Jammu and kashmir HC stays judgment on 2022 village defence guards scheme

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Friday stayed a judgment, pending outcome of appeal, with regard to the new village defence guards scheme announced last year by the Centre as part of efforts to tackle terror activities in the Union Territory.

The scheme came into effect on August 15 last year and replaced a 1995 scheme of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

However, the new village defence guards (VDG) scheme was challenged in the high court and petitions were filed, mostly by special police officers (SPOs) heading these groups whose honorarium was reduced from Rs 18,000 to Rs 4,500.

On April 6, a single-judge bench had quashed the 2022 scheme and directed authorities to treat Special Police Officers (SPOs) as having been appointed under the village defence committee of 1995 with all powers and privileges of SPOs under the Police Act.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice N Kotiswar Singh and justice Rahul Bharti stayed the single-judge bench’s verdict.

“Keeping in mind all the factors and circumstances and legal issues of seminal importance involved, in the context of a security sensitive part of the country and weighing the rival contentions, we are of the opinion that interest of justice would be better served if the impugned judgment and connected writ petitions, is stayed in terms of its operation during the pendency of this letters patent appeal,” the division bench said

Pronouncing a 27-page judgment after hearing Senior Additional Advocate General Monika Kohli, who was appearing for the government, and a battery of lawyers representing the petitioners, the court listed the matter for June 7.

“In assessing the balance of convenience, we have also kept in mind that the issues raised in the appeal in the context of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, which is still not out of the woods in the context of its security issues and problems, have a direct bearing on the scheme of 2022 getting non starter and any uncertainty which may be caused in the implementation of the impugned judgment ought to be avoided,” the order read.

The court said it is equally conscious that these issues ought to be resolved at the earliest, stressing on the need to notify and hear all the parties.

It said the appellants are assailing through this appeal a common judgment of april 6 passed by the single-judge bench, adjudicating 19 petitions involving 2,396 writ petitioners who are seeking stay on operation of the judgment pending final adjudication of the present letters patent appeal.

The court said the VDG scheme is meant to be an exercise in building an attitude of self help in security matters amongst the local population. The aim is also to supplement the ongoing efforts of the security forces in dealing with militancy, acts of subversion and transborder movements, it said.

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“It is a manifestation of the will of the people to actively participate in the efforts to thwart the threat being posed to national security and integrity. The identification of men comprising these groups, support to them and the level of their motivation would be of utmost importance,” it said.

“In the ultimate analysis, the success of the scheme would depend on the quality of men who would form these groups and the will behind these men,” the court observed.

The division bench said the core policy purpose of founding the new scheme of 2022, by all implication and inferences, stayed the same as that of the 1995 scheme, but certain structural and operational amends or alterations with respect to VDGs have been brought into play.

While the old scheme comprised and consisted of SPOs and other members, bearing a strength of 15 in each group, under the 2022 scheme, a VDG is envisaged to have a maximum intake number of 15, bracketed in two categories, it said.

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