On 11 October 2018, the court dismissed the appeal filed by the central and Chhattisgarh governments for a stay over the hearings in Salwa Judum case. This decision by the court is significant since election notification for Chhattisgarh state assembly has already been released with a two-phase election to be held on 12 and 20 November. The central and Chhattisgarh governments were losing sleep over the issue as the court proceedings would have a significant impact on the elections. Supreme Court’s decision not to stall proceedings was welcomed by Professor Nandini Sundar, professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, who is one of the petitioners in the case.
The original Supreme Court verdict that Chhattisgarh government did not honour
On 5 July 2011, the Supreme Court, in a significant verdict, ruled Salwa Judum to be unconstitutional. It also directed the state government to take back the weapons given to people in the name of Salwa Judum. In addition, the court ordered that all cases should have an FIR filed before taking them up. More importantly, it directed the government to pay adequate compensation to the kin of all the people killed in Salwa Judum massacres.
This Supreme Court verdict was widely welcomed by the nation’s human rights groups at that time and it was hoped that thousands of victims’ families would receive compensation. But the Chhattisgarh government shattered all those hopes on 5 July 2011 itself. It put the Supreme Court order to cold storage by creating a new law and absorbing the Salwa Judum perpetrators into the state police force.
Remarkably, Salwa Judum was an armed campaign being run in Chhattisgarh with the central government’s approval. It enabled the government to provide weapons and monetary compensation to Adivasis so they could kill the Naxalites camped in the jungles. This campaign was widely criticized at that time. Human rights groups filed a petition in the Supreme Court in this regard in 2007. As part of the hearings in that petition, the court ruled Salwa Judum to be unconstitutional and illegal.
- Petition against Salwa Judum was filed in 2007
- Four years later, the court gave a verdict on 5 July 2011
- On the same day as the verdict, Chhattisgarh government proceeded against the essence of the verdict
Seven-year-long hearing in its final stage
Many groups came together in 2011 itself to file a petition against the contempt of court shown by Chhattisgarh government in this case. The issue has been pending with the court since and now it has reached the final stage. Justice Madan Bhimrao Lokur is hearing this case.
But recently, the central and Chhattisgarh governments appealed to the court for a stay on the proceedings, saying that the elections are around the corner in the state and that the verdict would potentially affect the outcome. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General A. N. S. Nadkarni argued on behalf of the government while Nitya Ramakrishnan argued for the petitioners against the government’s stance.
In her arguments in front of the bench that lasted three and a half hours, Nitya Ramakrishnan detailed the atrocities committed by the state government against the Adivasis and stated that the government has bypassed the law in implementing an orchestrated and explosive agenda in a ruthless manner. The chair of the bench, Justice Madan Lokur, made it clear that the court has nothing to do with the elections. Furthermore, he opined that even if the verdict hurts the prospects of a particular political party, so be it. He had suggested that the court would never be able to deliver its verdict if things continued to get delayed in that manner.
Nandini Sundar: What Chhattisgarh government is doing is a slap in the face of the court
Nandini Sundar has welcomed the stand taken by the court. She is part of the group of people that filed a public interest petition in the Supreme Court against Salwa Judum. She welcomed the court’s ruling without any reservations. She told FORWARD Press, “Two elections have elapsed since filing this petition. What has this got to do with elections?”
When asked if in requesting a stay, the government trusted that the court would agree with its stance, Nandini Sundar said: “This is nothing new! They were always in the quest for attaining a stay. Chhattisgarh government has not only bypassed the 5 July 2011 court order but also slapped the court in its face. The Government of Chhattisgarh is clearly saying that it does not respect the court order. These are the people that are attacking even the CBI. If an agency such as CBI is itself insecure in Chhattisgarh, then what is the plight of ordinary people?”
- The hearing is in its last stage now
- Justice Madan Lokur is heading the bench that is hearing the case
- Many human rights groups have raised questions in the Salwa Judum issue
As the government aims to finish off the Maoists, should the innocent be silent victims?
Nandini Sundar has summarily dismissed the excuses that the central and state governments have given to cover up their actions. When asked about the stated intention of the government to finish off the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, Nandini Sundar says: “If the government wants to decimate Maoists in the state, they can do it but what about the innocent Adivasis that are getting trapped in this campaign and being killed? Should they be mute? Should they just tolerate this? Don’t they have any rights? Don’t they have any basic powers? What about the innocent lives that you took? What about their houses that were burnt? They should receive compensation, right? Those that the government treats as ‘collateral damage’, don’t they have any basic rights, being victims of collateral damage? In its 2011 verdict, the court directed [the government] to take steps towards rehabilitation of the innocent Adivasis who were caught in the crossfire between the state and Maoists but the government has not even done anything on the front!”
Translation: Naveen Gara; copy-editing: Lokesh/Anil
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