NHRC - A report card
NHRC is 13 Years Old
The National Human Rights Commission observed its 14th birthday on October 12, 2006 at the FICCI Auditorium. It was constituted on October 12, 1993 and has completed 13 years of its existence) October 11, 2006. It was for the first time that the foundation day of the NHRC was celebrated. The author of these lines was invited to the function and he was surprised to see that he was probably the only ‘outsider’, there might have been one or two others whom he might have missed, ot6herwise the spacious Auditorium was filled by members of the NHRC family. One does not know whether all other invitees from the civil society failed to respond to the invitation. For all practical purposes it appeared to be an ‘in-house’ function. The well written about 28 page report of its activities during the last 13 years was read out by Dr Justice Shivraj V Patil, members of the Commission which went unreported in the press the next day.
We reproduce below important parts of the speech for the readers of the PUCL Bulletin and for information of the readers and for record.
At the inception of the Commission who strongly belied in the promotion and protection of Human Rights, looking provisions of the Act, felt that it would be a ‘toothless tiger’. No doubt merely going by the provisions of the Act it may appear so. But a positive look at the provisions, the functioning, performance and impact created by the Commission during the last 13 years show that the Commission has a strong denture sufficient to bite.
From 12th October, 1993 till the end of the September, 2006 the Commission received 6,37,009 complaints. In the first year of its establishment it received 496 complaints for redressal of the grievances made therein. However in the last three years, the Commission has been receiving on an average 6000 complaints per month i.e. between 70,000 complaints per year. During the year 2005-06, the Commission received 74,444 complaints. Against this, the Commission disposed of 80,923 complaints which included the complaints carried forward from earlier years. The complaints received cover a broad spectrum of Human Rights violation including custodial deaths, custodial torture-other police excesses, bonded labour issues, exploitation of women and children, exploitation of SC/STs, Human Rights violations due to natural calamities such as cyclones, earthquakes etc. and starvation deaths due to deprivation, denial of medical care as ell as death due to electrocution etc.
During the last 13 years, the Commission has recommended for payment of interim relief to the extent of Rs. 10,44,97,634/- to be paid in 7 16 cases, recommended disciplinary action in 223 cases and prosecution in 74 cases against the public servants who were prima facie found responsible for their acts of omission and commission resulting in violation of Human Rights of the people. Added to this, the Commission has also recommended a total of Rs. 23,24,25,000/- to be paid to the next of the kin of 1245 deceased in the matter of Punjab Mass Cremation case.
The Commission has evolved a Complaints management System (CMIS) which has been functioning reasonably well. The National Human Rights Commission in Nepal and National Centre for Human Rights in Jordan with the assistance of officers of this Commission have adopted our system.
Credit for the modest amount of success of the Commission also goes to our special Rapporteurs, senior officers, staff, Chairperson, staff, Chairperson and Members of Core Group and experts for their able advice and assistance. The Commission places on records their services and thank them. Our special Rapporteurs S/Shri Chaman Lal, K R Venugopal, SVM Tripathi and Ms Anuradha Mohit, are no more with the Commission but their valuable contribution is continuing. A special mention is to be made here to Shri Chaman Lal. The Commission could not succeed pursuing him to continue to assist, having regard to his commitment and excellent service record. Some person need institutions after retirement and some institutions need retired persons. Shri Chaman Lal belongs to latter category.
Civil and Political Liberties
In its initial years, the Commission’s focus was on protecting and promoting civil and political rights of the people. As early as 14 December 1993, the Commission instructed all Chief Secretaries to ensure that all cases of custodial death and rape be reported to it within 24 hours of occurrence, failing which an adverse inference would be drawn by the Commission. Thereafter, on 10 August 1995, went a step further, whereby the Chief Ministers were requested to ensure that all post-mortem examinations of deaths in custody be video graphed. On 27 March 1997, Chief Ministers were additionally requested to adopt a Model Autopsy Form, prepared by the Commission. Further, comprehensive guidelines were sent to Chief Ministers on 27 March 1997 in respect of the manner in which encounters should be investigated and reported. On 22 November 2000, Chief Ministers were sent a letter providing detailed guideless on the subject of arrest and detention in view of well known D K Basu case.
The Commission is deeply concerned about the rights of the persons with disability. In 2003 the Commission launched a project in partnership with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and the Indira Gandhi national Open University (IGNOU) to orient legal practitioners, academics, activists with domestic and international law, encouraging its creative application for better protection and promotion of the rights of the persons with disability. Under this project three key areas were identified,
a. A curriculum design; b. Training and reference material; c. Trainers to teach Human Rights, disability and law course in a stand-alone mode or as part of formal and non-formal courses in law and human rights.
Besides this under this project in 2004-2005 a training of trainers programme at NLSIU, Bangalore, National Workshop at NALSAR and five Outreach programmes were organised. These programmes culminated in a National Conference on Disability held on 23 June 2005 at New Delhi. Vice Chancellors of Universities, Union Secretaries, State Welfare Secretaries, State Disability Commissioners, NGOs, representative from NCERT, NCTE, RCI and other apex institutions attended the conference. The recommendations of the National Conference on Disabilities were sent to Central Governments, Union Territories and concerned.
On coming to know that when disabled people are produced in the Court, they are made to remove their shoes which cause serious difficulty to them. The Chairperson vide letter 25th February 2005 communicated to all Chief Justices of High Courts to take necessary action to prevent inconvenience caused due to this practice to the disabled.
Till date we have received responses from 10 High Courts.
Rights of Women
Pursuant to the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights the Commission, in 2001, designated one of its members Mrs Justice Sujata V Manohar to serve as a Focal Point on Human Rights of Women including Trafficking. To create awareness, the Focal point brought out an Information Kit in Trafficking in Women and Children with able and untiring assistance of dr. Savita Bhakry our SRO Subsequently, in order to an authentic database to deal with the problem in all its dimensions, it undertook an Action Research on Trafficking in Women and children in India along with the UNIFEM and the Institute of Social Sciences based at New Delhi. Based on the study, research and recommendations a plan of action to prevent and end trafficking of women and children in India has been evolved by the Commissions recently and disseminated to all concerned across the country.
Sexual harassment of women at work place and in trains is another area that has engrossed the attention of the Commission ever since the focal point on Human Rights of women constituted in 2001. It is with the intervention of the Commission that the role of the complaints Committee prescribed in Vishakha guidelines has been redefined. Complaints Committees are now deemed to be an inquiry authority for the purposes of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 and the report of the Complaints Committee shall be deemed to be an inquiry report under those Rules.
Rights of Children
The ‘rights of children’ is another area that has drawn the attention of the Commission from the beginning. The Commission over the years focused its attention on child labour, child marriage, child trafficking and prostitution, child sexual violence, female foeticide and infanticide, child rape, HIV/AIDS afflicted children and juvenile justice. The Commission, first and foremost, concentrated on ending the problem of child labour, especially those employed in hazardous industries. It laid emphasis on the provision of free and compulsory education for children up to the age of 14 years, and the allocation of an appropriate level of resources to achieve this objective.
Last week, Ministry of Labour, Government of India announced that employment of children below years as domestic servants in Dhabas, restaurants, tea shops or any recreational centre is banned w.e.f. 10th October, 2006. Anyone employing children in these occupations is liable for punishment up to one year and /or fine. The commission is happy in this regard as it feels that its efforts got the dividends. As a result of this, large number of children may be released. Though releasing of children from child labour is important but, much more important and vital is to see that they do not relapse to the old position for lack of support. Hence, there is an urgent and imperative need for the Governments both at the Centre and State level to have a concrete and practical policy in this regard.
Looking to the widespread persistence of child marriage in certain parts of the country, the Commission has realised that the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 (CMRA) should be recast. “The Prevention of Child Marriage Bill” was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 20th of December 2004, incorporating the recommendations of the commission. Last year, the Commission addressed the Central and the State Governments/Union territories to organise mass-scale awareness programmes campaigns to educate and sensitize people about the demerits of child marriages.
Sexual violence against children is another sensitive issue in this regard, the commission took concrete measures. The NHRC, in partnership with Prasar Bharati and UNICEF held four workshops for radio and television producers. It was during the course of these workshops that an idea of bringing out a guidebook for the media to address the issue of sexual violence against children emerged. The commission currently is also in the process of preparing guidelines for speedy disposal of child rape cases.
Faced with the widely prevalent misuse of sex determination tests to commit female foeticide, the commission approached the Medical Council of India during the year 1995-96, to take a position on the ethical aspects of such tests. It also emphasised the need for undertaking.
A Vigorous and Comprehensive National Campaign against Female Foeticide and Infanticide
During the course of regional and national consultations on Public Health and Human Rights that were held during 2002-03, the Commission again took up the issue of combating female foeticide and infanticide. The Commission had maintained that vigorous and comprehensive measures be taken by all States and Union territories to put an end to the gruesome problem of female foeticide and infanticide.
Abolition of Manual Scavenging
The Commission has been vigorously pursuing the need to end the degrading practice of manual scavenging in the country. The Commission has held number of meetings with the State Governments. The last such meeting was held on 25th February, 2006 on Eradication of Manual Governments and other stakeholders. On the basis of detailed deliberations follow up action is taken.
Pursuant to the efforts of the Commission, the prime Minister made an announcement for abolition of manual scavenging. The Planning Commission accordingly formulated a National. Action Plan for Total education of manual Scavenging by the end of 2007.
National Action Plan for Human Rights
The Commission has taken up the task of preparing the National Action Plan. The Commission constituted a Working group and an Advisory Committee including representatives of various departments of the Government, NGOs and eminent lawyers to prepare a National Action Plan for Human Rights. The working group decided to focus on the following areas which would require a continuous dialogue and discussion before taking appropriate shape for its documentation in the body of national Action Plan for Human Rights: Human Rights Education; Criminal Justice system encompassing police prosecution etc; Rights of vulnerable (women, children, bonded labour, Dalits elderly, tribals, minorities, disabled etc.); Right to food, water, health and environment; Right to Social security, Globalisation and human rights.
The working Group has recently decided to prepare draft chapters of the proposed national Action Plan for human rights and these chapters will be extensively discussed with the concerned ministers/departments of the Government of India before they are finalised
Right to Food
The NHRC has consistently maintained that right to food is inherent to living a life with dignity. It has also expressed that right to food includes nutrition at an appropriate level. To deliberate on the food situation in the country as well as ways and means to make the right to food a reality to the common man, the commission reconstituted its core group on Right to Food which met on 13 January 2006. The Group dwelled on issues relating to food security, monitoring of existing schemes and reforms in public Distribution system, starvation deaths/ suicides including the States’ response to these occurrences, need for up gradation of scientific and technological measures in the country and the spreading of awareness among the masses that all of them were entitled to get two square meals.
It is a matter of common knowledge that wars producer hunger. But people seem to be less alive to the fact that hunger can lead to war. It is un-debatable that hunger and peace cannot co-exist. In other words, while hunger rules, peace cannot prevail. All democratic institutions have onerous abide great responsibility and duty to respond to the challenges, to maintain the abiding faith and continuing confidence of the society, which the society has reposed in them, because they essentially exist for the society.
Complementarity between the Judiciary and the Commission
The Act provides for the intervention of the Commission into court cases with the permission of the concerned court. The Commission has approached the courts in several cases to protect human rights of the vulnerable people including in pending cases. One such latest case is ‘Best Bakery Case’. The Supreme Court by its verdict dated 12.4.2004 set aside the judgement of acquittal in this case and further directed fresh investigation of the case and its retrial outside the State of Gujarat in the State of Maharashtra. The trial court at Mumbai on 21.2.2006 after trial convicted and awarded life imprisonment to 9 out of 17 accused. The court also issued show cause notice to the witnesses who had turned hostile as to why they should not be prosecuted for perjury.
The Supreme Court reposing confidence in the Commission in number of cases, which were under its consideration, remitted them to the Commission. Some of the important remits made by the Supreme Court to the Commission are – (i) cases arising out of allegations of deaths by starvation in the “KBK” districts of Orissa; (ii) the monitoring of programmes to end bonded and child labour in the country; (iii) the handling of allegations relating to the “mass cremation” of persons declared “unjustified” in certain districts of the Punjab and (iv) the proper management of institutions of the mentally challenged in Ranchi, Gwalior and Agra; and of the Protective Home for Women in the latter city.
Proceedings in KBK Districts of Orissa and Punjab Mass cremations cases were concluded on 30 8.2006 and 10.10.2006 respectively.
Such remits from the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of India and the High Court to the NHRC have actually enhanced the prestige and credibility of the Commission. Complementarity between the judiciary and the commission has been of great advantage in so far as the role of the Commission for protecting Human Rights is concerned. This demonstrates how the judiciary and the Human Rights can work in coordination and in a complementary manner with each other protection of Human Rights.
Deeply concerned about the need to protect the Human Rights of the under trial, the Commission moved a Criminal Writ petition No. 1278/2004 before the High Court Delhi and prayed for quashing of the trial of Charanjit Singh who was languishing in jail since 1985 wand whose condition had deteriorated despite prolonged treatment at various hospitals/institutions. The high Court vide its order dated 4.3.2005 quashed the trial of the mentally ill prisoner. The High Court commanded the initiative of the Commission and took note of promise by the Govt. of NCT of Delhi for taking care of medical need of Charanjit Singh after quashing of the trial. Guidelines proposed by the NHRC for considering the cases of such mentally ill-under trial was accepted by the Court and suitable direction issued to the Govt. of Delhi in this regard [Case No. 3628/30/2001-2002].
During the visit of Shri Chaman Lal, Special Rapporteur, to LGB Regional Institute of Mental Health, Tezpur, Assam, he came across a under trial Machang Lalung who was languishing in jail/mental hospital for 54 years. Pursuant to efforts of the Commission, he was released.
Custodial Justice and Reforms
Prisoners, be they under trials or life convicts of juvenile delinquents are primarily human beings entitled to human rights as others. The Commission has been monitoring at half-yearly intervals the situation obtaining in Central jails/district jails/ sub jails in respect of the over-crowing of prisoners, expediting their trials, their medical examination and treatment, providing proper food, proper sanitation etc.
Elimination of Bonded Labour
The Commission has consistently taken up the issue of elimination of forced/bonded labour. Ever since the Supreme Court entrusted the responsibility of overseeing implementation of Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and monitoring the compliance of directions issued by it on 11.11.1997 in WP No. 3922/45 the Commission has initiated the following measures:
Conducting State level reviews on the pace and progress of implementation statutory provisions as also of the directions of the apex court;
Organising sensitisation workshops for DMs and other officials at the State and District levels;
Undertaking extensive field visits to review on the spot measures taken by the State Governments for identification, release and rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers.
The Commission has been actively engaged since its inception in the protection and promotion of the human rights of Dalits. The Commission has viewed its role as that of an “Equalizer”: adding its weight on behalf of the vulnerable.
In 1996 a National Workshop was organised in Chennai by the Dalit liberation education Trust with the help of the peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL and the Commission. The Commission has also conducted training programmes related with Dalit Rights with different NGOs from time to time. Based on Shri K B Saxena’s report, the Commission has made certain recommendations to the Prime Minister, 11 Union Ministers, Deputy Chairperson, Planning Commission and Chief Ministers of all the States and Union territories for taking effective steps as regards issue of Dalits.
In the meeting on Dalits issues in the Commission on 28.6.2006, it was resolved that for the year 2006-2007 the focus would be I) Eradication of Manual scavenging and ii) Elimination for atrocities against Dalits.
Convention against Torture
The commission has been requesting the Government of India to ratify the convention against Torture and other cruel, Inhuman or degrading Treatment of Punishment 1984, which was signed by India on 14 October 1997 on the recommendation of the Commission. The Commission has been urging early ratification of the said Convention. The Government has now drafted The Convention against Torture. The Ministry of Home Affairs had requested the Commission to send the comments on the draft Bill. The Commission has responded on 14.7.2006 to the Government and is hopeful that the Convention will be ratified in near future.
Having said about the work of the Commission so far done, I must say it bas miles to go to reach the goal of all human rights for all. Rule of law is necessary to sustain democracy. Democratic climate is essential to uphold the rule of law. Focus of both must be human beings and human rights. It may not be possible to prevent violation of human beings and human rights. It may not be possible to prevent violation of Human Rights or eliminate them totally but by determination and dedicated efforts with the commitment of all concerned, violation of Human Rights can be minimised. In this regard, the concerted, cooperative and collective efforts of vigilant civil society, dedicated NGOs, committed and honest law enforcing agency, proactive judiciary and objective, sensitive and constructive media are required in respecting the Human Rights of all. All those associated without and fighting for the cause off Human Rights should themselves basically be good human beings with courage and conviction. On seeing a charming but pious lady in a big gathering, the other ladies asked her as to what cosmetics she used for looking so charming. The reply of the pious lady was - to her eyes - pity; to lips-truth; to voice-prayer; to heart-love; to hands-charity and to figure-righteousness. These are not the cosmetics of the body but of the soul. These cosmetics are essential for the soul of both men and women to shine and serve. Now it is time to move from sermon to service. The divine message “Love all, help ever, hurt never” should be spirit of living to serve the cause of Human Rights.
One thing that is equally and without discrimination available to everyone is Time. Time cannot be stored or restored. It is only to be used appropriately. One should budget the Time in the morning and audit it at night. Growing old is mandatory whereas growing wiser is optional. Hence it is the time for all of us in different walks of life to exercise the option of becoming wiser to commit and contribute for the welfare and development of everyone in the country without any discrimination and differentiation so that individuals develop their potentialities, contribute their maximum to build happy, healthy and strong nation. If that happens it serves in great measure the cause of human rights. I think the Chairperson for giving me this opportunity and thank you all for donating your valuable time in listening to me.