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Hearing plea against Salwa Judum, SC says State cannot arm civilians to kill

The Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh wherein civilians, allegedly armed by the state, counter Naxalites has come under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court...

| New Delhi |
April 1, 2008 1:42:46 am

The Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh wherein civilians, allegedly armed by the state, counter Naxalites has come under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court which today observed: “You (the state) cannot give arms to somebody and allow him to kill.”

Hearing two petitions seeking a direction to the state government to refrain from allegedly supporting and encouraging the Salwa Judum, a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam said: “It is a question of law and order. You cannot give arms to somebody (a civilian) and allow him to kill. You will be an abettor of the offence under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.”

The Bench said a neutral agency should inquire and assess whether people had joined Salwa Judum camps on their own.

The state government had earlier denied that Salwa Judum was a state-sponsored movement and said that action would be taken if any Judum activist violated the law.

The petitioners also alleged that conditions in the Judum camps were bad and people involved in the movement should be allowed to return to the forests in view of the approaching sowing season.

In Raipur, the Supreme Court observation was being interpreted as a setback to the Raman Singh government. Chhattisgarh Police employs SPOs, essentially tribal civilians who have been armed with .303 rifles, under the provisions of the Police Act which provides for engaging a person to assist security forces.

Police sources said that about 4,000 youth from Bastar have been employed by Chhattisgarh Police as SPOs in the five Naxal-affected districts of Bastar region. SPOs are paid an honorarium of Rs 1500 per month and are also given general training in handling of weapons, usually a .303 rifle, and manning roads in the area. Mostly tribal youth from villages near a police station are employed as SPOs.

Since the launch of Salwa Judum in June 2005, more than 800 people, including some 300 security personnel, have been killed by Naxalites. SPO deaths alone total 98 — one in 2005; 29 in 2006; 66 in 2007; and, two so far this year. There are 23 Salwa Judum camps in Bijapur and Dantewara districts of Bastar region where almost 50,000 tribals from over 600 villages have been settled.

Reacting to the Supreme Court observation, Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam said his government was also of the view that giving arms to civilians was wrong. “However, as security forces are unfamiliar with the difficult terrain in Bastar ,they are forced to seek the help of local tribals. So the government has been forced to arm these civilians for self-defence,” he said.

The movement also has the support of Leader of Opposition Mahendra Karma of Congress who maintained it was a spontaneous movement. “Salwa Judum is the only way to successfully tackle the Maoist menace in the south Bastar region,” Karma said.

Human rights organisations have alleged that the civil militia employed as SPOs by the government are operating like mercenaries and criminals. People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) president Rajinder Sail said human rights organisations had been saying all along what the SC observed today. “Salwa Judum is not a spontaneous campaign and it is not peaceful. We oppose any military solution that has tacit support of the state,” Sail said.

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