Q. Despite playing a crucial role of protecting human rights, NHRC is often called as ‘toothless tiger’. Explain.

Relevance: GS II Date: 08/01/24

Ans: The National Human Rights Commission, established under the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993, functions as the watchdog of human rights in India, overseeing and protecting these rights throughout the country.

The NHRC plays a vital role in protecting human rights in India through various means:

  • It investigates human rights violations on its own initiative or based on petitions.

  • NHRC can intervene in judicial proceedings involving human rights allegations.

  • It inspects prisons and institutions, recommending improvements.

  • The Commission reviews constitutional safeguards for human rights and suggests enhancements.

  • NHRC promotes research in human rights.

  • It raises awareness about human rights through various media.

  • The Commission advises the Central and State Governments on preventing human rights abuses.

  • Annually, NHRC submits a report to the President of India, which is presented in both houses of Parliament.

Despite its critical role, the NHRC faces limitations that lead to criticisms of being ineffective:

  • Non-binding Recommendations: For example, the NHRC's recommendations on extrajudicial killings have often been advisory, with limited enforcement by authorities.

  • Limitation on Private Parties: Instances like workplace discrimination by private firms are beyond NHRC's jurisdiction.

  • Lack of Penalizing Power: The NHRC’s inability to enforce action in cases like custodial deaths, where its recommendations are sometimes ignored by state authorities.

  • Judicial Members' Influence: The presence of three judges on the panel, as seen in various NHRC committees, can give its proceedings a judicial character.

  • Expertise of Members: Some appointed members, chosen by the Selection Committee, may not have a background in human rights, impacting the depth of understanding in certain cases.

To enhance the effectiveness of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), three key steps are proposed: 

  • Firstly, upgrading its operational capabilities to better handle a wider range of human rights issues; 

  • Secondly, granting the NHRC limited punitive powers to enforce its findings and recommendations; and 

  • Thirdly, establishing an independent human rights framework, specifically designed to support and strengthen the nation's commitment to human rights protection and promotion. These measures aim to make the NHRC more proactive and impactful in its mission.

Advait IAS