds given by you," the court said and asked additional solicitor general Harin Raval to submit the Centre’s response.

"Do these persons know the procedural laws governing them. Without any policing done, can such persons be given arms?" the Bench asked. Raval sought time till Thursday to put in the Centre’s response.

The Bench also demanded to know from the Raman Singh government how 300 houses in two Maoist-infested villages were gutted and two women allegedly sexually assaulted despite the presence of Central forces. "Our concern is to restore normalcy. How can villages be burnt in this manner? We feel it may require an independent investigation," it said.

Swami Agnivesh, present during the hearing, said, "It is a sort of silent genocide in the state." He accused the state government of indulging in a smear campaign to discredit him as a naxal sympathiser.

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Court: why not independent probe into burning of Dantewada tribal houses?
- by J. Venkatesan (The Hindu, April 18, 2011)
- http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article1706679.ece

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Summary of Public Interest Litigation against Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh (published in seminar 2010)
- http://www.scribd.com/doc/46103008/Pleading-for-Justice

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Rehabilitation Plan for Dantewada and Bijapur, March 2010

On 18.2.2010, the Supreme Court had asked us (petitioners in WP 250/2007 and WP 119/2007) to submit a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for victims of state, vigilante and Naxalite violence. It was put together after consultation with and inputs from a number of people.

http://nandinisundar.blogspot.com/2010/05/rehabilitation-plan-for-dantewada-and.html