New Delhi: Coming down heavily on involving vigilante group (Salwa Judum) in fighting Maoists, the Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained the Chhattisgarh government and the Centre from arming Special Police Officers (SPOs) calling the 5,000-strong force as ‘unconstitutional’.

Asking the Chhattisgarh government and the Centre to desist from appointing the tribals as (SPOs) and arming them for countering the Naxals in any manner directly or indirectly, the court said the appointment of tribal youths as SPOs is ‘unconstitutional’.

A bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar gave this order on a petition filed by sociologist Nandini Sundar, historian Ramachandra Guha, former bureaucrat E A S Sarma and others.

The petition sought a direction to the state government to refrain from allegedly supporting Salwa Judum (vigilante force) comprising about 2,000 tribals who help the police and security forces in the Bastar region, including in Bijapur and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh, in the fight against Maoists.

While the tribals are not armed, those recruited as SPOs are armed in the campaign against Maoists. The court also ordered a CBI probe into the attack on social activist Swami Agnivesh during his visit to Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh in March.

"We direct the CBI to take over the investigation into series of violence and attack unleashed on Swami Agnivesh and his companions," the bench said. The bench observed that the eligibility criteria, including the educational qualification and training of the tribals, to combat Maoists goes against the provisions of statutes and the Constitution.

It said that creation of Koya Commandos and Salwa Judum was in violation of the Constitution. The special police officers have been given the name Koya Commandos after that of a tribe in the Dantewada region.

The issue of attack on Swami Agnivesh was brought before the court in the month of April this year.

Earlier, Agnivesh had said that Salwa Judum was still active and the chief minister was indulging in double-speak as no FIR has been lodged against any of its members as per the recommendation of the NHRC.

Swami Agnivesh had come to the court in March this year when he was attacked by a group of people—allegedly consisting of SPOs and Salwa Judum volunteers--when he was visiting a Naxal region near Dantewada with activists of the Art of Living of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

During the last hearing of the issue on May 4, the state government had justified the appointment of SPOs saying they have excelled in performing police duties.

It had also asserted that in anti-Maoist operations SPOs are of immense help in their role as guides, translators, spotters and on certain occasions they have saved the lives of regular security personnel while preventing more than dozen Maoist attacks on relief camps and helped security forces in anti-Naxal operations.