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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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“The Supreme Courts order declaring the deployment of tribal youths as Special Police Officers (SPOs) as illegal and unconstitutional has given a big jolt to the anti-Naxalite operations of the Chhattisgarh government. On a writ petition filed by the social activist Nandini Sundar and others, the Court indicted the government of Chhattisgarh for violating the constitutional principles by arming youth who have passed only fifth standard and conferring on them the powers of the police. The Court clearly directed the government of Chhattisgarh not to utilize the SPOs in any manner or form for countering and eliminating the Naxalite activities in the state.

Violation of Articles 14 and 21
According to the court, Article 14, if the Constitution is violated because subjecting the youth to the same nature of danger as the members of the regular force who have better education and training, would be treating the unequals as equals. But the SPOs have been engaged mainly in intelligence collection, in guarding relief camps and are not exposed to same kinds of hazards as policemen. In the opinion of the court, Article 21 is violated because youngsters with poor educational qualification are not expected to understand the danger they are likely to face and skills needed to face such dangers. In the words of the court, this has resulted in a miasmic environment of dehumanization of youngsters of the deprived sectors of the population, in which guns are given to them rather than books to stand as guard for the rapine, plunder and loot in our forest.

Since June 2005, the Government of Chhattisgarh with the support of the Home Ministry has been waging a counter-insurgency operation against the naxalites in the guise of the peoples movement named Salwa Judum in the Dantewara district of Chhattisgarh. Salwa Judum (Peace March in Gondi language) started in 2005 in Chhattisgarh as a peoples resistance movement against the naxalites. It received bi-partisan support from both the opposition and the ruling parties. Up to January 2007, 4,048 Special Police Officers have been appointed by the Government under Chhattisgarh Police Regulations. They actively participate in Salwa Judum and are given weapons training by the security forces as part of an official plan to create a vigilante structure parallel to that of the naxalites.

SPOs are paid to monthly wage from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,000 but their services are not considered as a regular employment for any legal purposes. Section 17 of the Police Act 1861 allows the recruitment and deployment of SPOs meant to provide immediate temporary assistance to police for maintaining law and order in a given area for a short period of time. SPOs do not require long term training and senior police officers are not held accountable for their omissions and commissions. It may be mentioned in this connection that there is acute shortage of police personnel in the country and particularly in States rocked by Maoist violence. In India there are approximately 122 policemen per 1 lakh of population, which is far below the police population ratio in peaceful and advanced countries of the west. In states seriously affected by the Naxalite violence like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand it is even less than 100. India has four times as many people for each policeman as the United States and Great Britain. What is more the ratio improves markedly for urban areas. The rural countryside with its vast expanses remains neglected. Because of the inadequate strength of police personnel, deployment of SPOs has become necessary. It has been alleged that recruitment of SPOs in Chhattisgarh is carried out at the behest of Salwa Judum and a villager is forced to join because refusal may be sufficient to brand him as a Naxalite. This is not exactly correct. Many tribals have joined the movement because of the anger and hatred they nurse against the naxalites.

The apex court has asked Chhattisgarh Government to immediately cease and desist from deploying SPOs in anti-Maoist operations and recall their firearms forthwith. But collecting all the weapons of the SPOs will not be an easy job. It is a daunting task. Further, unarmed SPOs will become easy Maoist targets. Many of the SPOs were Maoists earlier and will go back to those who will provide them arms. Anticipating threats to their lives, the apex court has asked the Government to provide appropriate security to the SPOs. This is easier said than done. The court order will also have repercussions in other states engaged in anti-Maoist operations. SPOs salary packet is mainly borne by the Centre (80%) and they are not functioning only in Chhattisgarh. There are SPOs in Jharkhand (6,400), Bihar (6,353), Orissa (4,480) and Maharashtra (1,500). It is reported in the Press that Bihar has plans to recruit more SPOs because information provided by the SPOs has been useful in thwarting Maoist attacks in the remote regions of the state. Many of the SPOs are renegade insurgents who possess knowledge of the rough terrains, locals and the Maoist methods and have been in the forefront of counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh. They have been of help to the police and para-military forces in providing useful intelligence. Some of the SPOs can be absorbed in the regular police force. DGP, Chhattisgarh, Vishwa Ranjan, says that this is being done, but the Government will have to waive minimum educational and physical requirements to facilitate their enlistment.

There are instances of misuse of authority and undisciplined conduct of the SPOs. But, as revealed in the enquiry conducted by the National Human Rights Commission, such cases are few and senior officers can and should discipline them. No doubt order of the court will create serious problems for the police and para-military forces in anti-Maoist operations. At present the combined para-military and State police forces have launched successful operations against the naxalites in many states. The Central Government has claimed that the security forces have gained control over 10,000 square miles of the area dominated by the Maoists in Naxalite affected states. The order of the court without doubts is a set back and implications can be carefully studied and analyzed. It is a fact that not all SPOs are participating anti-Maoist operations. Many continue to stay in their villages and secretly provide intelligence to the police and remain on the police roles as SPOs. Providing information to the police about crime is the responsibility of all citizens under the Criminal Procedure Code and that cannot be held as unconstitutional because criminal activities relate to the Maoist.

The judgment of the court contains copious commentaries on threats posed by neo-liberalism, predatory capitalism and values spawned by market. It seems that the judgment was more influenced by ideology rather than on an objective appraisal of the cold facts of the case. It is learnt that the Central Government has now decided to move the Supreme Court seeking a review of its order. Apart from that, the Centre will also hold a meeting of the Chief Ministers of various States fighting Naxalism to discuss the courts judgment and decide on the future course of action. ”.

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

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