Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill 2019

The Lok Sabha has passed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Features of the Bill

  • The bill seeks to amend the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
  • The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 provided that the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a person who has been a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The Bill seeks to enlarge the ambit by providing that a person who has been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or a Judge of the Supreme Court to be the chairperson of the NHRC.
  • Currently, the chairpersons of various commissions such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and the National Commission for Women are members of the NHRC.
  • The bill provides for the inclusion of the chairpersons of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as members of the NHRC.
  • The bill seeks to increase the persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members from two to three. Further, it mandates one of them to be a woman.
  • The bill provides that a person who has been Chief Justice or Judge of a High Court will be the chairperson of an SHRC.
  • The bill seeks to reduce the term of office chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC from five years or till the age of seventy years to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.
  • The Bill provides for the central government to confer on an SHRC human rights functions being discharged by Union Territories.  Further, it provides for functions relating to human rights in the case of Delhi to be dealt with by the NHRC.

Why the amendments are criticised?

Jurist-judge V R Krishna Iyer had criticised NHRC as “the biggest post office in India”.  The government had also said the amendments were being brought in to strengthen the commission. But these amendments are criticised for the following reasons:

  • Even though the amendment bill expands the ambit of the chairperson of the NHRC to include any judge of the Supreme Court, it is said that the impact of this change cannot be predicted with certainty and only time will tell whether the wide extension of the government’s options in selecting the NHRC chief is a change for the better or worse.
  • The amendment bill increases the number of non-judicial members having knowledge of or experience in matters relating to human rights to three including a woman member. It is said this could not be different from earlier experiences wherein these coveted positions were filled with retired officers or those close to the ruling parties. As the criterion is ambiguous,  the government will prefer to choose its supporters. It is ironic that governments have rarely considered any such specialist nor any known human rights activist for membership of the commission.
  • It is said that instead of adding chairpersons of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as Ex-Officio members, it would have been more fruitful to associate with NHRC representatives of a few leading NGOs, promoting human rights in general.
  • Even though the act prohibits further government employment for its chair and members, these provisions were rarely followed in letter and spirit by manipulating the phrases. This practice was started with the first commission itself, when two of its sitting members were given gubernatorial positions overnight, and continues till date. The new amendment bill does not disturb the related provision of the Act.
  • Even though NHRC is entrusted to inquire into complaints of violation of human rights or abetment thereof, or negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant, NHRC cannot execute its decisions based on its findings. The NHRC has to depend either on the central or state government or on the judicial hierarchy in the country. The amendment bill does not contain any provisions to address this anomaly.

The amendments have failed to consider the recommendations of the earlier commissions headed by Rajinder Sachar and former Chief Justice Aziz Ahmadi. The 2019 amendment bill also falls short in strengthening the human rights watchdog. As a result, NHRC is yet to be assigned its rightful role in the affairs of the country and society.

Topics: 

Latest E-Books

Comments