Understanding Human Rights in India: An Insight into the Role and Challenges of the NHRC
Human Rights in India

Understanding Human Rights in India: An Insight into the Role and Challenges of the NHRC

Relevance: GS-II (Indian Polity and Governance)

Context: The world celebrated the 75th International Human Rights Day on 10th December recently.

Understanding Human Rights:

  • UN Definition: Human rights are inherent to all individuals regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.

  • Key Rights Included: These rights encompass the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, and the freedom of opinion and expression. They also include the right to work and education, among others.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

  • Historical Context: Seventy-five years ago, following World War II, the UN General Assembly in Paris adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, forming a cornerstone of the post-war international order.

  • Structure of the Declaration: The declaration consists of a preamble and 30 articles that enumerate fundamental rights and freedoms.

  • Key Provisions: Article 1 states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

  • Guiding Nature: These rights are non-binding but act as guiding principles for member countries to formulate and administer their own set of rights.

Human Rights in India:

  • Constitutional Rights: Rights that are enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

  • Fundamental Rights: These are specified in Part III of the Constitution and are enforceable by the courts.

  • Legal Rights: Rights like the Right to Work fall under this category.

  • Unified Rights Framework: India does not have a separate set of human rights; instead, it incorporates these rights within its constitution and legal system.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC):

  • Establishment: Set up under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, the NHRC oversees human rights in India.

  • Role: Often referred to as the watchdog of human rights in the country.

  • Structure of NHRC:

  • Composition: Includes a Chairperson and five full-time members.

  • Chairperson Qualifications: Typically, the Chairperson is a retired Chief Justice of India.

  • Ex-Officio Members: This includes the Chairpersons of the National Commission for SCs, the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and the National Commission for Women.

  • Appointment Process: The President appoints the Chairman and members of the NHRC based on the recommendations of a high-powered committee headed by the Prime Minister, including the Home Minister, leaders of the opposition in both houses of Parliament, and other key political figures.

Functions of NHRC:

  • Investigative Authority: NHRC can investigate complaints of human rights violations, either suo-moto or upon receipt of a petition.

  • Judicial Involvement: It can intervene in any legal proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations.

  • Inspection of State Facilities: Authorized to inspect prisons and other institutions under state control to assess living conditions and make recommendations.

  • Constitutional Review: NHRC reviews constitutional provisions for safeguarding human rights and suggests amendments or restorative measures.

  • Promotion of Research: Encourages research in the field of human rights.

  • Awareness Campaigns: Promotes human rights awareness and literacy across various sectors of society.

  • Advisory Capacity: Recommends steps to prevent human rights violations to both the Central and State Governments.

  • Reporting to the President: Submits an annual report to the President, which is then laid before both Houses of Parliament.

Challenges of NHRC:

  • Non-Binding Nature of Recommendations: The NHRC's recommendations are advisory and not obligatory for implementation.

  • Jurisdictional Limitations: Cannot address human rights violations committed by private parties.

  • Lack of Enforcement Power: NHRC doesn't have the authority to penalize authorities that fail to implement its orders.

  • Judicial Dominance: The composition of the commission, being heavily judicial, may give it a court-like character.

  • Expertise Variability: Members recommended by the Selection Committee may not necessarily possess expertise in human rights.

Way Forward:

  • Enhancing NHRC Functions: Improve the effectiveness and scope of the NHRC’s operations.

  • Granting Enforcement Powers: Consider giving the NHRC punitive powers to enforce its recommendations.

  • Developing a Specific Human Rights Framework: Explore creating a distinct set of human rights tailored for India.

Advait IAS