The Supreme Court Tuesday asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to probe allegations that Salwa Judum movement activists, backed by the Chhattisgarh government in curbing Maoist spread in the state, have been indulging in raping and killing of tribals.
A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice R.V. Raveendran asked the NHRC to have the allegations probed and submit its findings to the court within two months.
The bench ordered the probe after counsel for both the union and the state governments, while stoutly denying allegations against Salwa Judum activists, said that they have absolutely no reservation in having the authenticity of those allegations probed by the rights panel.
The apex court's order came during the hearing of a petition by academicians Ramachandra Guha and Nandni Sunder, who had alleged that in the name of fighting Maoists the state government was arming Salwa Judum activists and encouraging them to kill innocent tribals and villagers.
During the hearing, petitioners' counsel Ashok Desai faced a trifle embarrassing moment when Chhattisgarh counsel Ranjit Kumar pointed out to the court that the photograph annexed to the petition of armed people was in fact shot in 2003 but depicted them to be Salwa Judum activists.
Questioning the authenticity of the petition and the allegations, Kumar said that petitioners depicted the armed men in the 2003 photograph as Salwa Judum activists, despite the fact that the organization came into being only in mid-2005.
As Desai fumbled for words to explain the contradictions in the photograph, Justice Raveendran remarked: 'Don't worry. Some men in arms chair do it.'
Appearing for the Union government, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam strongly refuted the petitioners' allegations that state government has opened up camps to impart arms training to Salwa Judum activists.
Objecting to petitioners' demand to disband the camps, he said these camps were basically rehabilitation camps for the villagers and aboriginals, displaced from their homes deep inside jungles owing to Maoists' terror.
Terming the 'ground reality' in the Maoist-hit state as 'alarming', he told the bench that closing down these camps would be akin to forcing these hapless villagers inside the jungle and to leave them to be shot dead by Maoists.
Endorsing the state government's policy of supporting Salwa Judum activists, he said that the state government has adopted the policy in consultation with the Union government.
He said the state government, in fact, appointed many among the Salwa Judum activists as Special Police Officer as per provisions of the state's Police Act.
He said owing to the Maoist menace and the high risk involved in the policing job, the state has been left contending with abysmal lack of willingness among state's youths to join the police force.
And it's only the Salwa Judum activists who filled the void and have proved to be of immense value owing to their knowledge of the state's hostile terrain in jungles.
Subramanian said that to fight Maoists, Chhattisgarh earlier had even deployed men from Nagaland police owing to their expertise in jungle warfare. But the Nagaland withdrew the force owing to high casualties.
And in the given scenario, only Salwa Judum activists came in aid to the state police force.