National Human Rights Commission (NHRC): Structure, Functions, Powers and Challenges_00.1
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National Human Rights Commission (NHRC): Structure, Functions, Powers and Challenges

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  • GS Paper 2: Statutory, regulatory, and various quasi-judicial bodies.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC): Structure, Functions, Powers and Challenges_50.1

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Context

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) committee formed to investigate complaints of post­poll violence in West Bengal has recommended that cases of heinous crimes be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

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Key points about NHRC

  • Formation: NHRC is an independent statutory body, set up in 1993 as per provisions of Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA), 1993, later amended in 2006.
    • Headquarter: New Delhi, India
  • Statutory mandate: It is responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights.
    • Human rights: 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.
  • In conformity with the ‘Paris Principle’: which was 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 in 1993.
    • The NHRC is an embodiment of India’s concern for the promotion and protection of human rights.

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Structure of NHRC

  • After an amendment to the PHRC in 2019, the organizational structure of the NHRC comprise of following members with required qualifications-

 

              Members                 Appointment criteria
A Chairperson Who has been Chief Justice of India or a Judge of the Supreme Court (added after an amendment in 2019)
One member Who is, or has been, a Judge of the Supreme Court of India

 

One member Who is or has been the chief justice of a High Court
Three members (of which one must be women) To be appointed from among persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights

 

Deemed/ex-officio members

 

 

Chairpersons of the following bodies-

·         National Commission for Scheduled Castes;

·         National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Minorities;

·         National Commission for Women;

·         National Commission for Backward Classes;

·         National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and

·         Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities

 

  • Appointment of the members: President appoints the Chairman and members of NHRC on the recommendation of the high-powered committee headed by the Prime Minister. The composition of this high-powered committee includes-
    1. The Prime Minister (Chairperson)
    2. The Home Minister of India
    3. The Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (House of the People)
    4. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (Council of States)
    5. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha (House of the People)
    6. The Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (Council of States)
  • Tenure: The Chairperson and Members of the Commission hold office for three years or until they attain the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.
    • They shall also be eligible for re-appointment.
  • Grounds for Removal:
    • Removal is done by the president on grounds of bankruptcy, unsound mind, infirmity of body or mind, sentenced to imprisonment for a crime, or engages in paid employment.
    • He can also be removed for proved misbehavior or incapacity if SC inquiry finds him guilty.
    • They can also resign by writing to the president.

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Powers and Functions of the NHRC

  • Intervention: It intervenes in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court with the approval of such court.
  • Inquiry: It can inquire into any complaints of violation of human rights or negligence in preventing such violation by a public servant.
    • While inquiring into the complaints, the commission enjoys the powers of a civil court.
  • Safeguards the interests of the vulnerable: for example, NHRC can visit any jail or any other institution under the control of the State Government to see the living conditions of the inmates and to make recommendations thereon.
  • Scope: It can recommend to both the central and state governments to take suitable steps to prevent the violation of Human Rights.
    • It submits its annual report to the President of India who causes it to be laid before each House of Parliament.
    • the Commission also studies treaties and international instruments on human rights and makes recommendations for their effective implementation to the Government.
  • Awareness generation: NHRC spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promotes awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, the media, seminars, and other available means.
    • It also plays an active role in coordinating with other NHRIs of the world to enhance awareness from the perspective of human rights.
  • It has also hosted delegations from UN Bodies and other National Human Rights Commissions as well as members of civil society, lawyers, and political and social activists from many countries.
  • Collaboration with Civil societies: It encourages the efforts of non-governmental organizations and institutions working in the field of human rights.
    • It is also known for promoting research and encouraging NGOs in the field of human rights.

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Associated challenges with the NHRC

  • Recommendatory nature of advice: it means that it can not legally enforce its decisions and depends on the wishes of the concerned authority for the same. This lack of authority to ensure compliance can lead to outright rejection of its decision too.
  • Lack of independent investigative machinery: as it does not have its own independent investigative machinery. So, it has to depend on other agencies like CBI who may not function fairly and independently.
  • Bounded by time duration: as Under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, human rights commissions cannot investigate an event if the complaint was made more than one year after the incident. Therefore, a large number of genuine grievances go unaddressed.
  • Many times NHRC is viewed as post-retirement destinations for judges and bureaucrats with political affiliation. Along with this, the inadequacy of funds also hampers its effective functioning.
  • The exclusion of Armed forces from investigative powers of the NHRC further restricts its powers and authority to serve as the guardian of human rights in India.

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Suggestions for Improvement in the Human Rights situation in India

  • Revamping the institution of the NHRC:
    • By entrusting it with powers to ensure enforcement of its decisions by implementing authorities.
    • Independent investigating machinery should be set under complete control of the NHRC to ensure free and fair investigation of human rights violations.
    • Diversify its composition by including people from civil society, human rights activists, etc.: this will reduce bureaucratization of the NHRC, resulting in better functioning of the organization.
  • Armed forces: The definition of the armed forces should be restricted to only the army, navy, and air force.
    • Further, even in these cases, the Commission should be allowed to independently investigate cases of violation of rights.
  • For NHRC to be an effective watchdog of human rights in the country, it is important to empower NHRC to make it work more efficiently and independently. This will help in improving and strengthening the human rights situation in India.

 

 

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