Salwa Judum and the Supreme Court

By Madhav Khosla

, by The Hindu

The carefully constructed decision to disband the untrained force of young Special Police Officers in Chhattisgarh holds important lessons for the exercise of executive power.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Nandini Sundar and Ors. v. State of Chhattisgarh is no ordinary one and, unsurprisingly, it has invited mixed feelings. The Court declared the State of Chhattisgarh’s appointment and arming of Special Police Officers (SPOs) to be unconstitutional, and many have taken pride in its defence of civil liberties. Simultaneously, though, there is some discomfort over the decision’s grand rhetorical narrative and its seemingly ideological framing. The Court travelled considerable distance to attack the State’s ‘amoral’ economic policies and the “culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neo-liberal economic ideology.” Animated though these views are, mixed feelings over the decision are largely unwarranted and it is important to explain why.

The Court’s rhetoric in Nandini Sundar makes for lively conversations but it shouldn’t obscure the significance of the order or the importance of the issues at stake. The central concern in the case was the State of Chhattisgarh’s creation and arming of a civilian vigilante group — the ‘Salwa Judum’ — in the battle against insurgencies by Maoist/naxalite groups. Thousands of tribal youth were being appointed by the State as SPOs, and allegedly being called to battle. For the State, this presented one of the only ways in which the Maoist threat could be met, and SPOs were defended as being merely guides and sources of intelligence; they were apparently provided firearms only for their self-defence.

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