The Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC), set up to enforce and protect human rights in the state, has been forced to approach the Bombay High Court to guarantee its own basic rights.
While hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) highlighting a crippling paucity of staff and funds being faced by the commission, the court said, “Such an authority should not be compelled to come to court.” Pointing out that the chairperson of the commission, Justice (Retd) S R Bannurmath, is a former Chief Justice, the court said. “A retired Chief Justice has to come to court and file an affidavit.”
A division bench of Justice A S Oka and Justice A A Sayyed were hearing a PIL filed by social activists Naresh Gosavi and Kailash Sharma, that pertains to the filling of vacancies of staff in the commission and providing it with adequate funding to ensure its financial autonomy.
The affidavit filed by the registrar of the commission “as per the instructions of the chairperson” points to the massive space shortage being faced by the MSHRC leading to operational hurdles. “In the year 2001, the commission demanded a space measuring approximately 8,000 square foot to house its entire office. However, taking into consideration the urgent need and especially ideal location next to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, after intervention of the court, the then commission accepted the proposal of the government to have its office at Hajarimal Somani Marg opposite the terminus in an area measuring 2,800 square foot.”
Pointing to the pressing need for additional space for training programmes and seating staff members, which had grown from 11 in 2001 to 48 presently, the affidavit further states that “considering the growth in the number of cases being filed before the Commission in the recent years and proposed increase of staff, and also to undertake the full-fledged activities under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, the commission requires approximately an area of 8000 to 10,000 square foot, preferably near CST.”
The government,meanwhile, in its reply, has stated that it may be difficult for them to locate such a space in and around the area. It has, however, asked the commission to send a proposal.
It has sought more time to file a compliance affidavit. The court said that looking into the seriousness of the issue, it would not grant any further time and pass appropriate orders while keeping the matter for hearing on September 8.
There are presently 48 people working in the commission and the government informed the court that the nine vacant posts could be filled by hiring staff members on contract. The court was, however, against this move.
In terms of making available additional funds, the government said, “The requirement of the additional funds for the Commission for other than salary grants will be considered on the basis of its availability.”
During the last hearing, the court had asked the commission to specify its requirements to ensure its effective functioning.