People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), India’s premier human rights organization, has threatened to approach the Supreme Court against the appointment of BJP vice president Avinash Rai Khanna as a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), for a post that was “kept vacant” for the last two years.
In a statement signed by Prof Prabhakar Sinha, national president, and Dr V Suresh, national general Secretary, PUCL has recalls that, previously, during the UPA regime (in 2005), when a retired police officer was appointed as a member of the NHRC, it was questioned by PUCL before the Supreme Court.
“If the present decision to nominate Khanna is not withdrawn, the PUCL will be “constrained to take it up in the Apex Court”, PUCL says, adding, it is “shocked and surprised how the opposition members on the selection panel agreed to the appointment of Khanna, defeating the principle of checks and balances provided in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.”
Calling it a “sinister attempt” by the present BJP-led NDA government to fill “crucial posts in institutions tasked with the responsibility to critically review, oversee, monitor or examine complaints regarding the functioning of the government , with persons who are unsuitable for the post”, PUCL says, the decision will “harm the credibility, impartiality and effectiveness of NHRC”.
Pointing out that NHRC has in the past “taken up issues of human rights abuses by governmental functionaries, suo-moto or on the basis of complaints”, PUCL says, “The appointment of a politician of the ruling party compromises its independence, objectivity and credibility.”
Saying that the decision “creates a conflict of interest”, PUCL notes, “Section 3 (2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 under which the NHRC is formed and constituted, states that apart from former Judges of the Supreme or High Courts, two other members will be ‘appointed from amongst persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights’.”
“It is clear that Khanna does not have the relevant experience in the field of human rights”, PUCL says, adding, he has been “associated with the BJP for the last several decades and was an active member of ABVP, RSS during student life, as per his biographical sketch on the Lok Sabha website.”
Further, it adds, Khanna was “previously made a member of the Punjab State Human Rights Commission but resigned when he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Thus, PUCL believes that the present decision is also a move to adjust and reward a senior member of the ruling party with a government post by treating crucial posts as largesse.”
“The principle of neutrality of NHRC members is particularly crucial and important for many times the NHRC is called upon to investigate mass human rights abuses by security forces with allegations of complicity of the political executive”, says PUCL.
In the face of latest development, PUCL says, citizens should “continuously remain vigilant and oppose all anti-democratic and anti-human rights actions and decisions of the government so that institutions such as NHRC retain their independence, credibility, effectiveness and keep holding the government of the day accountable for any human rights abuses.”