The Rajya Sabha passed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019 on Monday, that provides for a reduction in tenure of chairpersons of national and state human rights bodies to three years from the current five years. The bill amends the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
Participating in the debate on Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019, moved by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, the Congress’ Vivek K Tankha expressed apprehension that the proposed changes in the law would empower the government to handpick members. He said the government should have brought "functional amendments" in the existing law and not "cosmetic" ones, adding that larger issues would have been addressed if the Bill was sent to the Standing Committee.
The Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav said the bill had various "discrepancies" which would weaken the existing law, while BJD’s Prasanna Acharya stressed on a large number of vacancies in human rights commissions. Congress’ Madhusudan Mistry, RJD’s Manoj Kumar Jha, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut and DMK’s Tiruchi Siva were among the other members who criticised the amendments sought to the bill.
The Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, on 8 July 2019. The bill amends the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The Act provides for a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), as well as Human Rights Courts.
Tenure of Chairpersons of NHRC
The bill provides for a reduction in the tenure of Chairpersons of National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions to three years from the current five years. Further, the Act allows for the reappointment of members of the NHRC and SHRCs for a period of five years till the age of 70 years. The Bill removes the five-year limit for reappointment.
Composition of NHRC
According to PRS Legislative Research, the 1993 Act states that the chairperson of the SHRC is a person who should have been chief justice of a high court. The new bill amends this to provide that a person who has been chief justice or judge of a high court is to be the chairperson of the SHRC.
The old Act provides for two persons having knowledge of human rights to be appointed as members of the NHRC. The bill amends this to allow three members to be appointed, of which at least one will should be a woman.
Under the Act, chairpersons of bodies such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, and National Commission for Women are to be selected as members of the NHRC. The bill provides for including the chairpersons of the National Commission for Backward Classes, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as members of the NHRC instead.
Powers of Secretary-General of NHRC
Under the bill, the Secretary-General who shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the Commission and shall exercise all administrative and financial powers (except judicial functions), as may be delegated to him by the Commission or the Chairperson.
The Act had provided for a Secretary-General of the NHRC and a Secretary of SHRC, who could exercise powers as may be delegated to them only.
While the bill provides that the central government may confer on SHRC human rights functions being discharged by Union Territories. Functions relating to human rights in the case of Delhi will be dealt with by the NHRC.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jul 23, 2019 14:46:57 IST