NHRC takes note of health workers’ woes

Context: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken suo motu cognisance of a media report that cited a 250-300% increase in the circulation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on social media in India. The NHRC said the content is of foreign origin, and Indian investigation agencies have not come across any Indian-made child sexual abuse material so far.

Why are we covering it?

  • Because UPSC main syllabus has this line 
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Since NHRC is an important statutory body, we should cover it. 

Also, it is always in news because of its functioning. More often than not we see it as an enervated organization unable to serve the primary objective: Protection of human Rights.

This can be substantiated by following instances: 

  • In June 2016, the current chair of the NHRC and former chief justice of India, HL Dattu, described this institution over which he presided as “a toothless tiger.
  • In 2017, the Supreme Court of India seemed to support Justice Dattu’s remarks while dealing with the alleged extra-judicial killings of 1,528 persons in Manipur by police and armed forces.

So it behoves us to prepare the Issues and challenges plaguing NHRC (Mains perspective). As far as prelims perspectives is concerned, that is straight forward and you can find it in Prelims Pointer and/or PDF. 

What is NHRC?

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India was established on 12 October, 1993. The statute under which it is established is the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993 as amended by the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006.
  • It is in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted at the first international workshop on national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights held in Paris in October 1991, and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations by its Regulations 48/134 of 20 December, 1993.
  • The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern for the promotion and protection of human rights.
  • Section 2(1)(d) of the PHRA defines Human Rights as the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants and enforceable by courts in India.

Composition Of The Commission

  • The Commission consists of a Chairperson, five full-time Members and seven deemed Members. The statute lays down qualifications for the appointment of the Chairperson and Members of the Commission.
  • There are four other members. These are:
    • There should be one Member who is, or has been, a Judge of the Supreme Court.
    • There should be one Member who is, or has been, the Chief Justice of the High Court. 
    • Two other members should be there who have the knowledge or practical experience in matters related to human rights.   
  • The ex officio members of the Commission can be:
    • The Chairpersons of the National Commission for Minorities, 
    • The Chairpersons of the National Commission for  Women, 
    • The Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, and 
    • The Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribe. 
  • Appointment of the members 
    • On the recommendation of a committee, the President of India appoints the chairperson and the members of the National Human Rights Commission. The committee consists of the following members:
      • Prime Minister of India [CHAIRPERSON] 
      • Home Minister of India 
      • Speaker of Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition [Lok Sabha] 
      • Leader of Opposition [Rajya Sabha]
      • Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha 

The Commission shall, perform all or any of the following functions, namely:-

  • Inquire, on its own initiative or on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf, into complaint of-
    • violation of human rights or abetment oR
    • negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant;
  • intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court with the approval of such court;
  • visit, under intimation to the State Government, any jail or any other institution under the control of the State Government, where persons are detained or lodged for purposes of treatment, reformation or protection to study the living condition of the inmates and make recommendations thereon;
  • review the safeguards by or under the Constitution or any law for the time being in force for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation;
  • review the factors, including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend appropriate remedial measures;
  • study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation;

Issues and challenges of NHRC 

  • Autonomy of the NHRC 
    • The Commission is supposed to be completely independent in its functioning, even though the  Protection of Human Rights Act, (PHRA), 1993 does not say so. 
    • In fact, there are provisions in the Act which underscore the dependence of the Commission on the government.
      • For example:
        • Section 11 of the Act makes it dependent on the government for its manpower requirements. 
        • Section 32 of the Act makees it financially dependent  on the central government:
          • Central govt. shall pay to the Commission by way of grants such sums of money as it may consider fit. 
      • Thus, in respect of the two most important requirements i.e. human resources and money, the Commission is not independent. 
    • Even the limited finds are not being used for human rights related functions
      • Large chunks of the budget of commissions go in office expenses, leaving disproportionately small amounts for other crucial areas such as research and rights awareness programmes.
  • Lacks enforcing powers
    • NHRC does not have the backing of the Protection of Human Rights Act to penalise authorities which do not implement its orders hence maming it impossible for NHRC’s recommendations do not reach to the ground level as the 
    • The Act does not categorically empower the NHRC to act when human rights violations through private parties take place.
  • Lacks specialized persons who have dealt in Human rights issues 
    • The Act requires that three of the five members of a human rights commission must be former judges but does not specify whether these judges should have a proven record of human rights activism or expertise or qualifications in the area.
    • Regarding the other two members, the Act is vague, saying simply: “persons having knowledge and experience of human rights.
    • Bureaucratic style of functioning of govt staff :
      • On top of that, as human rights commissions primarily draw their staff from government departments – either on deputation or reemployment after retirement – the internal atmosphere is usually just like any other government office. 
      • Strict hierarchies are maintained, which often makes it difficult for complainants to obtain documents or information about the status of their case.
    • As non-judicial member positions are increasingly being filled by ex-bureaucrats, credence is given to the contention that the NHRC is more an extension of the government, rather than an independent agency exercising oversight.
  • Delay in disposal of cases
    • Expectations from the commission was to keep a tight grip on its disposal, so that pendency was not allowed to increase.
      • Unfortunately, this did not happen and the number of cases pending with the Commission has been increasing sharply every year. 
  • Under staffed:
    • Either the Commission needs to get its staff strength increased or change methods of disposal so that the backlog of accumulated undisposed cases does not become heavy. 
  • Low level of awareness about the Human rights in populace 
    • Among general populace 
      • An awareness of rights is not institutionalized in our curriculum. 
      • It is limited both in geography and knowledge as far as the public is concerned. 
    • Among Lawenforcers (Primary violators)
      • Eighty per cent of the training of a policeman in India is devoted to regimentation and a very little time was left to develop forensic skills or human rights awareness.
    • Knowledge of the laws and one’s interpretation are limited to small groups of people who are educated and legally literate. 
  • Delay in publication of reports: 
    • Delay in publication of annual reports by two or three years has been a constant problem. Annual reports for calendar years should be put online as soon as possible and no later than March of the succeeding year. 
    • The hard copy of the report should also be published at the same time.
  • Constrained against armed forces 
    • Since a very large number of complaints of human rights violations are directed against the members of the “armed forces”, the Act obviously weakens the NHRC’s effectiveness in providing redress to the public in such cases. 
    • All that the Commission, under Section 19 of the Act can do is to call for reports from the central government in such cases and then make recommendations to the government or not “proceed with the complaint” at all. Under the Act, the Commission has no power to enforce its decisions. The Act must be amended to make the Commission a strong, and vibrant institution, supporting democracy and good governance.
    • Preventing the NHRC from independently investigating complaints against the military and security forces not only compounds the problems but also furthers impunity. 

So, NHRC has to develop a strong image as a protector of the poor, marginalised and vulnerable groups. But that will not be possible without substantial changes in the legal framework itself. 

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