NEW DELHI: Realising that discrediting the Salwa Judum movement could endanger the survival of village defence committees, a tested model of police-civilian co-operation in conflict theatres like J&K and northeast, the Centre on Monday stoutly defended the popular anti-Naxal uprising in the Supreme Court, notwithstanding the pressure from allies like the Left to disband the movement.
Additional solicitor-general Gopal Subramanian, appearing for the Centre, supported the Chhattisgarh government and said the petitioners’ claims of excesses by Salwa Judum were exaggerated. “The perception put forth by the petitioners is subject to much moderation,” he said.
He further argued that “when hundreds of people are killed by Naxalites, the state has to do something to protect them.” According to senior officials at the Centre, with the police’s numbers falling short, the Centre had no option but to rely on village defence committees, comprising civilians duly armed by the state, as the immediate responders to terrorist and insurgent attacks.
VDCs are a time-tested model of civilian-police partnership and the primary responders in the event of a terrorist/criminal attack. Be it Jammu and Kashmir, northeast, or, in the past, the dacoit-infested areas of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP, the VDCs — comprising civilian volunteers who are given arms and paid an honourarium that ranges from state to state — have acted as a deterrent for insurgents and criminals, besides instilling a sense of security among villagers. In the event of an attack, the armed VDC members act as first responders, engaging the attackers till the police arrives.
The experience so far, according to a senior MHA official, has been that the armed VDC members carefully use their arms, concentrating on self-defence than killing the attacker. Besides, each and every bullet that is given to VDCs is accounted for, restraining them from misusing the state weapon.
Mr Subramanian on Monday argued before the Supreme Court that there was little truth in the allegations of atrocities by ‘trigger-happy’ Salwa Judum SPOs. He informed the court that the director of National Institute of Criminology was conducting a study on the controversies relating to the popular anti-Naxal uprising in Chhattisgarh. The Centre, he added, was awaiting his report which would possibly remove the misgivings regarding Salwa Judum.
State government counsel Manish Singhvi, on his part, submitted in the Supreme Court on Monday that many of the allegations of excesses by Salwa Judum activists were found to be false upon inquiry. The state, in its affidavit, said the PIL was an attempt to eulogise Naxalism even though the state had suffered a lot due to Naxal menace.
The Supreme Court, however, in its observations commented that arming private persons was not in the realm of legality. “The allegation is that the state is arming private persons. You can deploy as many police personnel or armed forces to tackle the menace. But, if private persons, so armed by the state government, kill other persons, then the state is also liable to be prosecuted for abetting murder,” said a bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam