SC partially lifts ban on SPOs for anti-Naxal ops

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday lifted its July 5 ban on central funding of anti-naxal and anti-insurgency operations through special police officers (SPOs) in all states except Chhattisgarh.

On July 5, a bench of Justices B Sudershan Reddy, since retired, and S S Nijjar had clamped a complete ban on central funding, which accounted for a major chunk of the budget for anti-naxalite and anti-insurgency operations in many states on a petition filed by Nandini Sundar alleging illegal recruitment of tribal youth as SPOs in Chhattisgarh and large-scale illegalities committed by them.

On an application moved by the ministry of home affairs, a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and S S Nijjar on Friday clarified that the July 5 judgment would operate only in Chhattisgarh.

Both the government and opposition BJP had converged in Parliament that the July 5 judgment was more guided by ideology than the ground situation in naxal and insurgency infested areas.

Soon after the judgment asked Chhattisgarh to disband a 6,400 strong SPO force, the Raman Singh government stepped around the apex court verdict by issuing an Ordinance to create Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Force to absorb the SPOs in regular employment. This had provided the Centre the much needed legal ground for seeking permission to continue funding of anti-naxal operations in the BJP-ruled state.

The centre in its clarification application said that the SPOs were not peculiar to Chhattisgarh as they had been engaged in anti-naxal and counter-insurgency operations in many states, which did not have the financial ware withal to meet the additional expenses to keep the inimical forces at bay.

“There are tribal hamlets in far flung areas where the police cannot reach. So, after a lot of deliberations it was decided to arm the youth after recruiting them as SPOs to ward off the underground militants from coercing and threatening the tribals,” the Centre argued before the SC.

During the arguments on Nandini Sundar’s petition, the Raman Singh government had clarified that SPOs, whose salary budget is borne mainly by the central government (80%), were not peculiar to Chhattisgarh. If there were 6,500 SPOs in Chhattisgarh, their number in Jharkhand was 6,400, Bihar 6,353, Orissa 4,480, Andhra Pradesh 2,130 and Maharashtra 1,500, it had said.
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