The Supreme Court was in for a shock after the Centre on Monday admitted it was "funding" several states to hire special police officers (SPOs), known as Koya Commandoes in Chhattisgarh, due to shortage of manpower in paramilitary forces.
"We never knew we are in such a bad situation... this amounts to dividing the people of this country. Give the gun to one to fight against the other. How can you (Centre) be a party to such an appointment," observed a bench of Justice Sudershan B Reddy and Justice SS Nijjar while hearing historian Nandini Sundar's petition, seeking restoration of normalcy for the tribals residing in naxal-affected areas of Chhattisgarh.
The court asked solicitor general Gopal Subramanium what was the rationale behind following a colonial legislation, the Police Act of 1861, under which such recruitments were taking place.
Deeply "disturbed" at the recurring attacks in various districts of Chhattisgarh, the bench said: "Poverty is so acute in the state that the Rs 3,000 is big money for these SPOs."
It directed the Chhattisgarh government to submit a district- wise break-up of the number of SPOs in the state. The court wants a detailed report on their background and the process that was followed to recruit them. It also asked the state to inform the court as to how many SPOs have died and whether any pension is paid to their families or not.
The bench warned the state and Centre to take a fresh look at the entire process of appointment or the court would be "forced to pass an order." It would hear the matter on May 2.
According to the Centre's submission before SC, it funds states at the latter's request for the SPOs' appointment. Although Subramanium agreed the process of such appointments required a re-consideration, he said the financial help was given to states affected by insurgency. He added the SPOs supported the paramilitary forces in areas where it was difficult for the personnel to negotiate the terrain of the region. The bench disagreed with the Central government's explanation and added: "Knowing the terrain, knowing the people and knowing how to use the gun is not enough to become a police officer (sic)."