A Head for SHRC?

The day he assumed office, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir had made a solemn promise to give due respect to human rights in the state he claimed he had been elected to govern. He is barely months away from seeking a fresh mandate after a full six-year term, but has not so much as been able to appoint a chief for the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) which has been struggling to come up to the expectations of the people.

The Commission has been reduced to a toothless tiger, working as it is with just two members. Sardar Amolak Singh in Jammu and Rafiq Fida Hussain in Srinagar are toiling day and night to deal with piling up cases. Through the SHRC website, the government’s Law Department has said that filling vacant positions in the Commission was under active consideration, but, if sources are to be believed, the NC-Congress coalition is divided over the choice of candidates. Both parties want their own men in the Commission.

At an average, the two existing members have to hear 50-plus cases a day. In many instances, the members have to travel trans-locations, and flight charges have to be borne by the state exchequer because the government refuses give the Commission its full complement of members.

Notwithstanding its limitations, the SHRC gave an epoch making judgement in the unmarked graves case and upheld reports by the International Tribunal for Peace and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). The judgement, however, did not go down well with the powers-that-be, and an order was issued barring the SHRC to investigate the case further.

In his capacity as the state’s Home Minister, the Chief Minister had said that the investigation would be entrusted to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (T&RC). But there is no sign of such a body till date. This reluctance to equip the SHRC fully, and barring it from investigating the unmarked graves further, has eroded whatever credibility the state government would claim for itself.

The government has tried to strangle the SHRC from the very beginning. There was a time when its recommendations were not accepted. But the Commission not only survived but also gave some vital judgements, much to the discomfort of the government. And when people have begun approaching the Commission with a little more confidence, the government is reluctant to strengthen it in terms of manpower and infrastructure. The Chief Minister must fulfill his promise before going to polls later this year.