The Lok Sabha on Friday passed a Bill which seeks to expedite the process of appointment of the chairperson and members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Piloting the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Nityanand Rai, said the government had made humanity the “rajdharam”. Under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, women were coming forward and shouldering greater responsibilities, he said, and assured the members that steps were afoot round-the-clock to protect human rights.
Several Opposition parties objected to the Bill in its present form, saying it has many gaps and was not in conformity with the Paris Principles — Paris Principles are a set of international standards which frame and guide the work of human rights institutions.
The proposed amendment reduces the tenure of chairpersons of national and state human rights bodies to three years from the current five years. It also proposes that besides a former Chief Justice of India, as is the current requirement, a former Supreme Court judge can also become NHRC chairperson. Similarly, it proposes that a former high court judge can also become a state human rights commission chairperson besides the Chief Justice of the high court.
While the existing Act provides for two persons having a knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC, the Bill provides for three members to be appointed, of which at least one must be a woman.
Rai said the Bill gives more administrative and financial powers to human rights panels. The minister also underlined that the NHRC has been given an A-rating by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.
During the discussion on the Bill, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury flagged the issue of the rights of prisoners and demanded the provision of open jails for life convicts.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said there were several gaps in the legislation and added that it fails to address the issue of autonomy of the commission. Opposing the proposal to reduce the tenure of chairperson of the national human rights body from five years to three years, the Thiruvananthpuram MP said the curtailment in tenure will bring inconsistency in the functioning of the panel.
“This Bill is piecemeal and cosmetic and does not address various gaps,” he said, and added that it was not in conformity with the Paris Principles.
He said that the country is currently facing various human rights violations and added that many people of Assam have been denied Indian citizenship for falling to “prove their date of birth”. “As many as 57 people have committed suicide after being refused citizenship of India because he or she could not prove the date of birth,” he said.
Tharoor also said it is ironic that voices of human rights activists like Indira Jaising and Anand Grover are being “stifled”, adding that environment activists are being deplaned while wilful defaulters are allowed to flee the country.
DMK MP K Kanimozhi, too, said the Bill undermined the autonomy of the organisation and demanded its withdrawal. She said the reappointment clause will make chairman and members toe the government line so that they get another term. On BJP MP Satya Pal Singh’s statement that human beings are descendants of “rishis’’, Kanimozhi said, “We are homo sapiens and the House should uphold scientific temperament.”
Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress said opening the post of chairman to judges other than the Chief Justice of India will reduced the gravitas of the post.
Pinaki Misra of the Biju Janata Dal said what set India apart from China, Pakistan and others was that “our NHRC” was more robust and constitutionally valid.