A general view of the Rajya Sabha, in New Delhi on Monday (ANI)
A general view of the Rajya Sabha, in New Delhi on Monday (ANI)

Human Rights Bill tabled in Rajya Sabha amid Opposition uproar

  • The bill seeks to give more administrative and financial powers to human rights bodies in India
  • The amendment provides for a reduction in the tenure of chairpersons of national and state human rights bodies to three years from the current five

New Delhi: In a move that will further strengthen the advocacy of human rights in the country, the Rajya Sabha on Monday, unanimously passed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill 2019, amid chaos by Opposition members.

The bill, which awaits passage in the Upper House, seeks to give more administrative and financial powers to human rights bodies in India.

The bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on Friday, was met with Opposition furore in the Upper House of Parliament.

While minister of state for home affairs Nityanand Rai tabled the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Union home minister Amit Shah said that the proposed amendments had been made keeping in mind the effectiveness of the bill.

“If we say that we will appoint a Supreme Court judge if a retired Chief Justice is not available, then which self-respecting judge will come forward? It has been decided by the courts that as far as judicial work is concerned, the CJI is first among equals. The CJI only gets additional administrative rights to run the Supreme Court or the High Courts. That’s why the amendment should be seen that way," said Union home minister Amit Shah.

The bill raised eyebrows amongst the Opposition members who questioned the efficacy of the proposed amendments.

The proposed amendment provides for a reduction in the tenure of chairpersons of national and state human rights bodies to three years from the present five years.

Additionally, it also mentions that a former Supreme Court judge can also become the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairperson. Currently, a former chief justice of India, can head the body.

Senior Trinamool Congress MP Derek O Brien raised a point of order stating that the amendment was only transmitted from the Lok Sabha to the Rajya Sabha on Friday at 5pm, leaving no time for members of the Upper House to go through the same before it was taken up for discussion -- allegations which were countered by Union minister Prakash Javadekar who stated that the Opposition had not bothered to go through the amendments.

Likewise, the amendment also paves the way for a former high court judge to chair a state human rights commission, as opposed to the current requirement of a high court chief for the post of chairperson.

“If there is a chief justice who is available, will he be overlooked in favour of a hand-picked judge? Will it lead to a pick and choose system in both the Central and state levels? There needs to be greater clarity on the matter," said Congress MP Vivek Tankha.

At the same time, the Samajwadi party too, questioned the necessity of the amendments.

“What is the rationale behind reducing the term of the chairperson from five to three years? Also, the proposal of appointment of chairperson will only give way to favouritism. The Home Minister needs to offer clarity on these issues," said senior Samajwadi party MP Ramgopal Yadav.

Under the existing Act, chairpersons of commissions such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and National Commission for Women are members of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

The new bill specifies that 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 can be included as members of the NHRC.

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