Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) has not functioned for six months. An average of 80 complaints pour into its office every day since the virtually dead statutory panel’s last chairman, justice Jagdish Bhalla (retired), left in March.
More than 9,000 complaints are waiting to be heard, and more than 55% are against police. On June 21, hearing a public-interest petition by senior advocate HC Arora, the Punjab and Haryana high court gave the state government two weeks to fill all posts on the panel and revive it. That deadline expired on July 5.
To contempt notice from the court, the state replied on September 9 that it was going to appoint the panel’s chairperson and members in two weeks (by September 24). In the absence of the state’s another statutory obligation, Police Complaints Authority (PCA), the rights commission is the only hope of plaintiffs.
Punjab also faces litigation for not constituting the PCA under the Supreme Court orders of 2006 in the Parkash Singh versus the Union of India case.
A February 3 notification lowered the panel’s strength from five to three, including the chairperson.
One of the two members requires seven-year experience as district- or high-court judge and the other must have practical knowledge of human rights matters. The state government is reported to have zeroed in on high court’s acting chief justice Ashutosh Mohunta (retd) for member. The delay is in getting a former chief justice as chairperson.
The commission has a director-general-of-police-rank officer, Mohammad Mustafa, on board. He says his backlog of inquiries against police has reduced from about 1,000 to 50 in one year. “We are close to finishing our work,” the DGP (human rights) said. He hasn’t received any fresh inquiry in six months that the panel has been defunct.
The alleged police harassment of witnesses in the Behbal Kalan police firing case, a sister’s complaint against cops who picked up a man at night hours and detained him illegally at Mullanpur, a petition for re-investigating a murder committed near Amritsar, and cops’ not lodging a compliant of abetment to suicide at a Patiala village — are all matters waiting to be heard.
This year (till Aug 31)
3,930 against police
316 related to women’s harassment
155 of prison-rule violation