[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Central Government has introduced “The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019” in the Lok Sabha to amend “The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993” (the 1993 Act) that will change who can be appointed chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) as well as the tenure of the chairperson and other members of the human rights bodies.
Composition of NHRC and SHRCs
At present under the 1993 Act, only a person who has been the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is eligible for the post of the chairperson of the NHRC. With the Amendment Bill either a judge of the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice of India will be eligible for the post.
With the SHRCs, under the existing law, the chairperson is a former Chief Justice of a High Court. The Amendment Bill provides that either a former Chief Justice or a judge of a high court will be eligible to be the chairperson.
Also under the present law, a total of two members are appointed to the Commission, from among persons with knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights. The Amendment Bill seeks to increase the number of members from two to three of which, one will be a woman.
In addition, the Amendment Bill provides for including the Chairperson of the National Commission for Backward Classes, Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as deemed members of the NHRC.
Tenure of the chairperson and members of NHRC and SHRCs
The 1993 Act provides that the chairperson and members of the NHRC and SHRCS will hold office for five years or till the age of 70, whichever is earlier. The Amendment Bill seeks to reduce the term of office to three years or till the age of 70, whichever is earlier. The Bill also provides for the reappointment of the chairperson and members.
Power of the Secretary General
Under the existing Act, there is a Secretary who is the Chief Executive Officer of the State Commission and who exercises powers and discharges function delegated to them by the State Commission. The Amendment Bill seeks to appoint a Secretary General and Secretary to exercise all administrative and financial powers subject to the control of the chairperson.
Lastly, under the Amendment Bill, the Central Government can, by order, confer upon the State Commission functions relating to human rights being discharged by the Union Territories, other than the Union Territory of Delhi. The functions relating to human rights in the Union Territory of Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.
Justifying the proposed amendments, the Minister of State of Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy said the changes were in line with the Paris Principles, especially the increase in the representation of civil society and women in the NHRC. “It is because 50 per cent of the population of India is of women, we have brought this amendment to include them,” the minister said.
Referring to the proposed changes in staffing, appointments or administrative matters, Reddy said the NHRC Secretary General would be delegated both administrative and financial powers, to enable them to make the required appointments.
He also justified the addition of a Supreme Court judge for the position of chairperson saying that they had the same status as that of a Chief Justice.
Opposing the amendment, the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said allowing a judge of the Supreme Court along with the Chief Justice to be eligible for the post of NHRC chairperson would“degrade and reduce the gravity, the status of the National Human Rights Commission…”.
Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, also of the Congress Party, pointed out that the most essential feature of the ParisPrinciple was having an autonomous and independent Human Rights Commission. But “none other than the Supreme Court of our country has declared that theNational Human Rights Commission is a toothless tiger because the Governmenthas been ignoring its recommendation and direction.”
He also said that the statutory bar on taking up human rights violations beyond one year since the date of an incident had to be revised in line with the NHRC’s own recommendations. Tharoor further criticized the government for not covering time bound appointments in the Amendment Bill even though, according to him, the National and State Commissions were plagued by positions which were left vacant for “an unreasonable period of time”.