Chhattisgarh’s power to appoint special cops stays

New Delhi, Feb 18 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday refused to interfere with Chhattisgarh government’s power to appoint special police officers (SPOs) drawn from the local populace to help regular police force fight the widespread Maoist extremism in the state.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Aftab Alam refused to curtail the state’s executive power brushing aside allegations by counsel for civil rights activists Nandini Sunder and Ramachandra Guha that the state was arming private citizens and children in the name of recruiting SPOs.

‘It is emphatically denied by the state that it is arming any private citizen,’ noted the the bench and added, ‘We make it clear that the appointment of the SPO should be as per the law.’

The bench issued this direction, while noting: ‘It appears that a large number of SPOs (around 3,400) have been appointed by the state.’

The bench made the observations while hearing a bunch of 2008 lawsuits by Guha and others, accusing Salwa Judum activists of resorting to large-scale rape and killings of tribals in the state and burning their houses. They had also accused the state government of arming Salwa Judum activists, who they said accused of harassing tribals instead of fighting Maoists.

During the hearing of the lawsuit, the petitioners’ counsel Ashok Desai accused the state government of recruiting children as SPO and arming them.

‘This is being said to hit the headlines,’ shot back senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Chhattisgarh government.

Denying that any teenager has been recruited by the state as SPO, Rohatgi said SPOs are police officers recruited under Section 17 of the Police Act, 1861 and Section 9 of the Chhattisgarh Police Act, 2000.

On the allegations of large-scale rape and killings of tribals by Salwa Judum activists, the apex court earlier in 2008 had asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to probe the veracity of the allegations.

The NHRC team, however, had found the allegations largely exaggerated, while finding stray violations of human rights by security personnel and had made some recommendations to register criminal cases against erring security personnel.

The bench, after hearing of the lawsuit, asked the state government to file its action taken report on NHRC recommendations.

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