Skip to main content

Decline of human rights protection regime: Why Chhattisgarh officials may never appear before NHRC

By Pushkar Raj*
The recent summoning of Chhattisgarh officials by the National Human Rights Commissions (NHRC) for abuse of power is significant due to the expectations from human rights protection institutions in the country to deliver on their mandate.

However, concerned officials may never appear before the commission to explain their conduct indicating a steep decline in human rights protection regime in the country.
Like many other countries, the human rights regime was initiated in India in the aftermath of 1993 Geneva world conference on human rights. Consequently, the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA) was passed by the parliament for “better protection of human rights” paving way for setting up the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and a number of State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC) in the states.
Reality
Though the task of protection of human rights was to be carried out under the leadership of NHRC, but it has failed to do justice to its mandate. It is evident from a recent Supreme Court observation in Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association versus Union of India case when the court censured the commission for inefficient functioning.
The court criticized it for closing down some of the cases of encounter killings “without any application of mind’’ and on the basis of a magisterial inquiry which is essentially an administrative finding. The observations of the court were not unfounded given that the commission has an investigation wing headed by a DGP rank officer. The court went on to describe the commission as a toothless tiger.
The court’s comments echo a general feeling amongst the human rights activists in the country that the NHRC has failed to fix accountability for serious human rights violations, inspire SHRCs and send messages to the government on important issues related to human rights.
For many years now, the NHRC has failed to take a concrete stance on death penalty despite documented studies (Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India; Amnesty India-PUCL) that it is closely related to one’s access to justice and is usually awarded to the poorest, without leading to any deterrence to crime. While the outgoing chairman of the commission, Justice Balakrishnan supported the death penalty, the commission never clarified its position on it.
The commission failed to take remedial measures when the government cancelled several human rights organisation’s licenses under Foreign Contribution (regulation) Act, without which they cannot solicit funds from abroad. It is alleged that the government’s move was vindictive and a violation of the UN declaration on HRDs that confers on CSOs the right to solicit, receive and utilize resources.
Reason
The commission has come to this pass because the government, irrespective of political party, seems to have lost interest in human rights’ protection and promotion, thereby, encouraging and maintaining only a façade rather than substance on this matter. It is the responsibility of the government of the day to appoint credible people to these institutions if any improvement in the situation of human rights is to be realized. But the government’s actions have only been disappointing.
In 2010, the government appointed a chairman of NHRC who faced serious allegations of corruption. The matter dragged in the Supreme Court for years and was subsequently withdrawn by the government on the plea that the judge concerned had retired from the office.
It has chosen to appoint retired police officers to the commission. While the previous government appointed a former chief of anti-corruption bureau , CBI and a former director of anti-terror agency, NIA as the member of the NHRC, the present government nominated a BJP leader to be its member. By this count under the category of ‘persons having knowledge of human rights’ the present commission has one former police officer who is a terrorism expert and other, if confirmed, would be an active politician.
The government has not cared to put NHRC annual reports before the parliament for discussion, so much so that commission has now even stopped preparing them on a regular basis. It has caused dilution of its accountability inbuilt under the legislation under which it was setup.
Repercussion
This cynical approach to these important institutions has reduced the human rights regime in the country to a farce and sent a damaging message across the country. Out of 24 SHRCs, 10 are without chairpersons, nine have vacancy of members and some, including Maharashtra, with consistently high police custodial deaths- have retired police officers as members on their bench.
As majority of the complaints made to these commissions relate to police, appointment of retired police officers to these institutions have dealt a serious blow to their credibility, eroding people’s faith in these institutions. For example, Soni Sori, a victim of police atrocity and sexual violence did not expect a fair hearing from the Chhattisgarh SHRC, and when she approached the NHRC it was quick to give a clean chit to the state government (The Hindu, 15 April 2013).
The erosion of authority of human rights institutions is a major blow to the preservation and promotion of human rights in the country. It is a matter of grave concern in light of expenses involved in approaching the judiciary reeling under millions of pending cases. Clearly, the government has a lot to explain and do if it cares for its constitutional and international obligations.
---
*Melbourne-based researcher and author, who earlier taught political science in Delhi University and was the national general secretary of People's Union for Civil Liberties. Contact: raajpushkar@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

Union Budget 'moves away' from Right to Education, 1.3 lakh schools closed down

By Dr Aparajita Sharma*
It was a shocking reply by the Union human resource development minister to a question raised in Parliament on closure of schools in a country where lakhs of children are still out of school. On December 2, the minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, told Lok Sabha that the NITI Aayog’s education project, Sath-E, has led to 35,996 schools of different levels being merged in Madhya Pradesh, 4,312 in Jharkhand and 1,803 in Odisha. NITI Aayog is the Central Government’s policy think-tank.

CAA-NPR-NRC will 'target' 99% homeless, who are without birth certificates: NCU

Counterview Desk
Claiming to base on a survey in five states (Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu), which finds that over 99% of the homeless people do not have birth certificates, a civil rights organization which networks activists, researchers, urban practioners, lawyers, informal sector workers, has claimed that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as also the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), are likely to adversely impact this section the most.

Modi 'warned': Will not remain silent when women are labelled terrorists and traitors

Counterview Desk
As many as 13 women's rights organizations and 162 individuals have issued an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stating that in the light of hate speeches during Delhi elections, especially directed against women, it is his "Constitutional duty to protect all citizens" and tell his partymen "to fight the elections in a manner that upholds the Constitution, not one that increases the fear and insecurity among women."

Law 'governing' world's tallest Statue of Unity refers to local tribals as occupiers

By Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant*
The recently enacted Statue of Unity (SoU) Area Development and Tourism Governance Act, 2019 in Gujarat comes amidst a terrifying atmosphere of intimidation, house arrests, detentions and FIRs, not to mention the overarching implementation of Section 144 across the state.

Anti-CAA: Mallika Sarabhai joins students, faculty to protest dy CM's 'divisive' talk

By Our Representative
Taking strong exception to deputy chief minister Nitin Patel’s statement against those protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), well-known danseuse Mallika Sarabhai has joined tens of activists and students and faculty of Gujarat University, CEPT University, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, Gujarat Vidyapeeth and Nirma University to say that they are seeking “azadi” from the fascist and communal forces of the country.

Ramchandra Guha on how Gandhi outgrew his Gujarati bania 'parochialism'

By Rajiv Shah
More than a fortnight ago, prominent historian Ramchandra Guha, who calls himself Gandhi scholar and not a Gandhian, came to Ahmedabad. While I was part of a small group of persons who met him at lunch, his lecture on Gandhi in the evening, where he sought to interpret what swaraj meant to Gandhi, surely, interested the selected audience that had been called to listen to him.

Ironical? Hindutva is all 'fire and spite', as Muslim women become apostles of peace

By Sandeep Pandey*
On January 26, Republic Day, 2020, while protests simmered against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) throughout India, a dozen North American cities also witnessed historic protests. Indian Embassies have been witness to protests in the past. But this time it was different.

Union Budget: 24 crore people live in the dark, Sitharaman talks of prepaid smart meters

Counterview Desk
The Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), a Delhi-based advocacy group, commenting on the Union budget 2020-21, has has called it a case of missing wood for the trees, pointing out, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman "missed an opportunity to fix the economy, which is reeling under an unprecedented slowdown, with all indices pointing towards a recession."