New Delhi: State human rights commissions (SHRC) across the country are facing acute shortage of staff as appointments are not being made. In ten states, even the post of chairperson of the commission is vacant. While three states have no human rights commissions at all, in another two states, they are completely non-functional. Appointments to the post of chairperson have been made only in 13 states.
This information was revealed in a report released by Transparency International India (TII), a non-governmental organisation working on issues of transparency and corruption. The report presents a detailed account of the status and functioning of the state human rights commissions.
According to TII’s report, SHRCs in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Manipur and Meghalaya do not have chairpersons, while those in Himachal Pradesh and Telangana are absolutely non-functional. In addition, 16 of the 48 posts sanctioned for members (judicial and non-judicial) are vacant in 23 state commissions. At present, only 37 appointees have been confirmed.
Meanwhile, appointments have not been made for 286 of the total sanctioned posts for administrative jobs in the commissions. Several states refused to provide information in this regard. SHRCs in Andhra Pradesh and Goa have two posts for judicial and non-judicial members, both of which are vacant. In the absence of a chairperson, these commissions also seem to be completely inactive. The situation is similar in Chhattisgarh, which does not have a chairperson and another post is also vacant. Just one member has been appointed. In Gujarat’s SHRC, one post is vacant. Two posts are unfilled each in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, whereas one post each is vacant in Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Manipur and Meghalaya.
Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland have no human rights commissions.
Besides the posts for chairmen and members, a large number of administrative posts are also unoccupied in human rights commissions across the country. The number of unfilled administrative posts is 41 in Bihar, 40 in Uttar Pradesh, 26 in Odisha, 24 in Andhra Pradesh, 23 in Tamil Nadu, 22 in West Bengal, 18 in Gujarat, 16 in Maharashtra, 11 in Goa, 10 in Haryana, 9 in Jharkhand, 8 in Rajasthan, 2 in Assam, 2 in Manipur and one Kerala.
TII obtained this information through a Right to Information (RTI) application filed with commissions across the country. Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura and Uttarakhand gave no information regarding the administrative posts in the SHRCs.
National and state human rights commissions have been set up under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. One member post is also vacant in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) but the commission did not disclose information regarding its administrative positions.
TII’s executive director Ramnath Jha said that the Human Rights Act was implemented to protect the dignity and self-respect of individuals and so that the country can move towards progressive changes. “This was a milestone law for the country. But if posts in the commissions across the country remain vacant, how can this objective be served? How can the human rights of people be protected?” he asked.
Status of complaints received by SHRCs
According to the TII report, almost 19 lakh complaints/violations have been filed with the 23 SHRCs so far. The highest, 3,60,597, were registered by the Uttar Pradesh Human Rights Commission between 2002-03 and 2018-19. Punjab is second with 2,69,057 cases between 1997-98 and 2018-19. At the other end of the spectrum, 8,539 cases were registered in Uttarakhand and 7,371 in Jharkhand.
The NHRC registered 16,62,519 cases between 1993-94 and 2016-17 and as of December 3, 22,043 cases are pending before it.
The Central and state human rights commissions also register cases of death in custody. Documents obtained through RTI applications reveal that the NHRC has so far registered 31,845 cases of custodial deaths.
While Punjab has registered 1,860 cases of custodial deaths, this number is 1,718 in West Bengal, 1,266 in Bihar, 1,118 in Assam, 843 in Tamil Nadu, 629 in Rajasthan, 629 in Gujarat, 391 in Andhra Pradesh, 326 in Madhya Pradesh, 129 in Kerala, 110 in Uttarakhand, 89 in Haryana. In Goa, 15 deaths were recorded, while just two were recorded in Tripura and one in Manipur.
Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Odisha and Sikkim did not disclose this information. The data obtained shows that the commissions are taking suo motu cognizance only in very few cases. The NHRC has taken suo motu cognizance in merely 1,067 cases so far.
The human rights commissions of major states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Odisha did not disclose the data in this regard.
The human rights commissions of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Manipur and Tripura do not have a website and the state commissions which do have a website do not offer information regarding several significant issues. Except Bihar’s commission, there is no information about the assets and liabilities of the chairpersons on the website of any other state and national human rights commission. The documents obtained also reveal that the human rights commissions are not publishing the annual report on time. The annual report for the last two years is not available on the NHRC website.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.