"We are not going to buy this argument. You have to vacate the schools," a bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar said. The remarks by the bench came during the hearing of petitions against the anti-Naxal vigilante group Salwa Judum.
The Chhattisgarh government submitted that since central forces were stationed in schools, it has made alternative arrangements for running schools in the Maoist-hit villages. The court, during the earlier hearing, had asked the state government to remove security forces from schools and ashrams.
Senior advocate Harish Salve and Atul Jha, appearing for the state government, said a response would be filed in this regard after taking instructions from the authorities. Additional solicitor general Indira Jaising supported the stand taken by the bench and said in a separate matter, the court has asked the authorities in north-eastern states to move out central forces stationed in school buildings.
The bench fixed the next date of hearing on December 15. The bench also asked the state government to consider the plea of restoring security to an ex-member of legislative assembly, who had apprehended threat to his life from Salwa Judum and some corporate groups.
Manish Kurjam is one of the petitioners along with Kartam Joga, a Leftist leader, who was arrested on September 14 in connection with April 6 incident when 76 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in an ambush by Maoists. The state government had withdrawn Kurjam's security recently.
The Chhattisgarh government had on October 28 filed an affidavit stating that Maoist outfits and Naxalites were targetting schools, panchayats and hospital buildings and that anti-Naxal vigilante group Salwa Judum has become anfractuous. However, the petitioners, who have sought a direction to the state government to refrain from allegedly supporting and encouraging Salwa Judum, had said though it (Salwa Judum) is in animated suspension, it has been revived under new name which the state government has never acknowledged.
The court was hearing the public interest litigation filed by sociologist Nandini Sundar, historian Ramchandra Guha, former bureaucrat EAS Sarma and others, seeking a direction to the state government to refrain from allegedly supporting and encouraging Salwa Judum.
The state government, which was earlier pulled up for not filing a proper affidavit, had said that in the first nine months of the year, there were 134 encounters between Maoists and security forces in which 160 security personnel have been killed.
"From January to September this year there have been 134 encounters between Maoists and security forces in which 160 security personnel have been killed," the affidavit filed by the Chhattisgarh government, had said. "One of the key components of the Maoist strategy is to destroy the infrastructure and the Maoist outfits and the Naxalites have destroyed 110 school buildings, 74 panchyat buildings and three hospitals."
However, Sunder had said she visited the Naxal-hit areas in the state and maintained that though Salwa Judum is in "animated suspension", it has been revived under new name, Dandakaranya Shanti Sangharsh Samiti, which the state government has never acknowledged or punished its members for their illegal acts.
Further, villagers also refers to special police officers as Judum when they carry out arson or killings under the guise of 'Operation Green Hunt'.
During the hearing on August 11, the bench had specifically asked the state government whether schools and ashrams in Maoist-affected areas were still being used for stationing central paramilitary forces as alleged by rights activists.
Responding on the issue, the state government said, "Due to certain administrative exigencies and lack of infrastructure about 31 schools are occupied by the security forces." However, the academician claimed that no school has been vacated and education is suffering despite government's claim that alternate arrangements have been made.
The Chhatisgarh government had given details about the steps taken by it on the first information reports registered on the basis of the report of National Human Rights Commission, pointing out human rights violation by the members of Salwa Judum.
The state government spelled out the measures taken to implement the suggestions of the Planning Commission and rights activists who have approached the apex court. The need for setting up a committee of eminent persons to monitor the action of the authorities in Naxal-hit areas, which is a bone of contention between the state government and the activists, the affidavit said, had been taken care of.
The state government has constituted a unified command under the chairmanship of the chief minister and in accordance with the guideline of the Centre's representatives in the Planning Commission, ministry of home affairs and two independent members from Dantewada -- Mahendra Karma (former MLA) and Bhima Manddavi (MLA) have been included in it.
On February 18, the Chhattisgarh government had refuted allegations that it has appointed minors as special police officers or had given arms to civilians in its fight against Naxals.
The apex court had earlier expressed its displeasure over the state government's failure to mention the number of cases registered against Salwa Judum on charges of human rights violation in Maoist-hit tribal districts of the state. The bench had said that the state government was "evasive" on it and that it has not stated how many schools and ashrams have been vacated from the occupation of central security forces.
The bench had also said if the Chhattisgarh government was facing any problem, it should be stated before this court. Solicitor general Gopal Subramanium had apprised the bench about the steps taken by the Centre in coordination with the state government for relief and rehabilitation of tribals. He had said that the camps have been established for the affected people and forces were gradually leaving the schools and ashrams.
The state government had during the previous hearings maintained that Salwa Judum was dying out. Subramanium had said that the ten flagship schemes of the Planning Commission for electrification, empowerment of tribal women, education for children and providing basic amenities to tribals have been implemented.
On the issue of investigation into criminal cases raised by the court, the SG had said attempts have been made but some difficulties were being faced by authorities as large parts of the affected areas are under the siege of Maoists. Further, conditions have to be made conducive for taking back tribals to their villages, as large portions were covered by landmines.
The SG had said there was no outright solution possible to the problem and it has to be done keeping in view the future and every effort was being made in this regard keeping in mind the tribals' culture as they have umbilical connection with the forest areas.
The petitioners had alleged that the conditions in Salwa Judum camps were bad and people involved in the movement should be allowed to go back to forests during the sowing season.