The Supreme Court on Friday pulled up the Chhattisgarh government for furnishing misleading statements that security forces, which had occupied schools, had vacated the places, though they had vacated from only six out of 31 schools.
Justice B. Sudershan Reddy, presiding over a Bench (which included Justice S.S. Nijjar) told Manish Singhvi, counsel for Chhattisgarh: “We have recorded in our February 18 order that all schools had been vacated. Subsequently in November you filed an affidavit that 31 schools are still occupied by security forces. Now you say only six schools have been vacated.”
At this juncture, senior counsel Ashok Desai, appearing for Prof. Nandini Sundar, pointed out that in the last hearing on December 15, 2010, the court told the Chhattisgarh government that it was ‘unacceptable' for the security forces to occupy schools and they must vacate. However, an affidavit had been filed on January 6 that they had vacated only six out of the 31 schools. He said that “from their affidavit, it is clear that they have no intention of vacating any more.” Justice Reddy asked Mr. Singhvi: “Why a suo motu contempt notice should not be issued against them for misleading the court and for filing a false affidavit.”
Mr. Singhvi argued that schools could not be vacated since it was a conflict zone. Justice Reddy retorted, “What do you mean by conflict zone. Are you at war with your own people? Do you know anything about international law, since the term conflict zone had a specific meaning in that [both sides would then be bound by the Geneva conventions etc.].
Mr. Singhvi said, “I may or may not know,” at which the judge suggested he read some international law.” Justice Reddy observed: “A paramilitary-based approach was not the right way at all, and from the experiences in Guwahati and Punjab, it was more of a problem rather than a solution.”
Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam, appearing for the Centre, made it clear that the Union government was against the occupation of schools by the security forces, and that the State government had been assuring them of alternative arrangements. Justice Reddy observed: “If schools could be occupied by security forces because they were pucca buildings, the next day it may even be courts.”
The Solicitor-General said that an Integrated Action Plan had been worked out by the Planning Commission, which would entrust Rs. 55 crore over two years to a committee consisting of the Superintendent of Police, the Collector and DFO. This would be monitored by a committee consisting of the Member-Secretary of the Planning Commission, the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the Secretary, MOTA.
Mr. Desai pointed out that the current SP of Dantewada was reportedly behind the death threats to local journalists and such a committee could not be expected to be independent. He provided a list of independent experts to be headed by a retired High Court Chief Justice, and senior retired bureaucrats who were knowledgeable about the region.
Senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Chhattisgarh, suggested that the committee set up by the State government be headed by the Chief Minister so that the directions could be properly executed. The committee could include independent experts suggested by the petitioners.
Mr. Desai opposed such a committee pointing out that since the Chief Minister had been a vociferous supporter of Salwa Judum, such a committee chaired by him could by no means be treated as independent and there was a serious conflict of interest. The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on January 18 when the court would decide the composition of the committee and other issues.