National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a public body constituted for benefiting the citizens of the country. It plays vital roles since its establishment on October 12, 1993.
Human Rights means 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.
This Commission was established after the thorough assessment of needs for such bodies to address the human rights related issues and by keeping in consideration the ways and measures to apply for their protection.
The Central Government of India setup the National Human Rights Commission of India in the year 1993 under the Protection of Human Rights Ordinance which was made effective the same year itself.
Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (TPHRA) gave this Commission a status of a complete statutory basis to act as a Commission for the fruitful outcome.
National Human Rights Commission has already become an outstanding human rights institution with its national reputation and by performing the main roles to guard rights. It is one of the important responsible groups through creating total awareness and to promote the rights which have been given the key importance in the Act.
Composition of NHRC
National Human Rights Commission is an independent body works broadly and consists of highly knowledgeable team to work in the areas of human rights. The composition of this Commission is:
- The head or chairperson being selected from the judiciary so any Supreme Court Chief Justice to lead the team members.
- Two members are selected from the judiciary out of whom one should be a sitting or former Supreme Court Judge and the other any High Court’s Chief Justice respectively.
- They are the key members besides rest two members whose appointments base on their knowledge level on both practical and theoretical grounds who could give new direction to human rights issues.
- Ex office members of NHRC are the chairpersons of four National Commissions to complete this Commission as a national body.
President appoints 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.
Removal of a Member of the Commission
Section 5 of the Protection of Human Rights Act describes the procedures and ground for the removal of the any member of the Commission. . The President may remove the Chairperson or any other Member if he:
- Is adjudged an insolvent; or
- Engages during his term of office in any paid employment outside the duties of his office; or
- Is unfit to continue in office by reason of infirmity of mind or body; or
- Is of unsound mind and stands so declared by a competent court; or
- Is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an offence, which in the opinion of the President involves moral turpitude.
Additionally, the Chairperson or any other Member of the Commission shall only be removed from his office by order of the President on the ground of proved misbehavior 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.
Major issues tackled by NHRC are as follows
- Custodial Torture
- Right to Work and Labour Rights
- Extrajudicial Killings
- Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
- Excessive Powers of the Armed Forces and the Police
- Sexual Violence
- Conflict-Induced Internal Displacement
- Child Labour
- Manual Scavenging
- Violence and discrimination against Women, Children
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Rights
- Problems faced by Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Religious Minorities, Persons with Disabilities
Role of NHRC in safeguarding human rights
Since its development, the NHRC has extensively dealt with issues relating to application of human rights. NHRC has established its reputation for independence and honesty. There is increasing number of complaints addressed to the Commission seeking redressal of grievances. The NHRC has pursued its mandate and priorities with determination and considerable success.
Some of the famous interventions of NHRC include campaigns against discrimination of HIV patients. It also has asked all State Governments to report the cases of custodial deaths or rapes within 24 hours of occurrence failing which it would be assumed that there was an attempt to suppress the incident.
An important intervention of the Commission was related to Nithari Village in Noida, UP, where children were sexually abused and murdered. Recently, NHRC helped to bring out in open a multi crore pension scam in Haryana. It also is looking up the sterilization tragedy of Chattisgarh.
Major functions of NHRC are as follows:
- Proactively or reactively inquire into infringements of human rights or negligence in the prevention of such violation by a public servant.
- By leave of the court, to intervene in court proceeding relating to human rights.
- To visit any jail or other institution under the control of the State Government, where persons are detained or lodged for purposes of treatment, reformation or protection, for the study of the living conditions of the inmates and make recommendations.
- Review the safeguards provided 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.
- To study treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation.
- Undertake and promote research in the field of human rights.
- Engage in human rights education 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.
- Support the efforts of NGOs and institutions working in the field of human rights.
It is revealed in reports that the international community has acknowledged the increasing importance of strengthening national human rights institutions.
In this context, in the year 1991 an UN-sponsored meeting of representatives of national institutions held in Paris, a detailed set of principles on the status of national institutions was developed, these are commonly known as the Paris Principles.
These principles became the foundation for the establishment and operation of national human rights institutions.
Strengths of NHRC
- The selection procedure of the members of NHRC is the main factor of its strength. The composition of the Selection Committee is such that it involves members of ruling as well as opposition party and both the Houses of Parliament. Also, the composition of NHRC is such that it involves Legislative, Executive, Judiciary, academicians and NGOs. This gives the Commission a broad vision to deal with the issues of Human Rights.
- Financial autonomy, though limited, has provided NHRC independence of Central Government. The Commission is free to make its own budget and spend it according to its own planning. The draft of the proposed budget is placed before both the Houses of Parliament and after the approval of the budget, the Government, without making any amendment, has to provide finances to the Commission.
- The Commission has the power to conduct suo-moto inquiry into the complaints of Human Rights violations.
- Easy accessibility to the Commission has made it one of the most popular organizations. Anyone can approach NHRC through telephone, letter, application, mobile phone and the Internet. All the documents, reports, newsletters, speeches, etc. of the Commission are also available on this website. The status of the complaint too can be known through its website. The popularity and trust on NHRC is quite evident from the fact that while it had registered only 496 complaints in 1993-94, in 2004-05 the total number of cases were 74,4019.
- NHRC has advised the government a number of times on the issues of Human Rights. Be it the cases of custodial deaths or suicide by the farmers or health issues or POTA, child marriage, trafficking of women and children etc., the government has been taking suggestions from NHRC.
- NHRC, in a true democratic fashion, has worked immensely to create awareness among public on Human Rights issues through seminars, workshops, lectures, literature, NGOs’ participation, universities’ collaborations, etc.
- The Commission has extended its sphere from time to time. Support for right to information, health care issues, disables’ rights, HIV/AIDS patients’ rights etc. are some of the issues where NHRC has worked successfully.
Weaknesses of the Commission
- In the process of selection of the members of the Commission, the Chairman is not consulted.
- Because of certain weakness in the Act, at times the Commission feels the need for the amendments. But the Commission has constraints in doing so.
- Another major weakness of the Commission is that it does not have powers to investigate armed forces, BSF or any other paramilitary forces.
- Finally, NHRC is only an investigative and recommendatory body. It does not have power of prosecution.
- It is dependent on the Government for manpower and money. The Central Government shall pay to the Commission by way of grants such sums of money as it may consider fit.