National Human Rights Commission
Establishment of the Commission
he National Human Rights Commission is a statutory (and not a constitutional) body. It was established in 1993 under a legislation enacted by the Parliament, namely, the Protection of Human Rights Act, 19931. This Act was amended in 2006.
The commission is the watchdog of human rights in the country, that is, the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the international covenants2 and enforceable by courts in India.
The specific objectives of the establishment of the commission are3 :
(a) To strengthen the institutional arrangements through which human rights issues could be addressed in their entirety in a more focussed manner;
(b) To look into allegations of excesses, independently of the government, in a manner that would underline the government’s commitment to protect human rights; and
(c) To complement and strengthen the efforts that have already been made in this direction.
Composition of the Commission
The commission is a multi-member body consisting of a chairman and four members. The chairman should be a retired chief justice of India, and members should be serving or retired judges of the Supreme Court, a serving or retired chief justice of a high court and two persons having knowledge or practical experience with respect to human rights. In addition to these full-time members, the commission also has four ex-officio members—the chairmen of the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for SCs, the National Commission for STs and the National Commission for Women.
The chairman and members are appointed by the president on the recommendations of a six-member committee consisting of the prime minister as its head, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament and the Central home minister. Further, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court or a sitting chief justice of a high court can be appointed only after consultation with the chief justice of India.
The chairman and members hold office for a term of five years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier. After their tenure, the chairman and members are not eligible for further employment under the Central or a state government.
The president can remove the chairman or any member from the office under the following circumstances:
(a) If he is adjudged an insolvent; or
(b) If he engages, during his term of office, in any paid employment outside the duties of his office; or
(c) If he is unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body; or
(d) If he is of unsound mind and stand so declared by a competent court; or
(e) If he is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an offence.
In addition to these, the president can also remove the chairman or any member on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. However, in these cases, the president has to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for an inquiry. If the Supreme Court, after the inquiry, upholds the cause of removal and advises so, then the president can remove the chairman or a member.
The salaries, allowances and other conditions of service of the chairman or a member are determined by the Central government. But, they cannot be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.
All the above provisions are aimed at securing autonomy, independence and impartiality in the functioning of the Commission.
Functions of the Commission
The functions of the Commission are:
(a) To inquire into any violation of human rights or negligence in the prevention of such violation by a public servant, either suo motu or on a petition presented to it or on an order of a court.
(b) To intervene in any proceeding involving allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court.
(c) To visit jails and detention places to study the living conditions of inmates and make recommendation thereon.
(d) To review the constitutional and other legal safeguards for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation.
(e) To review the factors including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend remedial measures.
(f) To study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation.
(g) To undertake and promote research in the field of human rights.
(h) To spread human rights literacy among the people and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights.
(i) To encourage the efforts of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field of human rights.
(j) To undertake such other functions as it may consider necessary for the promotion of human rights.
Working of the Commission
The commission’s headquarters is at Delhi and it can also establish offices at other places in India. It is vested with the power to regulate its own procedure. It has all the powers of a civil court and its proceedings have a judicial character. It may call for information or report from the Central and state governments or any other authority subordinate thereto.
The commission has its own nucleus of investigating staff for investigation into complaints of human rights violations. Besides, it is empowered to utilise the services of any officer or investigation agency of the Central government or any state government for the purpose. It has also established effective cooperation with the NGOs with first-hand information about human rights violations.
The commission is not empowered to inquire into any matter after the expiry of one year from the date on which the act constituting violation of human rights is alleged to have been committed. In other words, it can look into a matter within one year of its occurrence4.
The commission may take any of the following steps during or upon the completion of an inquiry:
(a) it may recommend to the concerned government or authority to make payment of compensation or damages to the victim;
(b) it may recommend to the concerned government or authority the initiation of proceedings for prosecution or any other action against the guilty public servant;
(c) it may recommend to the concerned government or authority for the grant of immediate interim relief to the victim;
(d) it may approach the Supreme Court or the high court concerned for the necessary directions, orders or writs.
Role of the Commission
From the above, it is clear that the functions of the commission are mainly recommendatory in nature. It has no power to punish the violators of human rights, nor to award any relief including monetary relief to the victim. Notably, its recommendations are not binding on the concerned government or authority. But, it should be informed about the action taken on its recommendations within one month. In this context, a former member of the Commission observed5: ‘The government cannot wash away the recommendations made by the Commission. The commission’s role may be recommendatory, advisory, yet the Government considers the cases forwarded by it. It is, therefore, improper to say that the commission is powerless. It enjoys great material authority and no government can ignore its recommendation’.
Moreover, the commission has limited role, powers and jurisdiction with respect to the violation of human rights by the members of the armed forces6. In this sphere, the commission may seek a report from the Central government and make its recommendations. The Central government should inform the Commission of the action taken on the recommendations within three months.
The commission submits its annual or special reports to the Central government and to the state government concerned. These reports are laid before the respective legislatures, along with a memorandum of action taken on the recommendations of the commission and the reasons for non-acceptance of any of such recommendations.
Performance of the Commission
The various human rights issues taken up by the Commission are as follows:
1. Abolition of Bonded Labour
2. Functioning of the Mental Hospitals at Ranchi, Agra and Gwalior
3. Functioning of the Government Protective Home (Women), Agra
4. Issues Concerning Right to Food
5. Review of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929
6. Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
7. Preventing Employment of Children by Government Servants: Amendment of Service Rules
8. Abolition of Child Labour
9. Guidebook for the Media on Sexual Violence against Children
10. Trafficking in Women and Children: Manual for the Judiciary for Gender Sensitisation
11. Sensitisation Programme on Prevention of Sex Tourism and Trafficking
12. Maternal Anemia and Human Rights
13. Rehabilitation of Destitute Women in Vrindavan
14. Combating Sexual Harassment of Women at the Work Place
15. Harassment of Women Passengers in Trains
16. Abolition of Manual Scavenging
17. Dalits Issues including Atrocities Perpetrated on them
18. Problems Faced by Denotified and Nomadic Tribes
19. Rights of the Disabled Persons
20. Issues Related to Right to Health
21. Rights of Persons Affected by HIV / AIDS
22. Relief Work for the Victims of 1999 Orissa Cyclone
23. Monitoring of Relief Measures undertaken after Gujarat Earthquake (2001)
24. District Complaints Authority
25. Population Policy – Development and Human Rights
26. Review of Statutes, including Terrorist & Disruptive Activities Act, and (Draft) Prevention of Terrorism Bill, 2000
27. Protection of Human Rights in Areas of Insurgency and Terrorism
28. Guidelines to Check Misuse of the Power of Arrest by the Police
29. Setting up of Human Rights Cells in the State / City Police Headquarters
30. Steps to Check Custodial Deaths, Rape and Torture
31. Accession to the Convention against Torture
32. Discussion on Adoption of a Refugee Law for the Country
33. Systemic Reforms of Police, Prisons and other Centers of Detention
34. Review of Laws, Implementation of Treaties, and the International Instruments on Human Rights
35. Promotion of Human Rights Literacy and Awareness in the Educational System
36. Human Rights Training for the Armed Forces and Police, Public Authorities and Civil Society
Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006
The Parliament has passed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006. The main amendments carried out in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, relate to the following issues:
1. Reducing the number of members of State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) from five to three
2. Changing the eligibility condition for appointment of member of SHRCs
3. Strengthening the investigative machinery available with Human Rights Commissions
4. Empowering the Commissions to recommend award of compensation, etc. even during the course of enquiry
5. Empowering the NHRC to undertake visits to jails even without intimation to the state governments
6. Strengthening the procedure for recording of evidence of witnesses
7. Clarifying that the Chairpersons of NHRC and SHRCs are distinct from the Members of the respective Commission
8. Enabling the NHRC to transfer complaints received by it to the concerned SHRC
9. Enabling the Chairperson and members of the NHRC to address their resignations in writing to the President and the Chairperson and members of the SHRCs to the Governor of the state concerned
10. Clarifying that the absence of any member in the Selection Committee for selection of the Chairperson and member of the NHRC or the SHRCs will not vitiate the decisions taken by such Committees
11. Providing that the Chairperson of the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and the Chairperson of the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes shall be deemed to be members of the NHRC
12. Enabling the Central Government to notify future international covenants and conventions to which the Act would be applicable