The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared illegal the policy of arming local tribal people in Chhattisgarh as special police officers (SPOs) to fight Maoists and ordered the state government to immediately stop using SPOs and recall all firearms issued to them.
Declaring the campaign as “an extreme form of transgression of constitutional boundaries”, a bench headed by justice B Sudershan Reddy ordered the Centre to immediately stop using its funds to recruit SPOs.
SPOs are employed in other insurgency-affected states as well.
The bench ordered the Chhattisgarh government (headed by Shivraj Chouhan of the BJP) to take measures to prevent the operation of such vigilante groups, including Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos, and prosecute those who indulged in criminal activities.
It also directed the state to provide protection to those who had been employed as SPOs.
The order came on a petition filed in 2007 by social scientist Nandini Sundar and others challenging the legality of the state government's decision to arm tribals to fight Maoists.
The court ordered a CBI probe into the attack on Swami Agnivesh in March 2011 during his visit to some villages in Dantewada district.
It told the Centre and Chattisgarh government to submit compliance reports within six weeks. It also sought a report from the CBI regarding the probe into the attack on Agnivesh.
Regarding arming of SPOs by paying them honoraria, the court said, “such actions of the state may be an abdication of constitutional responsibilities to provide appropriate security to citizens by having an appropriately trained professional police force of sufficient numbers and properly equipped on a permanent basis.
“These are essential state functions, and cannot be divested or discharged through the creation of temporary cadres with varying degrees of state control. They necessarily have to be delivered by forces that are completely under the control of the State, permanent in nature, and appropriately trained to discharge their duties within the four corners of constitutional permissibility,” the court said.