Daily News Analysis

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

15th September, 2021 Polity

Figure 1: No Copyright Infringement Intended

Context:

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to the Centre and the state governments of Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh over the “adverse impact” of the ongoing farmers’ protests on industrial units and transportation.

Reasons of the Notice:

  • There are allegations of adverse impact on the industrial units, seriously effecting more than 9000 micro, medium, and large companies.
  • Allegedly, transportation is also adversely impacted, causing the commuters, patients, physically challenged people and senior citizens to suffer due to the heavy congestion on roads.
  • There are also reports that people have to travel long distances to reach their destinations due to the ongoing farmers’ agitation and barricades have been put on the borders.
  • There is an allegation that there is breach of the corona protocols by the agitating farmers at the protest site.
  • There is further allegation that the inhabitants are not being allowed to move out of their houses due to the blockade of the passage

 

Action by the NHRC:

  • The Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) has been requested to examine the adverse impact of the farmers’ agitation on industrial and commercial activities/production and disruption of transport services on commercial and normal consumers, including inconvenience and additional expenditure.
  • The National Disaster Management Authority have been asked to submit reports with respect to the adverse impact of farmers agitation on various aspects and observance of Covid protocols at the protests sites.
  • University of Delhi has been requested to depute teams to conduct a survey and submit the report assessing the disruption of livelihood, lives of people, impact on the aged and infirm due to protracted agitation by farmers.

 

About NHRC

  • NHRC of India is established on 12th October, 1993 under the provisions of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, later amended in 2006. It is an independent statutory body.
  • The NHRC is considered as the watchdog of human rights in the country, i.e. the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.
  • NHRC looks over the individual’s rights about their life, liberty, dignity and equality that are defined in Section 2(1) of the Protection of Human Rights Act.
  • They are guaranteed by the Constitution of India, embodied in the international covenants and are enforceable by the courts of India as well.

 

Composition of the Commission

  • NHRC is a multi-member body which comprises a Chairman and seven other members.
  • Three are ex-officio members, out of the seven members.  President appoints the Chairman and members of NHRC on recommendation of high-powered 6 member committee consisting of:
    • The Prime Minister as its head,
    • The Lok Sabha speaker,
    •  The Rajya Sabha deputy chairman,
    • Opposition Leaders (LoP) of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and
    • The Union Home Minister.
    • Further, a sitting Supreme Court judge or a sitting chief justice of a High Court could be appointed only after consultation with the chief justice of India.
  • The Chairperson and the members of the NHRC are appointed for 5 years or till the age of 70 years, whichever is former.
  • The President could remove the chairperson or any member from the office.
  • Their removal can be on the charges of proved misbehaviour or incapacity, only if proved by an inquiry conducted by a Supreme Court Judge.

 

Functions

  • Proactively or reactively enquires into breach of human rights or negligence in the prevention of such breach by a public-servant.
  • By leave of the court, to interfere in court proceeding relating to human rights.
  • To visit any jail or other institution under the control of the state-government, where persons are detained or lodged for principles of treatment, reformation or protection, for the study of the living conditions of the inmates and make recommendations.
  • Review the safeguards offered by or under the Constitution—or any law for the time being in force for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation.

 

Powers

  • The commission has the authority of a civil court and can take cognizance of cases if received within one year of occurrence.
  • It could recommend compensation to the victim, prosecution of the accused. But such recommendations aren’t binding.
  • It submits special or annual reports to parliament and state legislatures along with action taken on their recommendations and causes for non acceptance of advice.

 

Limitations of NHRC

  • NHRC does not have any means of investigation. In majority cases, it enquires the concerned Central and State Governments to investigate the cases of the violation of Human Rights
  • It has been termed as ‘India’s teasing illusion’ by Soli Sorabjee (former Attorney-General of India) due to its inability to render any practical relief to the aggrieved party. The Supreme Court also called NHRC “a toothless tiger”.
  • NHRC could only make recommendations, without the power to implement decisions.
  • Many times NHRC is seen as post retirement destinations for judges and bureaucrats with political affiliation; moreover, lack of funds also hinders it’s working. 288
  • A lot of grievances go unaddressed because NHRC shall not investigate the complaint registered after one year of incident.
  • Government often outright rejects the proposal of NHRC or there is partial compliance to these recommendations.
  • State human rights commissions shall not call for information from the national government, which means that they are completely denied the power to investigate armed forces under national control.
  • National Human Rights Commission powers related to violations of human rights by the armed forces have been largely limited.

 

Achievement of NHRC:

  • the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), a UN body based in Geneva, has re-accredited India’s apex rights watchdog with the ‘A’ status, a perfect score.
  • Cases are resolved within months and compensation is granted in 90 per cent of them.
  • disposal of more than 17 lakh cases
  • payment of more than Rs 1 billion to victims of human rights violations
  • carrying out over 750 spot enquiries of human rights violations
  • conducting over 200 conferences to spread awareness of human rights across the country.
  • its role has been significant in combating encounter killings and custodial deaths. The commissions’s guidelines in 1997 mandates every custodial death and encounter killing be reported to it within 24 hours.
  • its interventions in the 2007 Nandigram violence in West Bengal and Salwa Judum-related incidents in Chhattisgarh has been instrumental in developing India’s human rights.

 

 

Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2019

Provisions

Act of 1993 (Original)

Act of 2019 (Amended)

Composition of NHRC:

·        Under the Act, the chairperson of the NHRC is a person who erstwhile a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

·        The Act provides for 2 persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC.

·        Under this Act, chairpersons of various commissions such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and National Commission for Women (NCW) are members of the NHRC.

·        The Bill changes this to allow the chairperson of the NHRC to be a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (CJI) or a Supreme Court Judge.

·        The Bill amends this to authorize three members to be appointed, of which at least one will be a woman.

·        Chairmen of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities will all be members of the NHRC, according to the bill

Chairperson of SHRC:

·        The Act mandates that the chairperson of a SHRC be a former Chief Justice of a High Court.

·        A person who has served as Chief Justice or Judge of a High Court would be the chairperson of a SHRC, according to the Amendment of the Bill

Terms of office:

·        The Act provides that the chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC will hold office for 5 years or till the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.

·        Members of the NHRC and SHRCs can also be reappointed for a five-year period under the Act.

·        The Bill diminishes the term of office to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier. The Bill eliminates the five-year limit for reappointment

 

Means to Empower NHRC:

  • Appointments to the NHRC need to be made from a wider pool of candidates. The recommendations of the GANHRI can be considered to relax the criteria for appointment of members from the higher judiciary. There is also a need to advertise the vacancies widely and fill them promptly without any delays.
  • The expert members criteria needs clear definition and well-defined benchmarks so as to resolve the allegation that it is a post-retirement security for bureaucrats.
  • Political representatives should be strictly limited in their engagement as members of the NHRC so as to ensure independence.
  • There is a need for the NHRC to constitute and maintain an independent cadre of officials that will be able to develop expertise in human rights violation investigation.
  • The PHRA, 1993 needs to be amended to include mandatory time frame for action taken and response formulation by the Government at the Centre and in the states on NHRC recommendations.
  • The NHRC should be granted contempt powers so as to ensure effective implementation of its recommendations.