The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) plans an aggressive push on the concept of a "rights agenda" as a policy of good governance — divergent from the existing focus on a "welfare agenda".
"The governmental absolutism on developmental concerns is a viewpoint that needs expansion and correction, as the focus of governance needs to be 'people-centric'", NHRC Joint Secretary Aruna Sharma said while adding that governments also needed to become accountable for lapses in fulfilling its mandated functions.
After being fine-tuned at the ongoing meeting of the full commission at Lucknow, the NHRC's concept paper on the subject will be circulated to all state human rights commissions. Workshops, interactive sessions and orientation programs are being scheduled over the next few months.
Following enactment of the Human Rights (Amendment) Act of September 16 last year, the NHRC has also initiated the process of setting up a complaint handling system in all the states in pursuance of commitments of putting into place an effective and countrywide human rights network.
The amended act provides for an organic link between the national and state human rights commissions. "Transfer of cases between the national and state human rights commissions are now possible, while plans are to provide for a centralised system for ascertaining progress on investigations", an official said.
Laggard states, of late, have demonstrated indications of moving in the direction of setting up or strengthening the SHRCs. Tamil Nadu has moved the office of its SHRC to a new building, while Uttar Pradesh lately created 22 new posts for its state commission. The process of setting up designated human rights courts has also been initiated by states including Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
However, the picture also has an obtuse side: State commissions exist in only 17 states and some of these have continued to hobble along with approximately half the authorised strength, while an 'acting chairperson' heads several of these. Assam, Tamil Nadu and Chattisgarh have three vacant posts of members, while a permanent Chairman's post is also vacant in the case of the latter two states.
States with two vacant posts include Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa, Rajasthan besides Himachal and Kerala. In addition, the post of a Chairperson is vacant in Himachal Pradesh, while Kerala has an acting Chairperson. States with a better record (one vacancy) include Maharashtra, Manipur and Punjab.
States that have not set up commissions include Arunachal, Goa, Haryana, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Karnataka and Gujarat. Bihar, Karnataka and Gujarat have notified their resolve to establish such commissions and Gujarat has already appointed a chairperson and a secretary. Meantime, the NHRC itself has been without a full-time chairperson following the retirement of Justice AS Anand in October last year.
Complaints of states of a "funds crunch" have sought to be addressed in the amended act — which scales down composition clauses by permitting reduction in the number of members required to be appointed (from 4 to 2), while also opening up the option for smaller states to go in for a combined SHRC. Officials feel these initiatives will trigger off activity for the setting up of new commissions amongst smaller states.