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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

GS-II :
  • 03 December, 2019

  • Min Read

NHRC seeks report on assault cases

Syllabus subtopic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections

News: Expressing concern over the recent sexual assault cases, the National Human Rights Commission on Monday issued notices to the Centre, States and Union Territories seeking reports on the standard operating procedure (SOP) for dealing with such cases and the use of the Nirbhaya Fund. The NHRC has asked the governments to respond in six weeks.

Prelims and Mains focus: about NHRC, SHRC, their composition, functions and limitations, about Nirbhaya Fund

Context:

Taking suo motu cognisance of media reports, the NHRC observed that there was a “dire need for all stakeholders to work jointly to get rid of this evil.”

The Commission’s action comes in the wake of the gang­rape and murder of a doctor in Hyderabad that has spurred a debate on the condition of women’s security in the country once again.

Remarks made by NHRC

Issuing the notices, the Commission said the “largest democracy of the world, which has adopted the longest written Constitution and has a rich cultural heritage of gender equality, is today being criticised for having the most unsafe environment for women.”

The NHRC said these cases were violations of the victims’ human rights.

“There have been constitutional and statutory provisions to ensure that women are not subjected to any kind of discrimination and harassment. But, there is an alarming trend indicating that things are getting worse, amounting to violation of right to life, liberty, dignity and equality of women across the country,” it said.

About NHRC:

  • NHRC of India is an independent statutory body established on 12 October, 1993 as per provisions of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, later amended in 2006.

  • NHRC has celebrated its Silver Jubilee (25 years) on October 12, 2018. Its headquarter is located in New Delhi.

  • It is the watchdog of human rights in the country, i.e. the rights related to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by Indian Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.

  • It was established in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted for the promotion and protection of human rights in Paris (October, 1991) and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 December, 1993.

The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill 2019 passed by the Parliament aims to accelerate the process of appointment of chairperson and members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Salient Features of the Act:

The Act amends the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. It provides for a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), as well as Human Rights Courts.

Composition of NHRC: Under the Act, the chairperson of the NHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or a Judge of the Supreme Court will be the chairperson of the NHRC.

Inclusion of woman member: The Act provides for two persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC. The Bill amends this to allow three members to be appointed, of which at least one will be a woman.

Other members: Under the Act, chairpersons of various commissions such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and National Commission for Women are members of the NHRC. The Bill provides for including 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.

Chairperson of SHRC: Under the Act, the chairperson of a SHRC is a person who has been a Chief Justice of a High Court. The Bill amends this to provide that a person who has been Chief Justice or Judge of a High Court will be chairperson of a SHRC.

Term of office: The Act states that the chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRC will hold office for five years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier. The Bill reduces the term of office to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier. Further, the Act allows for the reappointment of members of the NHRC and SHRCs for a period of five years. The Bill removes the five-year limit for reappointment.

Powers of Secretary-General: The Act provides for a Secretary-General of the NHRC and a Secretary of a SHRC, who exercise powers as may be delegated to them. The Bill amends this and allows the Secretary-General and Secretary to exercise all administrative and financial powers (except judicial functions), subject to the respective chairperson’s control.


Union Territories: The Bill provides that the central government may confer on a SHRC human rights functions being discharged by Union Territories. Functions relating to human rights in the case of Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.

Benefits:

  1. The Amendment will strengthen the Human Rights Institutions of India further for effective discharge of their mandates, roles and responsibilities.

  1. Moreover, the amended Act will be in perfect sync with the agreed global standards and benchmarks towards ensuring the rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual in the country.

  1. The amendment will also make National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) more compliant with the Paris Principle concerning its autonomy, independence, pluralism and wide-ranging functions in order to effectively protect and promote human rights.

Functions and Powers of NHRC

  • NHRC investigates grievances regarding the violation of human rights either suo moto or after receiving a petition.
  • It has the power to interfere in any judicial proceedings involving any allegation of violation of human rights.
  • It 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.
  • It can review the safeguards provided under the constitution or any law for the protection of the human rights and can recommend appropriate remedial measures.
  • NHRC undertakes and promotes research in the field of human rights.
  • NHRC works to spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promotes awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, media, seminars and other means.
  • The Commission takes an independent stand while providing opinions for the protection of human rights within the parlance of the Constitution or in law for the time being enforced.
  • It has the powers of a civil court and can grant interim relief.
  • It also has the authority to recommend payment of compensation or damages.
  • NHRC credibility is duly reflected in large number of complaints received every year and the trust reposed in it by the citizens.
  • 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.

Limitations of NHRC

  • NHRC does not have any mechanism of investigation. In majority cases, it asks the concerned Central and State Governments to investigate the cases of the violation of Human Rights
  • It has been termed as ‘India’s teasing illusion’ by Soli Sorabjee (former Attorney-General of India) due to its incapacity to render any practical relief to the aggrieved party.
  • NHRC can only make recommendations, without the power to enforce decisions.
  • Many times NHRC is viewed as post-retirement destinations for judges and bureaucrats with political affiliation moreover, inadequacy of funds also hamper its working.
  • A large number of grievances go unaddressed because NHRC cannot investigate the complaint registered after one year of incident.
  • Government often out rightly rejects recommendation of NHRC or there is partial compliance to these recommendations.
  • State human rights commissions cannot call for information from the national government, which means that they are implicitly denied the power to investigate armed forces under national control.
  • National Human Rights Commission powers related to violations of human rights by the armed forces have been largely restricted.

About Nirbhaya fund

The Rs 1,000 crore Nirbhaya Fund was announced in Union Budget 2013 by the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

  1. The corpus was to be utilised for upholding safety and dignity of women.
  2. Ministry of Women and Child Development apart from several other concerned ministries were authorised to work out details of structure, scope and application of this fund.
  3. The Fund is administered by Department of Economic Affairs of the finance ministry.

Issues with Nirbhaya Fund:

The government has been accused of keeping Nirbhaya Fund unutilised. With rise in cases of sexual harassment and crimes against women there is a crying need for implementation of such funds.

Source: The Hindu


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