National Human Rights Commission

National Human Rights Commission

  • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is the watchdog of human rights in India.
  • It was established in 1993 under Protection of Human Rights Act,1993.
  • It is a Statutory body (not constitutional).

Functions of NHRC

  • Main purpose is, suo – moto or through petition of person , to investigate the violation of human rights or failure of state to prevent human rights violation
  • Inspecting police lock-ups, prisons and juvenile homes where people are interred.
  • Payment of compensation to the victim or to her/his family;
  • Disciplinary proceedings against delinquent officials;
  • It may also
    1. Conduct research about human rights
    2. Create awareness among people about human rights
    3. Encourage work of NGOs in this regard

Composition of NHRC

It consist of a Chairman and 4 members.

Chairman Retired Chief Justice of India.
4 members 1. One Member who is, or has been, a Judge of the Supreme Court of India .
2. One Member who is, or has been, the Chief Justice of a High Court.
3. Two Members to be appointed from among persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights.

Apart from above  full time members + 4 ex officio members and those are chairmen of

National commission for SC National commission for women
National commission for ST National commission for minorities

Term of Office

  • Chairman and members hold office for 5 yrs or till they attain age of 70.
  • Member or chairman can be removed if he is adjudged an  insolvent,engages in any paid employment,infirmity of mind,unsound mind so declared by court .
  • Salaries and conditions determined by Central government but cant be reduced.

Why was it established ?

The establishment of NHRC  in 1993 resulted from the culmination of a number of national and international factors.

  • Internal conflicts in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and  North – Eastern states escalated in the 1980s and early 1990s and were dealt with by the government with a heavy hand.
  • Media, civil society organisations and general public increasingly expressed concern about police and security forces’ actions in tackling insurgency and the culture of impunity within the government – basic human rights were being ignored in the name of national security.
  • Pressure of international community   to protect human rights.

In this context, the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 was enacted, which enabled the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission in Delhi and 14 state human rights commissions around the country.

Limitations of NHRC

Issue 1 : Flaws in Selection process

  • Not sufficiently broad and transparent
  • No  advertisement for vacancies in top posts is given out

Issue 2 : Flaws in Investigation process

  • Non-independent investigators – involvement of serving or retired police officers in the investigation of human rights violations, particularly where the alleged perpetrators is the police itself.

Issue 3 : Composition – Less representation to women.

  • Only 20% of the NHRC’s staff is women and since 2004, there hasn’t been a single woman on the governing body.
  • The legislative requirement of having an ex-CJI as Chairperson and choosing members of the senior judiciary restricts the potential pool of candidates who can be appointed, especially women.

Issue 4 : Outright rejection of a recommendation .

  • Governments often ignore the recommendation completely 

5 . Other problems

  • Mammoth backlog of cases-around  40,000 cases pending
  • Time bar :  Under the Act, human rights commissions cannot investigate an event if the complaint was made more than one year after the incident.Therefore, a large number of genuine grievances go unaddressed.
  • Powers  of the National Human Rights Commission relating to violations of human rights by the armed forces have been restricted to simply seeking a report from the Government, (without being allowed to summon witnesses), and then issuing recommendations.

Suggested proposals

If human rights commissions are to truly protect and promote human rights in India, changes must be made to enable them to become more effective institutions. Some suggested proposals are:

More teeth Their decisions should be immediately made enforceable by the government. 
Including armed forces in the ambit Not allowing commissions to independently investigate complaints against the military  furthers the culture of impunity.
Commission membership Commission must include civil society human rights activists as members. 
Separate agency to investigate police-related complaints International experience:
1. UK has an Independent Police Complaints Commission
2. South Africa has an Independent Complaints Directorate
3. Brazil has Police Ombudsmen offices

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