Following the post-poll violence unleashed in West Bengal and amid the call for the centre to impose President’s rule in the state, NHRC took cognizance of the post West Bengal poll violence based on media reports in newspapers like Hindustan Times and the Times of India on 4th May 2021 (2 days after the violence started), and asked for a fact-finding team to carry out a spot investigation. The team has been asked to submit a report at the earliest, ‘preferably’ within two weeks.
In February 2020, the NHRC had similarly created a fact-finding mission to investigate the Delhi violence following the Shaheen Bagh protests. It also requested the Delhi police to provide a report on the violence. It is now clear that Delhi faced a pre-meditated anti-Hindu riot, but the NHRC has so far not given its report on the Delhi violence.
In fact, the last available Annual Report of the NHRC is for the year 2017-18. NHRC operates from Delhi and works with the various State Human Resource Commissions that have been set up. It is not clear what criteria are used to decide when the NHRC would intervene in a matter.
Following the mass exodus of Hindu families in Kairana in 2016 due to anti-Hindu violence and intimidation, the NHRC carried out an investigation and came out with report which confirmed this to be true. There are also instances where Hindus are at the receiving end such as in Mewat in which the NHRC has not intervened.
Similarly, the NHRC had taken up the issue of the Delhi police allegedly attacking Jama Milia students in December 2019 during the anti-CAA protests and had released its report seven months later in which it had said police action was avoidable while also saying that the students’ gathering was “unlawful assembly.”
In September 2020, the NHRC had chosen to issue a notice to the Home Secretary of the MHA over Amnesty International winding up its operations. The Government had rejected Amnesty’s claims.
Additionally, the NHRC relies on media reports for its fact finding and has no independent source of getting information. Its role in both Kairana and Delhi shows that it comes into the picture after human rights violations have taken place and does not have a preventive role. It also does not operate as a preventive body but only goes in after the violence and exodus has taken place. Neither do its fact-finding reports have any real-life consequences for those found guilty, including government authorities found derelict in their duty.
The NHRC is usually helmed by a retired Chief Justice of India. ex-CJI Justice (retd.) H. L. Dattu was the NHRC Chairperson from 29.2.2016 to 02.12.2020. Currently, former SC Justice Prafulla Chandra Pant is the Acting Chairperson of the Commission.
What purpose does this tax-funded body actually serve when it operates from the country’s capital, does not have resources to get first-hand information but has to rely on media reports, and has a slow response time with huge time lags in emergency situations such as the current West Bengal bloodbath? Many consider it to be ineffective. In fact, the NHRC has also been reported to have called itself a toothless tiger.
Is it time this tax-funded body is done away with? Shouldn’t there be an independent audit of other similar commissions, departments, tribunals etc. often created by our governments, bureaucrats and judiciary for virtue signaling or as post-retirement sinecures?
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