New Delhi: There are 25 State Human Rights Commissions set up across India, along the lines of the National Human Rights Commission. However, the India Justice Report (IJR) 2022 details the significant lack of manpower in these state commissions – highlighting that they may be in no position to carry out the work they have been tasked with.
The National Human Rights Commission was set up in 1993, under the Protection of Human Rights Act. Between then and now, 25 State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs) have also been set up. These quasi-judicial bodies are tasked with both responding to complaints on violations of human rights and conducting their own investigations when they think rights are being violated. They may also conduct research and awareness activities around issues of human rights.
An SHRC is usually chaired by a former judge or chief justice of a high court. It is supposed to have two additional members – a high court or district court judge, and someone with expertise in human rights. An SHRC is also supposed to have a secretary, for looking after administrative and financial functions.
One of the criticisms of these bodies has been that their recommendations are not mandatory – which means they are often not taken as seriously as they perhaps should be.
While the mandate of SHRCs sounds well and good on paper, the IJR has found that most SHRCs are functioning at well below the required manpower. In 2020-21, 13 states had more than 25% vacancies in SHRC staff.
“As of 2022, all SHRCs except Punjab had chairpersons in place; Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Manipur were carrying on under acting chairs and in 6 states one out of two members was missing. Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Jharkhand functioned without any members. Set up in 2010 Jharkhand’s Commission has, since 2018, functioned with only an acting chairperson and secretary, and the Chhattisgarh Commission, set up in 2001, has been functioning with an acting chairperson and one member since 2020. Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Telangana and West Bengal commissions worked without secretaries/CEOs,” the report notes.
The lack of investigative staff also seriously hinders SHRCs’ ability to probe alleged rights violations and find remedies, the report notes. SHRCs have no investigative staff of their own, and so are dependent on staff drawn from other arms of the government. “Sanctioned investigative staff varied from state to state, some included the number of constables in their response, while others like Maharashtra, Odisha, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu did not. All except Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, reported a shortfall. Eleven Commissions functioned with an investigative staff strength ranging from one to five in 2022. The Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur and Sikkim commissions reported no investigative staff,” according to the IJR.
Because of these longstanding vacancies and the lack of investigative staff, complaints are rarely disposed off in a timely manner in SHRCs, the report finds. “In 2020-21 alone complaints across all SHRCs stood at 1,02,608. Eight SHRCs disposed of less than 60 per cent of complaints received, with Meghalaya (28 per cent) clearing the least, followed by Maharashtra (29 per cent), Rajasthan (30 per cent) and Odisha (48 per cent). Bihar (99 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (94 per cent) cleared almost all the cases they received. Cumulative arrears at the end of 2020-21 stood at 33,312.”
It is also not easy to see what the SHRCs are doing because their websites are not as regularly updated as the NHRC’s. Four of the state commissions – Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Manipur and Telangana – do not have websites at all. “With the exception of Uttarakhand, no state offered a complete bouquet of services to its citizens. Only 11 commissions provided guidelines to citizens on filing complaints, while only 6 commissions uploaded judgments of complaints regularly on their websites,” according to the IJR. In addition, most of these websites were only available in English and not local languages.