Srinagar: The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government has told the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to deal with all human rights concerns in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This means there will no longer be a separate human rights commission for the region, as there was before the state’s reorganisation into two UTs.
Equating the UTs of J&K and Ladakh with Delhi, the Centre has told the NHRC to deal with all human rights matters here. This goes against the J&K Law Commission’s recommendations, of creating a separate rights body for the two.
In its report submitted to J&K chief secretary B.V.R Subrahmanyam in October 2019, the Law Commission headed by Justice (retired) M.K. Hanjura had pushed for the creation of a separate human rights body, citing weather vagaries, difficult terrain, topography and geographical conditions within the UTs.
Why rights activists and experts are wary
The Centre’s move means that J&K will be functioning without its own human rights body, even as the United Nations and reputed global rights bodies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern over rights violations in the conflict-hit region.
Given the circumstances, several people believe that the Centre’s decision will hamper access to justice for human rights violation victims in J&K. “It is definitely a setback for access to justice. I don’t think many people will approach the NHRC for seeking justice,” says noted human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz.
He said it will be difficult for people from J&K to approach the NHRC due to the hostile atmosphere against them in different parts of India. “Lawyers in some places are even refusing to appear for Kashmiris in courts. Recently, the Hubli Bar Association refused to provide legal aid to Kashmiri students,” he said.
MP and retired high court judge Hasnain Masoodi termed the move as a grave “injustice” and a violation of Article 21 of the constitution. “Access to justice is an integral part of Article 21. This right will be affected due to the non-existence of a human rights commission in J&K,” he said.
The lawmaker said the NHRC will be out of bounds for the people due to accessibility issues. “People from far-flung areas like Tangdhar, Uri and Gurez were already finding it difficult to approach the State Human Rights Commission headquartered at Srinagar. How will they go to the NHRC office in New Delhi?” he asked
Executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre Ravi Nair said, “This clearly shows that the Centre does not want even findings on matters of human rights in J&K recorded.”
“The State Human Rights Commission was recording its findings on human rights issues there. Now that basic work will not be done,” he said, adding that approaching the NHRC will be a waste of time.
Senior advisor to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Maja Daruwala opined that the NHRC already has a bigger mandate and assigning J&K to it will add more complex issues. “I feel it would be difficult for them to meet the challenge,” she said, adding that the NHRC should open a branch in J&K to deal with maters of human rights there.
On March 18, the Ministry of Home (MHA) notified the Jammu and Kashmir Re-Organisation (Adaptation of Central Laws) Order, 2020 after its approval by the Union cabinet nearly two weeks before.
Under the order, amendments have been made in ‘The Protection of Human Rights Act-1993’ to confer functions relating to human rights in the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to the NHRC.
According to the order, in sub-section (7) of section 21 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, for “other than Union territory of Delhi” substitute “other than Union territory of Delhi, Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union territory of Ladakh”.
It also states that in sub-section 8, for “Union territory of Delhi” substitute “Union territory of Delhi, Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union territory of Ladakh”.
Before the amendment, this arrangement existed only for Delhi, after the BJP-led Central government made amendments to the The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 in 2019.
According to the 2019 amendment, the Centre can confer the functions relating to human rights in union territories other than Delhi to state commissions.
In 2016, a bench headed by then Chief Justice of India, T.S. Thakur, pulled up the Centre for not setting up human rights commissions in union territories. “Do you fancy that Union Territories are utopian ideals where there are no human rights violations… do you expect people from other territories like Daman and Diu, Puducherry to come all the way to Delhi to fight their case before the National Human Rights Commission?” the CJI had asked the Centre.
Before the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir, the erstwhile state had a full-fledged rights body established by the National Conference regime in 1997.
The Commission ceased to exist from October 31, 2019 because the law under which it was established was repealed by parliament when it passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act on August 5.
The SHRC, had made it easier for people to report human rights abuses in conflict-hit J&K. From its establishment till March 2019, the SHRC received 8,529 cases of alleged human rights violations, of which 7,725 had been dealt with.
During this period, the panel made recommendations in 1,862 cases of killings, torture, custodial disappearance and other violations.