Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Let us think and Act with an open mind to
Develop a Vibrant Democracy – Article 10

Introduction: I have identified thirty obstacles which cause a distorted and ineffective democracy and possible solutions for these. Because very few people have time / inclination to read long articles, these are presented in separate brief articles for pointed attention and easier assimilation. I hope this will lead to spreading of awareness and facilitating point by point debate on each of these for saving our sinking democracy.
(Please keep these articles within easy reach for referring back till the series is completed.)

Human rights

A democracy has to ensure that people are not subjected to violations of human rights. For this purpose, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was set up under the Human Rights Commission Act 1993. The tabular statement below gives a vivid picture of the performance of NHRC: 

National Human Rights Commission
Statement showing total No. of cases registered and their status during the period from 2006 to 2011

in limini
Disposed With

During 2006 to 2011, about 5.4 lakh persons had alleged that they suffered from human rights violations, at an average of about 90,000 per year!! Many lakhs more are likely to have complained to State Human Rights Commissions!! Some more might have suffered but did not complain. The atrocious fact that such amazing number of people had complaints of violation of human rights is a matter for serious concern under a democracy. Any attempt to put these under the carpet as frivolous complaints will only expose callousness and will not have any takers because lakhs of complainants cannot be frivolous.

In a democracy, how these complaints have been dealt with is also important. Among these, about 1.1 lakhs (about one fifth) only were “disposed with directions”. NHRC had no qualms in refusing to examine about 3.4 lakhs (two-thirds) of the violation complaints and “dismissing these in limini” – a deeply disgusting picture of inaction to remove human rights violations. Thus even the last channel of hope was cruelly cut off for lakhs of possible sufferers from human rights violations. This atrocious situation arose on account of NHRC (procedure) Regulations 1997 which did not give powers to NHRC to review   judgments by courts and commissions.                                            

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The NHRC statement did not give the important information about how many of the 3.4 lakh cases dismissed in limini were complaints against court judgments. It is reasonable to presume that vast majority of this huge number of violation complaints arose from perceived denial of justice by courts and did not arise from recommendations of commissions. NHRC did not give serious thought as to why lakhs of people were complaining to it against court judgments. It also ignored the obvious possible reason that after 1997 (when the Regulation was made), transparency of courts has been increasingly questioned by people.

Because of such laissez-faire attitudes, it did not realize the simple fact that suitable modification of the Regulation was urgently needed to allow review of all complaints.  Sad to say, NHRC, the supreme authority on human rights did not take even this simple step to rectify the atrocious situation but callously continued to take shelter under the obviously obsolete 1997 Regulation to dismiss lakhs of cases without examining them.

All these show a grossly dismal picture of human rights which is a shame for the Indian democracy. NHRC was so smug and complacent that it never cared to study its own statistics and take suitable remedial actions which were in its power!!

Sad to say, neither Parliament (peoples’ representatives) nor government cared to take any action to rectify the atrocious situation of large scale complaints against human rights violations. Probably, they did not even care to keep a watch on the human rights situation and were, therefore, not aware of what was happening!! Can it be possible that many of these complaints were ignored because these were against political leaders who are known to throw their weight around?

NHRC is an autonomous body with operational and financial authority and had the power to regulate its own procedure for disposal of complaints. Section 12 of Chapter III of the Human Rights Commission Act 1993 lists the functions the Commission shall perform. Among these, 12 (d) and 12 (j) are pertinent in the present context:

12 (d) - review the safeguards provided by or under the Constitution or any law for the time being in force for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation.

12 (j) - such other functions as it may consider necessary for the protection of human rights.
These two sections specifically empower NHRC and instruct it to carry out all functions necessary to protect human rights, including recommending measures for effective implementation of safeguards to protect human rights.  Yet, it did not act to overcome the shameful and dismal picture of human rights in India, shown by its own statistics. NHRC, using its statutory powers to regulate its own procedure for disposal of complaints, ought to have amended the obsolete NHRC (procedure) Regulations 1997 which forced it to dismiss lakhs of complaints without examination. Failure to do so even when faced with the atrocious situation of human rights shows lack of accountability and tantamounts to contempt of the Constitution. The top level officers of NHRC who lacked accountability and were responsible for this contempt deserve to be penalized immediately to restore faith in NHRC to a large extent.
On the other hand, central and state governments have not cared to ensure that Human Rights Commissions are equipped to carry out their functions properly. Even though vacancies are bound to occur quite often in HRCs, steps are not taken in advance to fill up vacancies in time and to empower the next junior level officer to act whenever necessary. For instance, Karnataka State Human Rights Commission could not register a suo motu case because it did not have a Chairperson for some months, as stated by the Registrar of the SHRC (DNA dated 19 – 11- 2012).

The above aspects depict the sixteenth and very serious obstacle which resulted in a distorted and ineffective democracy.

To overcome this obstacle, a thorough review of the working of NHRC should be carried out by an independent body with expertise in human rights and its recommendations should be immediately implemented in toto. Any rejection of the recommendations by government should be ratified by both houses of Parliament. Meanwhile, the top level officers of NHRC,who  lacked accountability and showed contempt of  the Constitution by not using their powers to rectify the dismal picture of human rights, should  be removed immediately so that they do not interfere in the  review. This step is also essential to restore faith in NHRC.

Thereafter, a new set of top officers of NHRC should be appointed to exercise its statutory power to regulate its own procedure for disposal of complaints by overriding any procedural regulations. In particular, the obsolete NHRC (procedure) Regulations 1997 which had repeatedly forced NHRC to dismiss lakhs of complaints in limini and made it toothless should be amended immediately.

Once the modified procedure becomes operative, it is certain that NHRC will have to review lakhs of complaints about miscarriages of justice. Therefore, no judges should be appointed in top positions of NHRC. Eminent lawyers and human rights activists should form an essential part of the top level officers of NHRC.

Top priority should be given to strengthening NHRC to make it capable of handling lakhs of cases.

Comments (especially those which point out errors or deficiencies, if any, in this article and thereby help to improve it) and other suggestions to overcome this obstacle are welcome. Please send these to I shall make use of all befitting suggestions to prepare the last two articles of this series – Articled 23 will spell out the basic principles which will guide formulation of the revised system of democracy and Article 24 will outline the revised system of democracy for public debate to arrive at a consensus.

You can help to save our sinking democracy by making as many people as possible aware of these obstacles and possible solutions, through personal group discussions, newspaper articles, e-mail and social media like face book and twitter so that we can have healthy debates and arrive at some innovative ideas to save our sinking democracy.

No comments:

Post a Comment