Even as the Centre and the Chhattisgarh government justified the appointment of Special Police Officers (SPOs) to tackle naxalites, the Supreme Court warned them that a dangerous situation would arise if these officers turned against the State.
During the last hearing, a Bench of Justices B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar disapproved of the appointment of the SPOs taking shelter under the colonial 1861 Police Act, which provides for such appointments for a short period.
During the resumed hearing on Wednesday, Justice Reddy referred to the affidavit filed by Chhattisgarh stating that 6,500 SPOs were appointed in the State. “Within one year you have appointed 3,000 SPOs. You are playing with the so-called SPOs. A dangerous situation would arise if they turned against the State. God save this country. How can you justify arming them after giving two months training?”
Justice Reddy told the State: “You [State] think they [SPOs] are effective in [the] fight against the naxals. You say SPOs are part of the strategy and recruited initially for three months. If they turned against the State, think how dangerous they would be.”
The Bench, hearing petitions filed by social anthropologist Nandini Sundar and others questioning the appointment of the SPOs, was shocked to note that the minimum educational qualification for appointment of an SPO was V standard. Justice Reddy wondered whether such a qualification was considered enough by the State to provide the SPOs with arms training and make them acquainted with the knowledge of penal laws.
Senior counsel Ashok Desai, appearing for the petitioners, pointed out that it was a power given to the State to deal with a particular situation for a limited duration. While last year the number of SPOs in Chhattisgarh was only about 3,500, this year it was 6,500.
It would be dangerous to arm them after a two-month training, he said and wanted remedial measures to be put in place. Even day before yesterday two villages were burnt in Chhattisgarh, he pointed out.
In its response, the Chattisgarh government said: “Persons aged over 18 years who are physically and mentally fit, well aware of the geography of the area are appointed as SPOs. These SPOs had been sanctioned by the Centre not only for Chhattisgarh but also for the States of Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.”
“The SPOs appointed as per the guidelines of the government of India are given training for two months in musketry, weapon handling, first aid and medical care, field and craft, drill, UAC and Yoga training. Apart from the above, the basic elementary knowledge of the following subjects has also been included in the training curriculum of SPOs such as Law, Police Regulation and Police Act, Human Rights and Indian Constitution.”
The State said the Chief Minister wrote to the Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court on May 3 requesting the services of a sitting judge to head the commission of inquiry to probe into various incidents, including the attack of Swami Agnivesh.
The Centre, in its affidavit, said: “The SPOs have been found to play a useful role in collection of intelligence, protection of local inhabitants and ensuring security of property in disturbed areas.
“Their role is especially relevant in insurgency situations where they provide a modicum of security to local communities living in far-flung areas who are targeted by terrorists and insurgents.”
It said though financial assistance was provided, it was the responsibility of the State concerned to make the appointments. Arguments will continue on Thursday.