With media reports suggesting that former director general of National Investigation Agency (NIA) Sharad Kumar may be appointed member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the All India Network of NGOs and Individuals working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI) has submitted a memorandum to President Ramnath Kovind expressing “serious concerns” about the move.
‘Appointment will send wrong message’
The memorandum states that “appointment of Mr Kumar at a juncture when most of the cases handled by the NHRC are against police and security agencies sends a wrong message to the people of India.”
The group has also claimed that Kumar as the NIA chief had “come under severe questioning during his term, as all terror cases by right-wing Hindutva outfits associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were closed and almost all resulted in acquittals of the accused”.
The Network said “Kumar’s professional background and the controversies surrounding him as the NIA chief do not suggest that he can be considered as a choice for this position” It also said that “this appointment, if done, will be contrary to the universally accepted human rights standards evolved under the aegis of the United Nations.”
“Appointment of Mr Kumar at a juncture when most of the cases handled by the NHRC are against police and security agencies sends a wrong message to the people of India and challenges the independence of NHRC which the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GA-NHRIs) through its Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) highlighted in 2011, 2016 and 2017,” the Network added.
‘Appointment process should be broadly publicised’
It said “as required by the Paris Principles and highlighted by the SCA and GANHRI, the appointment process should broadly publicise the vacancies to maximise the number of potential candidates from a wide range of societal groups and educational qualifications; promoting broad consultations and/or participation in the application, screening, selection and appointment process; and, assessing applicants on the basis of pre-determined, objective and publicly-available criteria.”
The proposed move, the Network said, “is also detrimental to the functioning and reputation of the NHRC and such measures lead to the formation of a serious trust deficit in the institution itself. It will further erode the public faith in the institution, which has been declining steadily over the past ten years.”
The organisation further said it was concerned as “this news comes at a juncture when the NHRC team is assisting the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the extra-judicial killings case in Manipur and also, a series of cases are pending regarding serious human violations by security forces in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir etc.”
President urged to intervene, ensure appointment committee respects international principles
As such, it urged the president to urgently intervene in this matter through his powers of assent and accordingly direct the appointment committee to ensure that due process of appointment to NHRC is followed. “The appointment committee should respect international principles and should take into consideration the contributions to human rights made by each of the eligible candidate being considered for this post.”
Kumar’s reappointment as NIA chief was ‘unprecedented and questionable’
The memorandum has also stated that “it is largely believed that Mr. Kumar is close to the current government in India and the two-year extension as the NIA chief sufficiently justifies the same.” It further noted that while Kumar was appointed the director general of NIA in July 2013 and superannuated in October 2015, his reappointment as NIA chief “just a day before the superannuation” was an “unprecedented and questionable move”.
“He was reappointed as the NIA chief on contract for a period of one year ending October 31, 2016. He was given another extension till October 31, 2017 by the appointment committee of the Cabinet,” the note said.
Kumar’s role as NIA chief came under cloud
The Network elaborated on the fact that Kumar’s “role as the NIA chief has come under severe questioning, as, during his term all terror cases by right-wing Hindutva outfits associated with the RSS were closed and almost all resulting in acquittals of the accused.”
Providing a detailed account of some of the major cases probed by NIA and their ultimate outcome, the memorandum stated that “in the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing case, the prime accused Swami Aseemanand was granted bail in August 2014, three months after BJP formed the government. NIA which was the prosecuting agency, headed then by Mr. Kumar, didn’t oppose the bail.” Similarly, it said, “Clean chit was also given to Colonel Purohit by the NIA, who was earlier chargesheeted by the ATS in the case.
In the 2007 Ajmer blast case, the Network said, “Swami Aseemanand was again acquitted in 2017 by the local court. Sunil Joshi who was murdered in 2007 just when the first arrests in the saffron terror cases were being made was convicted along with two others. The court questioned NIA’s clean chit to other accused Pragya Thakur and Indresh Kumar.”
Likewise, the memorandum pointed out that “in the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blast cases, NIA gave clean chit to Pragya Thakur and dropped the case against her and the other accused Colonel Purohit also secured bail from the Supreme Court and re-joined the army. The special public prosecutor in this case, Rohini Salian, in an affidavit stated that the NIA had asked her to go soft against the accused.”
It also emphasised that “the 2008 Modasa blast case was closed by the NIA in 2015 citing ‘lack of evidence’,” and “in the 2007 Mecca Masjid Hyderabad blast case, all the accused were acquitted.”
Thus, it said, “Kumar’s professional background and the controversies surrounding him as the NIA chief do not suggest that he can be considered as a choice for this position.”