The state administration's response, or lack of it, in the Nithari case is just one of the many examples of the apathy of state governments and police departments to investigations or action sought by various statutory commissions. In Nithari, numerous reminders by the National Commission for Women went ignored.
Chairpersons of the National Commission for Women (NCW), the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) have told Hindustan Times that in a majority of cases, the responses from the state machinery are apathetic, bordering on negligent.
Most of the commissions set up by the government to look into issues concerning the more vulnerable sections of society have no teeth. None of them have been given the kind of powers that were intended in the legislations under which they were set up.
"It is an acute problem. The replies – if they come at all – are not straightforward. On average we need to send at least two letters to any state or state police official to elicit any response. And very frequently we have to summon people because there is no response to our letters or phone calls," said NCW Chairperson Girija Vyas.
The commission is presently functioning with half its sanctioned staff of 52. A request for 58 additional posts is pending. The NCW could not take action in about 3,000 of the 13,000 complaints it received last year and responses from state governments and police are pending in at least 3,000 of the 10,000 which it did take up. This year it has already received 700 complaints. This means in the second week of January the NCW is looking at 6,700 cases to be dealt with by 24 personnel including members and the chairperson.
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes is not much better off. Members are so upset about the commission's lack of teeth that in the last meeting a unanimous resolution was passed to seek more powers, said Chairperson Fakir Bhai Vaghela. "The commission is not advisory. We should have the powers to enforce our directives," he said.
NCM Chairman Hamid Ansari points out that complaints in most cases are against some agency of the government and adds that such agencies inevitably make use of 'procedural devices' to stall.
"Members can meet people, hold public meetings and assess situations but to investigate factual situations, we need professionals," he said and added "you need teeth if you have to deliver".