National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), is a statutory body established in 1993, under the provisions of The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
It is responsible for the protection and promotion of “rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants”.
The chairperson is a retired chief justice of India or a judge of the Supreme Court.
They are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a six-member committee consisting of:
- Prime Minister (head)
- Speaker of the Lok Sabha
- Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
- Leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament
- Union Home Minister.
Term and removal:
- They hold office for a term of three years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.
- The President can remove them from the office under specific circumstances.
Role of National Human Rights Commission:
- Investigation: Investigating complaints or failure of any public official regarding the rights violation, either suo moto or after receiving a petition.
- Eg: Suo moto cognizance of Sonbhadra tribal killing in UP and sent a fact-finding mission.
- Prevention and Safeguard: Monitoring the living conditions of the inmates in prisons and to make recommendations thereon. Reviewing statutory safeguards or treaties for the protection of human rights.
- Research and promotion: Promoting research and encouraging NGOs in the field of human rights. While making an inquiry into the complaints, the commission enjoys the powers of a civil court. It also studies treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation.
- Intervention: It intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court with the approval of such court.
- Commission has awarded 11 cr compensation (recommendation) between 2012-17.
- Human rights: NHRC review the factors, including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend appropriate remedial measures.
- Awareness: NHRC spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, the media, seminars and other available means.
- Working with NGOs: It encourages the efforts of non-governmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights.
Problems with the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
- NHRC cannot penalise authorities which do not implement its orders.
- The Act does not extend to Jammu and Kashmir
- NHRC cannot investigate an event if the complaint was made more than one year after the incident.
- Does not specify whether judges (members for the NHRC) should have a proven record of human rights activism or expertise or qualifications in the area.
- Relating to violations of human rights by the armed forces, the commission must simply seek a report from the Government, and then issue recommendations.
- There is no statutory requirement to include academics, representatives of NGOs or members of civil society that have contributed towards enhancement of human rights.
- It can only ask the authority to approach the higher Courts to provide relief to the victims. The concerned authority has to implement its recommendations within one month or communicate reasons for not complying.
- Even today atrocities against Dalits are continuing but the conviction rate is only 25.52%.
- NHRC failed to provide evidence in the famous Kairana Migration Case (forced mass migration in UP between 2014-16) as a result of extortion threat.
- If violation of human rights is by private parties, NHRC has no jurisdiction.
- It can only provide recommendations of remedy but cannot enforce it.
Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill 2019:
Parliament Passes the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019 unanimously
Salient Features of the Bill:
- The Bill amends the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The Act provides for a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), as well as Human Rights Courts.
- Composition of NHRC:
- Under the Act, the chairperson of the NHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
- The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a Judge of the Supreme Court will be the chairperson of the NHRC.
- Inclusion of woman member:
- The Act provides for two persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC.
- The Bill amends this to allow three members to be appointed, of which at least one will be a woman.
- Other members:
- Under the Act, chairpersons of various commissions such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and National Commission for Women are members of the NHRC.
- The Bill provides for including the chairpersons of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as members of the NHRC.
- Chairperson of SHRC:
- Under the Act, the chairperson of a SHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of a High Court.
- The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice or Judge of a High Court will be chairperson of a SHRC.
- Term of office:
- The Act states that the chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC will hold office for five years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.
- The Bill reduces the term of office to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.
- Further, the Act allows for the reappointment of members of the NHRC and SHRCs for a period of five years.
- The Bill removes the five-year limit for reappointment.
- Powers of Secretary-General:
- The Act provides for a Secretary-General of the NHRC and a Secretary of a SHRC, who exercise powers as may be delegated to them.
- The Bill amends this and allows the Secretary-General and Secretary to exercise all administrative and financial powers (except judicial functions), subject to the respective chairperson’s control.
- Union Territories:
- The Bill provides that the central government may confer on a SHRC human rights functions being discharged by Union Territories.
- Functions relating to human rights in the case of Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.
Benefits of the Bill:
- The Amendment will strengthen the Human Rights Institutions of India further for effective discharge of their mandates, roles and responsibilities.
- Moreover, the amended Act will be in perfect sync with the agreed global standards and benchmarks towards ensuring the rights.
- The amendment will also make National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) more compliant with the Paris Principle.
Wayforward for strengthening NHRC:
- Consider wide range of societal groups: Maximise the number of potential candidates from a wide range of societal groups and educational qualifications
- Effectiveness of commission: The effectiveness of commissions will be greatly enhanced if their decisions are immediately made enforceable by the government.
- Abiding NHRC directions: All State Governments must abide by the directions issued by the NHRC in regard to compensation and other issues.
- Improve the working of the Commission: Many social and human rights activists have the practical experience in human rights movement and can greatly contribute towards the working of the Commission.
NHRC efficacy can be enhanced by government if commission decisions are made enforceable. This would remove the infamous ‘toothless’ adjective from the commission’s reputation.