The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993
The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, was passed by the Parliament of India on January 8, 1994. It provides for the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission, State Human Rights Commissions and Human Rights Courts to protect these rights and ensure speedy trials in the case of violations. It extends to the whole of India.
‘Human rights’ are defined as those relating to the “life, liberty, equality and dignity” of an individual, which are stipulated either by the Constitution of India or specified international instruments, and are enforceable by courts in India.
In the Act, ‘International Covenants’ refers to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and any other United Nations Convention as the central government may notify. (The UN General Assembly adopted the ICCPR and ICESCR on December 16, 1966.)
This 17-page Act is divided into eight chapters: Preliminary (Chapter I); The National Human Rights Commission (Chapter II); Functions and Powers of the Commission (Chapter III); Procedure (Chapter IV); State Human Rights Commissions (Chapter V); Human Rights Courts (Chapter VI); Finance, Accounts and Audit (Chapter VII); and Miscellaneous (Chapter VIII).
What does the Act say about the composition of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)?
The central government shall constitute the NHRC. It shall have a Chairperson who has been chief justice of India or a Supreme Court judge, along with five Members. The Members shall include an existing or former Supreme Court judge; an existing or former chief justice of a High Court; and three people – of whom at least one is a woman – with knowledge or practical experience in human rights issues.
The NHRC shall also have a Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer working under the Chairperson, who exercises financial and administrative powers – except for certain judicial and regulatory functions specified in the Act.
The chairpersons of the following bodies under various ministries of the central government shall be Members: National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes, the National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes, and the National Commission for Women. The Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities shall be a member as well.
Who appoints the members of the NHRC?
The president of India appoints the Chairperson and Members, based on the recommendations of a committee consisting of the prime minister, speaker of the House of the People, minister-in-charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs, leader of opposition in the House of People, leader of opposition in the Council of States, and deputy chairman of the Council of States.
What are the functions of the NHRC?
The Act lists 10 main functions of the NHRC: inquiring into complaints relating to the violation of human rights and its abetment, and negligence by a public servant in the prevention of such violation; intervening in court proceedings related to human rights violations, with the approval of the court; visiting jails or other state government institutions where persons have been detained for “treatment, reformation or protection” so as to make recommendations regarding their living conditions; suggesting measures for the effective implementation of laws pertaining to the protection of human rights; reviewing the factors, including acts of terrorism, that hinder the exercise of human rights, and recommending remedial measures; studying international instruments on human rights to make recommendations for their effective implementation; undertaking and promoting research; spreading “human rights literacy” through publications, seminars and other means; encouraging non-governmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights; and other functions deemed necessary for the promotion of human rights.
What is the term of office of the Chairpersons and Members of the NHRC?
The Chairperson and Members shall hold office for a term of three years or until they turn 70 years. They shall be eligible for re-appointment. After their term, the Chairperson and Members shall not be eligible for employment under the central or state governments.
How can the Chairperson or Members of the NHRC resign or be removed from office?
The Chairperson and Members may resign by presenting a hand-written notice to the President of India.
The president may decide to remove the Chairperson or Members of the NHRC from office. This can be on grounds of “proved misbehaviour or incapacity” after an inquiry by the Supreme Court carried out according to the Act’s regulations. They may also be removed if they are adjudged as insolvent; have engaged in paid employment during their term; are deemed unfit or of unsound mind to continue in office; or have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an offence which – according to the president – involves “moral turpitude."
What does the Act say about the composition of the State Human Rights Commissions?
State governments may constitute their respective State Human Rights Commissions. The Commission shall comprise of a Chairperson who is or has been a chief justice or judge of a High Court, along with two Members. The Members shall include an existing or former High Court judge, or an existing or former judge of a District Court who has held office for at least seven years, along with someone with knowledge of or practical experience in matters relating to human rights. The Commission shall also have a Secretary and Chief Executive Officer who exercises all administrative and financial functions.
What are Human Rights Courts?
These are courts set up at the district level to provide “...speedy trial of offences arising out of violation of human rights.” State governments may establish these ‘with the concurrence of’ the chief justice of the High Court. The state government shall appoint a Special Public Prosecutor to conduct the proceedings of these courts. The appointee may be a public prosecutor or an advocate who has been practicing for at least seven years.
What, according to the Act, is beyond the jurisdiction of the NHRC?
The NHRC shall not inquire into matters of human rights violations, if a year has passed since the time the violation was alleged to be committed. In addition, it shall not inquire into matters pending before a State Human Rights Commission or any Commission constituted under a law in force.
Who provides grants to the NHRC and State Human Rights Commissions?
The NHRC shall receive grants from the central government, “after due appropriation made by Parliament by law.” The State Human Rights Commissions shall receive grants from the respective state governments after “due appropriation” by the state legislature. Both Commissions are responsible for maintaining proper accounts of such grants and preparing annual statements. These are to be audited by the comptroller and auditor general of India at suitable intervals.
Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India
Government of India, New Delhi
08 Jan, 1993