Tragic death, on rare occasions, brings out uncomfortable truth. The killing of a Special Police Officer (SPO) in a Maoist attack on 19 August in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district along with ten state police personnel has the potential of becoming a major embarrassment for the state government and more over, turning into a clear case of contempt of the orders of the Supreme Court.
The Apex Court on 5 July had disbanded the vigilante Salwa Judum movement by declaring it illegal and unconstitutional and had prohibited the deployment of tribal youths as SPOs in the fight against the Maoist extremism. It had ordered their immediate disarming. The Supreme Court had taken into account several allegations that the SPOs have been involved in a number cases of human rights abuse.
The Chhattisgarh police department had grieved the “irrational” court order and yet had conceded that it will implement the order, even though it will affect the anti-Naxal operations. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram too had opined that the disbanding of the SJ movement would affect the anti-naxal operations. The Union Government on 13 August moved the Supreme Court asking it to review and recall two crucial clauses of the July 5 order. However, the fact remains that till the time a favourable verdict is elicited from the Supreme Court, the movement stands disbanded and any attempt to retain it, illegal.
In August, the State government informed the Supreme Court that it has disbanded and disarmed the SPOs. An affidavit filed by the Raman Singh government read, “It is submitted that SPOs have not been deployed in any of the operations against the Maoists ever since the order. Arms and ammunition issued to the SPOs have been recalled.”
The fact that the killed SPO in the August 19 ambush was armed (a fact confirmed by his father) and was part of the anti-naxal operations makes the affidavit of the State government a completely hollow claim. It is highly probable that SPOs have never been disbanded and continue to be a part of the state’s counter-naxal architecture, even after the SC verdict.
On July 27, the Chhattisgarh cabinet had enacted the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Ordinance, 2011, which allows the state to hire those with knowledge of local area, topography and language to assist security forces in combating Naxal violence. Decision has been taken to lower the physical attributes as well as educational qualifications so that most of the SPOs can be accommodated as an auxiliary armed force, part of the regular police establishment. However, even this attempt to subvert the Supreme Court judgment does not in any way legalise the presence of the SPOs, who are illegal entities vide the SC verdict.
I have argued elsewhere that the SPOs do not bring much of operational advantage to the anti-Naxal operations. The practice of ‘civilianizing security’ merely economizes the security force operations by making cheap soldiers available to the state police and in a way, deters the State police from committing themselves to the painstaking acts of police modernisation. Without sufficient procedural checks and balances, the state retains no capacity to control the notorious activity of the SPOs.
The attempt to induct the SPOs into the regular police force by lowering the physical attributes and educational qualifications is even more myopic, as it creates a huge mass of ‘dud soldiers’ in the force, thereby militating against the very spirit of police modernisation.
It appears, however, that the State police department is so much attached to the presence and relevance of SPOs that it is willing to disregard the verdict of the highest court of the land. It is time that the Police chief Anil M Navaney as well as the Home Minister of Chhattisgarh Nankiram Kanwar does the explaining act on the continued use of SPOs in anti-Naxal operations in the state.