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National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

National Human Rights Commission, abbreviated as NHRC, is a public body which is constituted for benefiting the citizens of the country. It has been playing vital roles since its establishment on October 12, 1993.

Human Right’s means the rights relating and including the right 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.

NHRC was established after a thorough assessment of needs for establishing such bodies in order to address the human rights related issues and by keeping in consideration the ways and measures to apply for their protection. Thus, the Central Government of India established the National Human Rights Commission of India in the year 1993 under the Protection of Human Rights Act which itself was made effective in the same year. NHRC was given a complete statutory basis by The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (TPHRA). NHRC since then is considered as a national human rights institution.

NHRC is one of the important Commission for creating awareness and in promoting the rights which have been given the key importance in the Act.

History:
The National Human Rights Commission was established on October 12, 1993. The statute of NHRC is contained in the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, and further 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 in the year 1991, and as endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in Resolution 48/134 of December 20, 1993. The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern towards the promotion and protection of human rights.

Composition of NHRC:

National Human Rights Commission is an independent body constituted by the Central Government and consists of highly knowledgeable team to work in the areas of human rights.

The composition of this Commission is:

  • A Chairperson who is a retired Chief Justice of India
  • One Member who is or has been a Judge of the Supreme Court
  • One Member who is or has been the Chief Justice of a High Court
  • Two persons having knowledge or practical experience in matters relating to Human Rights.
The President appoints the chairperson and the members of National Human Rights Commission, for which a committee nominates the names. This committee consists of Chairperson, the Prime Minister and the members including Home Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman.

Further in addition to this, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the National Commission for Women are deemed to be members of the National Human Rights Commission for the discharge of specific functions laid down.

Removal of a Member of the Commission:

Section 5 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, lays down the procedures and ground for the removal of any member of the Commission. Further, the President can remove the Chairperson or any other member if he:
  1. Is adjudged an insolvent; or
  2. Engages during his term of office in any other paid employment outside the duties of his office;
  3. Is unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body; or
  4. Is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court; or
  5. Is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an offence, which in the opinion of the President involves moral turpitude[1].

Additionally, the Chairperson or any other member of the Commission can only be removed from his office by the order of the President on the ground of proved misbehavior or incapacity.
However, in these cases, the President is supposed to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for conducting an inquiry. And if the Supreme Court, after the inquiry, upholds the cause of removal and advises so, then the President can remove the Chairperson or a member of NHRC.

Functions of NHRC:

The National Human Rights Commission has a very wide mandate and includes civil and political rights, economic rights, social and cultural rights, and other group rights. Section 12 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, lays down that 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[2]:
    • 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, by intimating 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, in order 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 further recommend appropriate remedial measures on the same;
  • Study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation;
  • Spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, the media, seminars and other available means[3];
  • Encourage the efforts of non - Governmental organizations and institutions working in the field of human rights;
  • Undertake and promote research in the field of human rights.
  • Other functions considered necessary for promotion of human rights.
  • Responsibility of Government authority.
  • The Central Government or the State Government or any other Authority is supposed to indicate its comments including actions that are taken on the report/recommendations of the Commission within a period of one month in respect of complaints against public servants other than members of the armed forces.
  • In respect of complaints against members of the armed forces, the Central Government has to indicate action taken on the recommendations within three months to the Commission.
  • Issue of the one-year limitation period.
  • Purpose - not to have another judicial body – it is an institution which will give primary focus on the allegation of violation of human rights and to provide quicker redressal as compared to other redressal mechanisms. The court: District Courts to the Supreme Court are always available to the people and the Commission's role is not to replace these mechanisms.

Powers of Commission relating to inquiries:

  • While inquiring into complaints under the Act, the Commission shall have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and in particular the following, namely[4];
    1. Summoning and enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath;
    2. discovery and production of any document;
    3. receiving evidence on affidavits;
    4. requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office;
    5. issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses or documents;
    6. any other matter which may be prescribed.

Major Human Rights issues in India:

Despite India having the status of world's largest sovereign, secular, democratic republic, human rights in India are considered as complicated issue due to the country's large size and population, widespread poverty, lack of proper education, diverse culture.

Nobody can deny the humongous magnitude of human right violations that are taking place in our country and are having huge effects on the being. The world’s largest democracy is plagued by widespread violations. Few major issues which are taken up by NHRC are:
  • Custodial Torture
  • Right to Work and Labour Rights
  • Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
  • Excessive Powers of the Armed Forces and the Police
  • Sexual Violence
  • Child Labour
  • Violence and discrimination against Women, Children
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Rights

Conclusion:
If human rights commissions are to truly protect the human rights in India, it needs a revamp. The efficacy and authority of the commissions will be greatly enhanced if their decisions are made enforceable by the government as well. Misuse of laws by the law enforcing agencies itself is often considered as the root cause of human right violations.

Therefore, in order to make the efforts of the commission more impactful, then the weakness of laws are supposed to be removed and the laws that run contrary to the human rights should be amended or repealed.
As Chairman Justice K G Balakrishnan has rightly pointed out, that in order to improve and strengthen the human rights situation in India, the Human Right defenders, state and non-state actors need to work in tandem.

Clearly, the NHRC, with special regard to children’s rights, is considered to a great extent a formidable entity. While, it enjoys formidable legal strength on its panel, it is limited as it can only make recommendations, and cannot enforce its decisions.

End-Notes:
  1. PHRA_Bilingual_2018.pdf (nhrc.nic.in)
  2. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) (jatinverma.org)
  3. Section 12(h) of The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
  4. What powers have been vested with the Commission relating to inquiries? | National Human Rights Commission India (nhrc.nic.in)

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