Human Rights Protection Bill, 2019 and NHRC

Human Rights Protection Bill, 2019 and NHRC : Shortly before, the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by the Parliament. The proposed amendments to it will replace some of the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The bill has made some changes related to the structure and tenure of the National Human Rights Commission-NHRC and the State Human Rights Commission-SHRC. Since there has been discussion about the limitations and weaknesses of the Commission for a long time, the lack of provisions such as expanding the power of the Commission in this amendment is a matter of concern. On this basis, the Bill has been criticized by some analysts, although there are some amendments which can be appreciated.

Human Rights

According to the definition of United Nations (UN), these rights are available to all without discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, nationality, language, religion or any other basis. Human rights mainly include right to life and liberty, right to freedom from slavery and torture, right to freedom of expression and right to work and education, etc. Any person is entitled to get these rights without any discrimination.

What is National Human Rights Commission?

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is an independent statutory body established on 12 October 1993 under the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The headquarters of the Human Rights Commission is located in New Delhi. It protects the human rights given by the constitution such as right to life, right to freedom and right to equality, etc. and acts as their guard.

National Human Rights Commission
National Human Rights Commission

Composition of the Commission (post revision)

NHRC is a multi-member institution. Its president and members are appointed by the President on the basis of recommendations of a high-powered committee headed by the Prime Minister (Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha, Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Chief Opposition Leader of both Houses of Parliament and Union Home Minister). The term of the Chairman and the members is up to the age of 3 years or 70 years, whichever is earlier. They can be removed from their post only when they are proved guilty of misconduct or incapacity in the investigation of a judge of the Supreme Court. Apart from this, the Commission also has five specialized departments (Law Department, Investigation Department, Policy Research and Program Department, Training Department and Administration Department). The Chairman and members in the State Human Rights Commission are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister of the State, the Home Minister of the State, the Speaker of the Assembly and the Leader of the Opposition.

Human Rights
Human Rights

Act change

  • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) structure:
  1. Under this Act, only the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court could be appointed as the Chairman of the Commission. But after the amendment, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as well as other judges of the Supreme Court will also be eligible for the post of President.
  2. The Act provided for the appointment of two members who have a broad understanding and knowledge of the field of human rights. After the amendment this number has been increased to three, it is necessary to have at least one female member.
  3. Under this Act, formerly the Chairman of National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and National Commission for Women (NCW) were members of Human Rights Commission but now National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), Protection of Child Rights The Chairman of the Commission and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities will also be appointed as members of the NHRC.
  • State Human Rights Commission (SHRC): Prior to the amendment, the Chairman of the SHRC was appointed as the Chief Justice of the High Court, but now the Chief Justice of the High Court as well as other judges of the High Court will also be able to become the President of the SHRC.
  • Tenure: Under the Act, the tenure of the Chairman of NHRC and SHRC was five years or 70 years of age (whichever is earlier). After the amendment, now this tenure has been reduced to 3 years, although the age limit is the same. Apart from this, provision has also been made to reappoint the president of NHRC and SHRC for a period of 5 years.
  • Powers: Under the Act, the Secretary General of the NHRC and the Secretary of the SHRC exercised the same powers as those assigned to them. After the amendment, the above mentioned officers will be able to exercise all administrative and financial powers under their president, although this does not include judicial powers.
  • Union Territory: After amendment, the Union Government can refer the matters related to the Union Territory to the SHRC. But matters related to Delhi will be dealt with by NHRC.

National Human Rights Commission
National Human Rights Commission

Necessary changes still neglected

  1. The present government has once again amended the Charter of the Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2019, passed by the Parliament, has made extensive changes that will have far-reaching impact on the structure of the Commission. Under the amended Act, the chair of the National Human Rights Commission will no longer be confined only to the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, but any retired judge of the Court can be assigned this post. However, the consequences of this change are yet to come.
  2. Under the first act, the provision of appointment of members who have knowledge or experience in matters related to human rights. The number of such members has now been increased to three, out of which one will be a female member, but these prestigious posts have been continued to be open to anyone of the government’s liking.International human rights jurisprudence is developing rapidly and there is no dearth of eminent scholars specializing in it, but successive governments have never considered the commission’s membership to any such expert or an eminent human rights activist.The chairpersons of two other commissions have been included in the list of chairpersons of various commissions who have become ex-officio members of the National Human Rights Commission – the Chairman of the Backward Classes Commission and the Chairman of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Along with this, the Chief Commissioner has also been made its member for the disabled. Thus the Human Rights Commission will have more number of members than full-time members.
  3. With a view to ensuring the independence of the Commission, the Act prohibits the appointment of its presidents and members to the official posts. But these restrictions were not followed. Examples of this started from the first term of the commission when two of its members were made governors and till now the violation continues. There is no amendment to this provision of the Act in the new amendment bill.
  4. The main function of the National Human Rights Commission is to investigate complaints of ‘violation of human rights or abetment of it, or negligence by public servant to prevent such violations’. But based on the findings, he cannot execute his decisions. For this, this high-level body has to depend on the central or state government or the judicial hierarchy (from the top court to the magistrate at the lower level). The new amendments also do not touch the statutory provisions to this effect.
  5. The NHRC does not have any specific mechanism to conduct the investigation. In most cases it orders the concerned government to investigate the matter. The powers of NHRC on any matter are of advisory nature only. There is no special mechanism to implement the recommendations.
  6. Sometimes insufficient funds also hamper the work of NHRC.
  7. The NHRC cannot investigate complaints that are lodged a year after the incident and therefore many complaints remain without investigation, with this, often the government either rejects the NHRC recommendations altogether or They are only partially implemented.

suggestion

Many reforms need to be made to make the NHRC a skilled watchdog for human rights violations in the true sense. The government’s decisions can be increased by fully implementing the Commission’s decisions. The structure of the NHRC also needs to be changed and it should also include representatives of common citizens and social organizations. NHRC should prepare a new cadre of employees with proper experience for investigation so that all cases can be independently investigated. State agents and non-state actors must work together to improve and strengthen the human rights situation in India.

The conclusion

The National Human Rights Protection Act was passed in 1993, keeping in mind that India has been a part of programs like international cooperation on human rights. The 25th anniversary of this act was celebrated in the year 2018 itself. However, the act still remains to be achieved. The NHRC has been criticized for its working style, powers and other factors (discussed above). It is in this context that former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee has called it ‘India’s teasing illusion’. The current amendments also do not address the necessary changes in the NHRC due to which the required questions are still unanswered. Only by solving these questions can a powerful human rights organization be created which will in reality protect and protect human rights.

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