Srinagar: The J&K high court on Tuesday directed government to revive the State Human Rights Commission by appointing its chairman and members within four weeks.
The state human rights watchdog is completely defunct for the past more than 14 months and the court’s division bench of Chief Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar and Justice Hasnain Massodi passed the directions after hearing Advocate General Jahangir Iqbal Ganie.
Referring to a communication received by him from the additional secretary to the government, department of law and justice, Ganie submitted that a meeting of a panel headed by Chief Minister has been convened to appoint the chairperson and members of the State Accountability Commission, the anti-corruption watchdog which is also non-functional since its chairperson Justice (retired) YP Nargotra and one of the two appointed members, Justice (retired) Imtiyaz Hussain, completed their term in office in August last year.
“A meeting to appoint the Chairperson and Members, of SAC is fixed for September 17 and immediately thereafter, the meeting to appoint chairperson and members of the SHRC shall also be convened,” he said.
Referring to the additional secretary’s communication, Ganie stated that the government was facing difficulties in appointment of the chairperson and members of the SHRC in view of non-availability of eligible persons. He said the state legislature amended the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act, 1997, providing that in case there is no leader of opposition in the Assembly or Council, the leader of the single largest group or party in the opposition shall be deemed to be member of the committee.
Headed by the chief minister, the panel to appoint both SAC and SHRC chairmen and members, comprises speaker of the legislative assembly, chairman of legislative council, minister in charge Home as well as the leaders of opposition in assembly and the council.
As per the amended act, a person appointed as chairperson or a member shall hold officer for a term of five years from the date of which he enters upon his office or until he attains the age of 75 years, whichever is earlier.
The court passed the order while hearing a PIL filed by an NGO, J&K Peoples Forum, through its secretary general MM Shuja.
“As at present, there is neither any chairperson nor any member in the commission. There is supporting staff comprising of the secretary and an inspector general of police who can’t deal with more than 2000 cases pending disposal at present before the Commission,” the petitioner said, while seeking direction from the court to the “non-serious” government to take “immediate and effective steps” for making the appointment of the chairperson and the four members of the commission.
The SHRC was left defunct on June 28 when its two members, among them Rafiq Fida who was also serving as its acting chairperson, completed their term. The other retired member was Amlok Singh who served it from June 28, 2011.
The state human rights watchdog is actually headless since October 2011 when Justice (Retd) Bashir-ud-Din retired as chairman. Month later, Abdul Rashid Khan, former Inspector General of Police, completed his term as the member while Javaid Ahmad Kawoosa attained superannuation on October 24, 2013.
Soon after the chairman and the two members (Khan and Kawoosa) retired, the law, justice and parliamentary ministry had announced on its official website that filling up the vacancies was under “active consideration of the government and the process has already been initiated.”
While previous government did nothing to revive the commission, the ruling PDP-BJP government, which already completed six months and a week in office, too slept over the issue despite assurances of revving it on “priority basis.”
On March 22, the law, justice and parliamentary affairs minister Basharat Bukhari told Kashmir Reader the commission will be revived “very soon”.
The SHRC has been empowered to order investigations in cases of human rights violations and recommend measures for effective implementation of laws and safeguards provided by the Constitution to protect human rights.
It is for the first time since its inception in 1997 that the human rights body has remained defunct.
In 2006, the then Chairman, Justice (Retd) AM Mir had resigned in protest against “non-implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.”