The constitution and working of SHRC betrays state rulers lack of concern over the grave human rights abuses

The appointment of Rafiq Fida, a sitting member of the State Human Rights Commission as its acting chairman again brings to focus the farcical character of this institution claimed to have been set up for dealing with the large number of human rights abuses occurring in the troubled state. How seriously the State government has been taking the Commission is obvious from the manner in which it allowed this body to remain headless for over three years when Justice Bashir-ud-Din, retired on October 11, 2011 after completing his three year tenure. The State government did not find it prudent to select a regular incumbent to head this institution by going through the procedure laid down under the act. This was the period during which a large number of grave human rights violations were allegedly committed by the state police and the security forces. Under the Act the Commission was to comprise of five members including the chairman, who has been a judge of the high court, one member who is or has been the district judge and three members to be appointed from amongst persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in matters relating to Human Rights. The very constitution of the present Commission violate these provisions. At present the SHRC consists of only two members, both considered to be close to the ruling coalition. Apart from the failure of the government to go through the procedure of selection as laid down in the ACT, Fida is in no way qualified to head the Commission.

The constitution and the working of State Human Rights Commission were always questionable in view of its being a toothless institution, its lack of independence and credibility, its inbuilt limitations with The J&K Protection of Human Rights Act falling much short of the requirement, absence of the required infrastructure including its own independent investigating agency and lack of cooperation from the government and its various agencies. The manner in which the present coalition headed by Omar Abdullah has been handling its affairs, betraying total lack of seriousness and earnestness for the SHRC becoming an effective instrument for putting an end to human rights abuses, has turned out SHRC to be a farcical institution. The Commission suffers from acute financial shortage, lack of necessary powers and infrastructure, arbitrary manner of appointments adding to it the lack of support and cooperation from the government and its agencies, particularly the State police. Though the allegations of gave human rights abuses are being made against the armed forces and central para-military forces the SHRC has no jurisdiction or authority to probe into such charges.

The toothless nature of the SHRC is obvious from the way its recommendations have been ignored or have remained unimplemented by the Government. It was due to this failure of the government to implement the Commission’s recommendations that the then Chairman Justice A.M. Mir had resigned in protest in July 2006, terming the SHRC as an “eyewash to befool the world community”. While stating that the SHRC has not ben able to accomplish the object for which it was constituted, Justice Mir lamented that during his tenure as head of the SHRC not a single recommendation made by the Commission was implemented”. The record of the present government in this regard is even worse. Though Omar Abdullah as head of the NC-Congress coalition had pledged to strengthen the Commission, during the past five years of his rule the authority and utility of the SHRC have been further eroded. It has virtually ceased to function in view of the absence of its chairman, in whom the powers are vested, and lack of necessary quorum.. According to its 2008-2009 report to the State legislature the Commission had only one member. Ridiculously for the past over three years since its chairman completed his tenure the commission is functioning only with two members, one of whom has now been elevated as the acting chairman. What prevented the government from going through the laid down process to select the chairman for the past three years and fill up vacancies in the Commission in time ? Why the move was not initiated for making important changes and amendments in the law to provide teeth , autonomy and necessary infrastructure to the Commission for making it an effective institution for probing the human rights abuses, identifying the guilty followed awarding stringent punishment to those found guilty. The failure of the government to act in this regard only shows its concern for shielding the culprits, most of whom already enjoyed impunity under the draconian laws.