SHILLONG: What may be a breather for people seeking justice on human rights violation, the functioning of the Meghalaya Human Rights Commission, however, may just be a whole new ball game with the chairperson of the commission terming the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 as a 'toothless tiger'.
The Meghalaya Human Rights Commission which was constituted by the Meghalaya government on June 7, 2016, which is almost 23 years after the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 was enforced in the country, is set to become yet another toothless body as the provisions under the act curtails the commission from giving final judgement to the cases undertaken by them.
The Meghalaya Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the fourth such commission in the NE after Assam, Tripura and Sikkim was constituted by the state government with the consent of the governor on June 7, 2016 with Dr. Justice A.H. Saikia, a former chief justice of the Sikkim High Court as its chairperson and former Meghalaya DGP PJP Haneman as the non-judicial member.
During an interaction with media persons at State Convention Centre here on Thursday, Justice Saikia said that at present, the MHRC is functioning without the third member, who is a judicial member, as prescribed under the act. He informed that the state government is currently looking for a judicial member.
According to the act, a state human rights commission consist of a chairperson, who has been a chief justice of a high court, one member who is, or has been a judge of the high court or district judge in the state for 7 years experience and one member having knowledge of, or personal experience in matters relating to human rights.
Ironically, this commission is empowered with all functions and responsibilities except the power to punish the perpetrator which makes it a 'toothless body'.
According to Saikia, the state commission is not an advisory court, it decides on papers and reports. "We can only act on complaints by inquiring into the matter and directs the police to present a report of the case within a prescribed timeframe," he said.
However, if no reports come within that time, the commission has no other option but to conduct an independent inquiry by the investigation team which will consist of police officers headed by the Director General of Police. Once the report is submitted, the commission will recommend the same to the state government to initiate procedures against the perpetrator and to ask him/her to pay the compensation amount to the victim, however, this is up to the government to comply.
Highlighting the functions of the commission, Justice Saikia said that the commission is empowered to exercise the powers conferred upon, and to perform the functions assigned to it—to inquire into violation of human rights only by 'public servants' excluding complaints issued against paramilitary forces as it falls outside the jurisdiction of the state commission.
"However, the commission is not empowered to handle private disputes or interstate boundary related disputes as the act permits the state commission to exercise its power within the parameters of the state," Saikia said.
It may be mentioned that though, the commission was constituted since June 2016, however, no such accommodation has been arranged for the functioning of this commission. According to the act, the headquarter of the state commission shall be at such a place as the government may, by notification, specify.
At present, the state commission is functioning from Saikia's office in Guwahati. It may be mentioned that Justice Saikia also holds the post of chairperson of the Assam Human Rights Commission. Stating that unlike the high court, the procedures to get to the commission is not an expensive affair as a complainant need not go through a lawyer to air their grievances to the judicial and non-judicial members. Similarly, unlike the court of law, the commission does not have the power of contempt.
Assuring 100 percent guarantee to take up matters placed before the commission aggressively, Saikia said people whose human rights have been violated by a 'public servant' can place their complaints before the commission at any time, not exceeding one year, after violation of rights is committed. Till date, the MHRC has not received any complaints since the day it was notified i.e. on June 7, this year.