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 fa├žade 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

Green revolution "not sustainable", Bt cotton a failure in India: MS Swaminathan

Counterview Desk
In a recent paper in the journal “Current Science”, distinguished scientist PC Kesaven and his colleague MS Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution, have argued that Bt insecticidal cotton, widely regarded as the continuation of the Green Revolution, has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
Sharply taking on Green Revolution, the authors say, it has not been sustainable largely because of adverse environmental and social impacts, insisting on the need to move away from the simplistic output-yield paradigm that dominates much thinking. Seeking to address the concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as on-farm and off-farm social and ecological issues associated with the Green Revolution, they argue in favour of what they call sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’, based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’.
Pointing out that Evergreen Revol…

Rejoinder: Inescapable to have Central Water Commission as strong technical body in India

By BN Navalawala*
This is with reference to Counterview Blog (December 5, 2018), "Modi govt 'shelves' water reforms report, shows 'no interest' in its recommendations", below mentioned are my comments/observations thereon:
A committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr. Mihir Shah, Former Member, Planning Commission, for restructuring of Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) for optimal development of water resources in the country in the backdrop of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

Some Hindu bodies in US defending BJP-RSS' divisive, violent activities: Agnivesh

Counterview Desk Last week, Washington DC saw speakers at a religious freedom roundtable, chaired by the US Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, express concern over "eroding" space for religious freedom in India. Dr Mike Ghouse, executive director, of the Center for Pluralism in Washington DC, referring to the roundtable, said in an email alert that Indian-Americans have "a moral duty to prevent India from being labeled as a Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)".

Preventing childhood deaths: India performs worse than Bangladesh, "equals" Pakistan

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released study, “The Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report 2018”, prepared by the International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has identified India among 15 other countries which are still far off the mark in achieving the targets of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD).

Karnataka: NGO Akshay Patra "not sensitive" to nutrition demands of school children

Counterview Desk
Well-known civil rights organizations, Right to Food Campaign and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, have sent a letter to the Union minister of human resource development, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, other concerned ministers and officials of the state expressing concerns regarding the mid-day meal (MDM) to school children, insisting, all contracts to the Akshay Patra for supply of MDM should be immediately terminated.

India's rewritten textbooks talk of demerits of democracy, praise Hitler, underrate Mughals

Counterview Desk
A detailed, 3,800-word review of the books rewritten under directions of the BJP rulers across India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014 has suggested that one of aims of the books is to instill a sense of doubt about India’s democratic polity among the country’s young minds. Reviewed in the prestigious US journal, “The New York Review of Books”, in its latest issue (December 6, 2018) by Alex Traub, the scrutiny insists, the effort has also been to paint Indian history from the angle of “Hindu triumphalism”, even as creating “Islamophobia”.

Govt of India "tarnishing" NGO reputation, dossier leaked selectively: Amnesty

Counterview Desk
Amnesty International India has said that a deliberate attempt is being made to tarnish its reputation by leaking a dossier, supposedly made by investigating agencies, to media without giving it access to any such information. The high profile NGO’s claim follows a Times Now report about proceedings launched by investigative agencies, including Enforcement Directorate (ED) against the rights body for “violations” of rules pertaining to overseas donations.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Four children die after poor UP Dalit, Muslim families forced to flee to forest area: PVCHR

Counterview Desk
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) has said that the forest department police’s crackdown, allegedly without any prior notice, on Dalit and Muslim households in Dakhin Tola, Churk Bazaar, Sonbhadra district, Uttar Pradesh, beating up “children and old people, women, and men in an inhuman way”, has led to “forced displacement, starvation and discrimination”. This has reportedly affected about 350 people.

Vedanta is out but corporate loot continues in Odisha: Local activists tell NAPM yatra

By Our Representative
Lok Shakti Abhiyan leader Prafulla Samantara, winner of the Goldman Environmental (also known as Green Nobel) Prize in 2017, has regretted that though Sundergarh in Odisha, like other forest areas, is a fifth schedule area, where Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) is applicable, but these laws are being “outrightly violated to facilitate corporate loot.”