The Centre will continue to bat for the provision in the pre-colonial Police Act that enables insurgency-hit states such as Chhattisgarh to recruit special police officers.
The Supreme Court on Monday had questioned the legality of recruitment of tribals as Special Police Officers (SPOs) under the1861-vintage Police Act, arming them and setting them against other local communities.
The court had also raised questions about the nature of facilities that they received in case of injuries or death.
“Or are they left in the lurch,” the court — which was taken aback at being told that the central government bore a major cost of the SPOs — had asked.
In January this year, there were more than 13,566 SPOs sanctioned by the central government across the Maoist affected states — most of them in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. This sanction enables the states to seek reimbursement of 80% of the R3,000 salary paid to each SPO.
SPOs are appointed by states for acting as a guide to the police forces because they are locally recruited and have a better knowledge of the terrain.
“They are a source of local intelligence and some states have given them training in use of arms,” a home ministry official said, adding that the government would put its views on SPOs in context before the Supreme Court.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, agreed, pointing that the concept of the SPO wasn’t flawed. In most parts of the country, it has been used as an auxiliary force.
The problem in Chhattisgarh, however, was that it was often deployed as an independent offensive force, only nominally under the police system.
They are sent out on operations on their own, with just a nominal presence of a policeman in the team.
This is unacceptable and improper, Sahni said, pointing that sending SPOs such as the Koya Commandos would resulted in complete dilution of accountability.