Not satisfied with a probe ordered by the Chhattisgarh government, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to immediately take over the investigation into the incidents of violence that occurred in March in Morpalli, Tadmetla and Timmapuram villages in Dantewada district or its neighbouring areas.

A Bench of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar, in an order on a writ petition filed by Professor Nandini Sundar and others, also asked the CBI to probe the incidents of violence alleged to have been committed against Swami Agnivesh and his companions in March when they went to provide humanitarian aid to victims of violence in these villages.

The Bench said, “We note with dismay that the affidavit filed by Chhattisgarh appears to be nothing more than an attempt at self-justification and rationalisation, rather than an acknowledgment of the constitutional responsibility to take such instances of violence seriously. The affidavit is itself an admission that violent incidents had occurred in the three villages, and also that incidents of violence had been perpetrated by various people against Swami Agnivesh and his companions.”

The court questioned the Union government for providing financial assistance to the State for appointing Special Police Officers (SPOs). “It is the financial assistance being given by the Union that is enabling Chhattisgarh to appoint barely literate tribal youth as SPOs and give firearms to undertake tasks that only members of the official and formal police force ought to be undertaking. Many thousands of them have been appointed and they are being paid an ‘honorarium' of Rs. 3,000 a month, which the Union of India reimburses.”

Writing the order, Justice Reddy said: “That the Union of India has not seen it fit to evaluate the capacities of such tribal youth in undertaking such responsibilities in counter-insurgency activities against Maoists, the dangers that they will confront, and their other service conditions, such as the adequacy of their training, is clearly unconscionable.”

On the Centre's assertion that it would only issue “advisories to the State governments to recruit constables and SPOs after careful screening and verification, improve the standards of training,” the Bench said, “This leads us to conclude that the Union of India had abdicated its responsibilities in these matters previously.”

‘Violation of Article 21'

The court said:

“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 actions of the State, in appointing barely literate youngsters, as SPOs engaged in counter-insurgency activities, of any kind, against Maoists, who are incapable, on account of low educational achievements, of learning all the skills, knowledge and analytical tools to perform such a role, and thereby endangering their lives, is necessarily a denigration of their dignity as human beings.”

The Bench was of the view that the fight against Maoist/Naxalite violence could not be conducted purely as a mere law and order problem to be confronted by whatever means the State could muster. “The primordial problem lies deep within the socio-economic policies pursued by the State on a society that was already endemically, and horrifically, suffering from gross inequalities. Consequently, the fight against Maoists/Naxalites is no less a fight for moral, constitutional and legal authority over the minds and hearts of our people.”

Extremism

The court said: “It is true that terrorism and/or extremism plague many countries, and India, unfortunately and tragically, has been subject to it for many decades. The fight against terrorism and/or extremism cannot be effectuated by constitutional democracies by whatever means that are deemed to be efficient. Efficiency is not the sole arbiter of all values, and goals that constitutional democracies seek to be guided by, and achieve. Means which may be deemed to be efficient in combating some immediate or specific problem, may cause damage to other constitutional goals, and indeed may also be detrimental to the quest to solve the issues that led to the problems themselves. Consequently, all efficient means, if indeed they are efficient, are not legal means, supported by constitutional frameworks.”

Status report

The Bench directed the CBI to submit a preliminary status report within six weeks. It also asked the State and the Union of India to submit compliance reports on all orders and directions.

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