The case of Nandini Sundar & Others v. State of Chhattisgarh (2011) is a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court of India, highlighting the complexities of state power, human rights, and internal security. It is especially significant in the context of state-sponsored vigilantism and the rights of tribal communities in conflict zones.
- Salwa Judum: The case arose in the context of the Chhattisgarh government's support for a civilian militia group known as Salwa Judum, formed to combat Maoist insurgents (Naxalites) in the state.
- Petitioners' Claim: The petitioners, including sociologist Nandini Sundar, historian Ramachandra Guha, and former civil servant E.A.S. Sarma challenged the legality of Salwa Judum. They argued that it involved the use of children as combatants and resulted in widespread violation of human rights, including killings, rape, and the burning of villages.
- The primary legal issue was the constitutionality and legality of the state government's support for Salwa Judum.
- The petitioners contended that the deployment of tribal youth as Special Police Officers (SPOs) in anti-Maoist operations, without adequate training or observance of standard police protocol, was illegal and unconstitutional.
Supreme Court Judgment:
- Unconstitutionality of Salwa Judum: The Supreme Court held that the deployment of tribal youth as SPOs in direct conflict with Maoists was unconstitutional. The Court found that this practice violated various constitutional rights, including the right to life under Article 21.
- Disbanding of Salwa Judum: The Court ordered the immediate disbanding of Salwa Judum and directed the state to prevent the operation of any such group that sought to take law and order into its own hands.
- Directions to the State: The Court issued several directives to the state government, including the cessation of arming civilians, the recall of firearms given to SPOs, and the provision of security and rehabilitation to people affected by Salwa Judum activities.
- State's Responsibility: The judgement emphasised the state's responsibility to adhere to the rule of law and human rights norms, even in areas facing internal security challenges.
1. Human Rights and Internal Security: The judgement is a significant commentary on balancing human rights and internal security concerns. It highlighted the need for the state to adhere to constitutional principles even while dealing with internal insurgencies.
2. Critique of Vigilantism: It criticised state-sponsored vigilantism and underscored the dangers of using untrained civilians in law enforcement roles.
3. Rights of Tribal Communities: The judgement was important for the protection of the rights of tribal communities in conflict zones, emphasising their vulnerability and the state's duty to protect them.
Nandini Sundar & Others v. State of Chhattisgarh is a seminal judgement in Indian constitutional law, particularly in the arena of conflict management, human rights, and the rule of law. It stands as a crucial precedent in scrutinising state actions in conflict areas and in emphasising the primacy of constitutional rights and human dignity.