Working of the Human Rights Commission

Working of the Human Rights Commission

The NHRC at New Delhi and several of the State Human Rights Commissions started on their sensitive task with great enthusiasm. To set right some of the inadequacies of the law, a seven Member Advisory Committee was set up by the National Human Rights Commission headed by the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India Justice A.M. Ahmadi and this Committee made the following significant recommendations for the effective functioning of the NHRC AND SHRC’s:

  1. The NHRC and the SHRC’s should be granted financial autonomy to facilitate more effective functioning.
  2. The composition of the NHRC should be changed to consist of two judicial and three non-judicial members, one of whom should be a woman.
  3. The definition of ‘Armed Forces’ should be changed to bring human rights violations by Para-Military personnel under the purview of the NHRC.
  4. The NHRC and the SHRC’s should be further empowered to enquire into any matter after the expiry of one year from the date when the Act constituting violation of human rights is alleged to have been committed, if there is sufficient reason for not filing the complaint within the said period. At present, the NHRC can investigate human rights violations only within one year of their occurrence.
  5. The recommendations of the NHRC ‘must receive proper faithful and time-bound consideration’ by the Central and State Governments, which should intimate, within three months, acceptance or otherwise of their recommendations and submit reasons in case of non-acceptance.

Regarding the work and effectiveness of the NHRC, it should be undoubtedly acknowledged that the work has been both qualitatively and quantitatively at a high level. The fact that the number of complaints reaching the Commission doubled and trebled year after year shows that the people started looking at NHRC as an effective institution for the promotion and protection of human rights.

During the last few years, the NHRC has laid emphasis on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, along with Civil and Political Rights on the premise that all rights are inter-related and inter-dependent. Apart from the working for the eradication of bonded labour and child labour, rights of the women, dalits, minorities and other marginalized groups, the Commission has also undertaken projects in other fields, such as public health, right to food etc, workshops and seminars on HIV/AIDS, nutritional deficiencies, access to health care, tobacco control, etc., have been conducted, yielding useful recommendations for implementation by the Government. The Commission has been engaged in prison and penal reforms and training of personnel to sensitize them to human rights.

It is also to be noted that the Commission has vigorously undertaken the issue of protection of civil liberties and has proposed systematic reforms in the police, prisons and criminal justice system. The Commission has intervened in a case on police reforms pending before the Supreme Court.

The Indian experience has already established the importance and pre-eminence of the NHRC in its complementary role to the Judiciary in areas concerning human rights. The NHRC has also been coordinating the commendable work being done by many NGO’s in the field of human rights, particularly to that of improving prison administration and penal reforms. Thus, the NHRC can and does play an important role in coordinating and monitoring efforts of both civic and public bodies and agencies.

It is also to be noted that in 2004-2005, the Commission in 45 cases, recommended interim relief under Sec.18(3) of the Act, to the extent of Rs. 23,27,000/-. Since 1993, the Commission has recommended more than Rs. 10 corers by way of interim relief in 632 cases.

The role of the NHRC and the impact of its intervention is too well known to require elaboration. The Commission’s intervention did help to build confidence among different sections of the plural society, which is essential in an inclusive democracy. The true role and efficacy of the Commission has to be appreciated which is to facilitate human governance. The nation’s commitment to human rights is judged in the international community from the support the Government gives to the institution set up for promotion and protection of human rights.

The Commission cannot inquire into any matter which is pending before a State Commission or any other Commission duly constituted under any law for the time being in force.  Besides this, the NHRC or the State Commissions shall not inquire into any matter after the expiry of one year, from the date on which the act constituting the violation of human rights is alleged to have been committed.  This provision or inhibition of the Commission contained in Section 36(2) of the Act came for consideration before the Supreme Court in Paramjit Kaur v. State of Punjab One of the main questions for consideration before the Court was whether the inhibition contained in Section 36(2) would apply to the Commission even when the Supreme Court under Article  32 of the Constitution referred a matter of alleged violation of human rights to the Commission?

In the instant case,  S.Saghir Ahmad and S. Rajendra Babu, JJ. observed that the provisions of the Act, do not bind or limit the powers of the Supreme Court in exercise of its powers under Article 32.  It is, therefore, reasonable to hold that the Supreme Court designated the Commission as a body sui generis  to carry out the functions and determine issues as entrusted to it by the Supreme Court. This Court in exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution entrusted the National Human Rights Commission to deal with certain matters in the manner indicated in the course of its order.  All authorities in the country are bound by the directions of this Court and have to act in aid of this Court.  National Human Rights Commission is no exception.  The Commission would function pursuant to the directions issued by this Court and not under Act under which it is constituted.  In deciding the matters referred by the Supreme Court, the NHRC is given a free hand and is not circumscribed by any conditions.  Therefore, the jurisdiction exercised by NHRC in these matters is of a special nature not covered by enactment or law, and thus acts sui generis.

Apart from redressal of individual complaints and suo-moto actions of human rights violations, the NHRC undertakes various programmes to address societal issues, systematic reforms of police setup, prisons and to spread in promoting a culture of human rights in a country which has varied kinds of problems stemming from its size and population.  The PHRA also embodies provisions with regard to the establishment of State Human Rights Commissions all over India to supplement the efforts of NHRC.  Besides, Human Rights Courts are also being set up in the Districts to deal exclusively with the proven cases of human rights violations.

The power and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution cannot be curtailed by any statutory limitation, including those contained in Section 36(2) of the Act. If the Supreme Court can exercise that power unaffected by the prohibition contained in Sec. 36(2), there is no reason why the Commission, at the request of the Supreme Court, cannot investigate or look into the violations of human rights even though the period of limitation indicated in Section 36(2) might have expired. In such a situation, the Commission will not be affected by the bar contained in Section  36(2) and it will be well within its rights to investigate the matter referred to it by this Court.

In National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh, (1996)1 SCC 742, it is an important case where the Arunachal Pradesh students Union had issued ‘Quit India’ notices to alleged foreigners including Chakmas, the court basing its decision on Article 21 observed, “that we are a country governed by the Rule of Law. Our Constitution confers certain rights on every human being and certain other rights on citizens.  Every person is entitled to equality before the law and equal protection of law.  So also no person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.  Thus, the state is bound to protect life and liberty of every human being, be he a citizen or otherwise, and it cannot permit any body or group or person to threaten the chakmas to leave the state, failing which they would be forced to do so”.

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