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IS NHRC A TOOTHLESS TIGER?

Socio Legal Corp
  • Written by – Sruthi Sadhasivam

INTRODUCTION

Human rights are absolutely a pre-requisite for the dignified existence of any human being. Human rights are inalienable, irrevocable, universal and dynamic in nature and is necessary to fulfil the very purpose of life. 

Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993 as amended by the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006 called for the establishment of National Human rights commission in India. The NHRC was instituted on 12 October 1993 for protection of human rights.

A higher-powered committee headed by the Prime Minister recommends the Chairman and other members of the commission who are appointed by the president. The commission consists of a chairman, 3 ex-officio members and 4 other members.  The members work for a period of 5 years or until the age of 70 years.  The commission includes a set of specialized divisions namely Law Division, Investigation Division, Policy Research & Programmes Division, Training Division and Administration Division. The members of the commission can be removed only on grounds of incapacity or proved misbehaviour after inquiry conducted by a supreme court judge.

FUNCTIONS OF NHRC IN INDIA

The NHRC can examine and investigate any issue and initiate suo moto cognisance in case of violation of human rights or act based on receiving a petition. It undertakes and encourages extensive research in human rights domain. 

It can interfere in any judicial proceeding if it involves a case of violation of human rights. It can examine any prison or government institution under the state government to inspect the living conditions there of and recommend changes. It’s bestowed with powers of civil court and can also provide interim relief. It has the right to review any laws under the constitution pertaining to human rights and suggest any measures and remedy. It provides an annual report to the president who lays it down in the parliament.

Lastly, the NHRC is responsible to educate the populace and create and promote awareness about human rights to the populace through media, seminars, publications and other means.

WHAT HAS NHRC DONE TO UPHOLD HUMAN RIGHTS?

In the time of the pandemic, the NHRC had taken suo moto cognisance of the sufferings of the migrant population and filed an application for intervention in writ petition No.6 of 2020 in the Supreme Court of India.

During 2019-20, NHRC had undertaken spot enquiries in various cases such as the Delhi riots, violation of human rights in Jamia Milia Islamia University, confrontation between Police and Students of Aligarh Muslim University etc and had provided recommendations on the same.

But at large, it failed to act on the arrest of journalist Siddiqui Kappan, activists arbitrarily jailed under the UAPA act, incarceration of anti-CAA activists and human rights activists on Elgar Parishad case also the detention of Journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem and activist Erendro Leichombam for stating straight facts that cow dung and cow urine are not the cure for covid 19.

Recently, Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old, tribal rights activist who was arrested under the anti-terror laws passed away in jail. The NHRC acted based on a complaint and asked the Maharashtra government to ensure proper medical facilities to the activist at the last minute. It stayed silent when due to his health issues, the activist had asked for a straw and a sipper to eat but the NIA asked for a period of 3 weeks to respond. He was vaccinated despite having fever and was placed in an overcrowded prison as well in the time of the pandemic.

In yet another case, the Santhakulam case, Bennix and Jayaraj were arrested for violating lockdown norms and were allegedly tortured to death. The NHRC acted only after a month of the incident taking place and called for various reports such as health screening report, post-mortem report, magisterial enquiry report and so on.

Its powers in most cases have only been ceremonial and is known for its moderate activism. It certainly is censured for acting only when the situation escalates.

DOES NHRC HAVE REAL POWERS OR IS IT A PUPPET ORGANISATION?

In the first place, the organisation came into existence only to shut the maligning voices of the world that called upon human rights violation by security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir and other areas. It thereby was introduced to create a favourable image of India at the global stage and not with the sole intention to uphold and promote individual human rights.

The protection of human rights amendment act (PHRA) that laid the seeds for the inception of NHRC restricted the powers of NHRC to a great extent. Section 19 of PHRA disallows the organisation from raising questions on human rights violation in the case of armed forces. It can only call for reports and provide some recommendations on the same. The staffs of the commission are itself recruited by people of power and the commission lacks financial independence. The act does not mandate the chairman of the commission to be a retired chief justice and thereby provides a lot of scope to select complaint individuals as chairpersons.

The act allows recruitment of 3 members including a woman member who have practical knowledge or expertise and experience in the field of human rights. The government in most cases have only appointed its retired officers or members adhering to its party principles rather than any human rights specialists.

NHRC has believed to have frequently used to dispose off cases using regulation 9 of NHRC (Procedure) Regulations 1997 to eliminate applications right away when parallel proceedings are ongoing.

The commission has some limitations to its jurisdiction. Those cases that are frivolous, older than a year, pseudonymous, vague, anonymous, cases regarding service matters and cases of human rights violation by private actors cannot be dealt by NHRC. 

Most importantly, the NHRC has no right to execute its recommendations or decisions based on its evidence and is forced to depend on the executive and judicial organs of the country. In addition, it cannot penalise those who are not implementing its recommendations. There is no liberty or rights accorded to a commission that is supposed to uphold an individual’s rights and liberty.  There is a clear cut set of rules that decides even on what the commission can question and that too with no power to operationalise its decisions.

In this sense, we come to ask if NHRC is really an efficacious watchdog of human rights in the country?

It might be true that NHRC’s role is not really effectual, but our lives would have been worse off if there was not even an organisation to voice out our ascribed rights. The commission’s recommendations, research and analysis does create an impact amongst the people, it pressurises the government to act sane and humane and sows the seed for a better tomorrow.

REFERENCES

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/stan-swamy-put-on-ventilator-support-nhrc-issues-notice-to-maha-govt-101625424604224.html
https://nhrc.nic.in/sites/default/files/2020_21YearEndReview.pdf
https://www.drishtiias.com/important-institutions/drishti-specials-important-institutions-national-institutions/national-human-rights-commission-nhrc
https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/national-human-rights-commission-nhrc-1595496404-1#:~:text=To%20safeguard%20the%20Human%20Rights,(Amendment)%20Act%2C%202006.
https://thewire.in/rights/for-an-already-ailing-nhrc-justice-mishras-appointment-spells-further-doom
https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/justice-ak-mishra-to-head-nhrc/article34692771.ece
https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nhrc-issues-advisory-on-child-rights/article34722063.ece
https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/nhrc-human-rights-amendment-bill-parliament-narendra-modi-bjp-5861745/
https://thewire.in/rights/stan-swamy-nhrc-taloja-jail-medical-facilties-denied

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