- Justice Mishra’s appointment as Chairperson, NHRC is another move to subvert & destroy democratic institutions
- Why no members from Dalit, Adivasis and minoorities appointed as NCHR members who suffer the most at the hand of Police
By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi: The members of various Human Rights Organisations and concerned individuals on Thursday condemned the appointment of former SC Judge, Arun Kumar Mishra, as the next Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India by the selection Committee headed by the Prime Minister.
They described it as another move to subvert and destroy democratic institutions and one more brazen and deliberate blow by the Central Government to the Constitution, rule of law and human rights. They also said it will further accentuate feelings of alienation and frustration in Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities or other marginalised sections.
In a joint statement, more than 72 prominent activists and rights bodies underlined that by appointing Justice Mishra, whose tenure as a former Supreme Court judge was very controversial, the Modi government has demonstrated once again, that the basis for their selection is not guided by the requirements of a Head of the NHRC or even the track record of defending human rights by the person so selected.
Instead, what matters is whether the person selected was close to the ruling dispensation. They pointed out that in matters involving critical right to life and livelihood issues of people from the margins of society, Justice Mishra as SC judge had scant respect for their plight.
“Justice Mishra was much criticised for ordering the eviction of millions of poor forest dwellers in a PIL challenging the Forest Rights Act and the order was kept in abeyance only after numerous nation-wide agitations launched by affected tribal communities. In personal liberty matters, he tended to prefer a hard line, favouring state action over charges of violation of individual liberties. In land acquisition matters, a study of the dominant pattern in his orders indicated a tendency to favour the state as against individual land owners who challenged the land acquisition. In short, in all politically sensitive cases he always sided with the Central Government or acted in a manner to help some of the top leaders of the Central Government. These include Loya Case, Sahara Birla Corruption Case, Sanjiv Bhat Case, Haren Pandya Case, the tussle within CBI case, bail for Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha”, the statement highlighted.
It further recalled that “Few have forgotten the unprecedented action of 4 of the senior most SC judges consisting of Justice Gogoi, Chelameswar, Madan Lokur and Joseph, conducting a press conference in January, 2019. The immediate trigger for the press conference was the assignment of the Judge Loya case to a Bench headed by Justice Arun Kumar Mishra. The 4 judges also pointed to how cases were being fixed and sent to particular Benches – and people inside the judicial system knew that the court was of Justice Arun Mishra – for favourable orders”.
It is therefore not strange that throwing democratic properties to the wind, the Government has appointed Justice Mishra as the Chairperson of NHRC.
What is troubling is that the decision to appoint Justice Mishra as NHRC Head was despite the objection raised by the Leader of the Opposition in the RajyaSabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, who suggested that a person representing Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities or other marginalised sections instead be appointed as Chairperson, considering that the bulk of victims of state abuse comes from these communities,” they underscore.
It is very clear that Justice Mishra seems to have been rewarded for having declared his fealty to Prime Minister Modi in a Judicial Conference involving judges from 24 countries on 20th January, 2020. Notwithstanding that he was still a sitting SC judge, Justice Mishra unabashedly described PM Modi, in glowing terms, in his presence, as “an internationally acclaimed visionary… (a) versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally …”.
The supreme irony of a sitting Supreme Court Judge openly describing the PM, as the Head of the Executive, in such flowery terms indicating his closeness to the ruling regime was not lost on discerning jurists, lawyers and concerned citizens. “How can a person who made an improper and unwarranted statement praising the PM in his very presence, be trusted by people to act without fear or favour to protect their human rights violated by the government”? They asked.
It is important to point out that the NHRC was created as an independent body which would enquire into complaints of abuse and violations of human rights by the State and its agencies. The NHRC, created by the PHR Act, is guided by the Paris Principles.
What stands out is that the appointment of Justice Mishra is a flagrant violation of the `Paris Principles’ which govern the recognition of the NHRC in international law. The Paris Principles mandate the international minimum standards that all National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) have to meet – irrespective of the size of the NHRIs – if they are to be `legitimate, credible and effective in promoting and protecting human rights’.
Equally troubling is the appointment of former Director of Intelligence Bureau, Rajiv Jain as a member of the NHRC, when he has no human rights qualifications to speak of. Through such arbitrary and partial action, the government has demonstrated their scant respect for the foundational principles of good governance and constitutional rule – which requires independent institutions which remain autonomous from the control of the executive; impartial institutional leaders who exhibit allegiance not to a leader but to the Constitution of India; and in whose working ethos embody the principles of transparency, accountability and responsibility.
The appointment of Justice Mishra seriously repudiates the Paris Principles and has to be questioned. There can be no iota of doubt that effective NHRI’s should have “independent members who exercise independent thinking and leadership”. As the judiciary never tires of saying, justice should not only be done, but seen to be done. A big casualty of the appointment of a person like Justice Mishra will be the trust and confidence of people, especially victims of rights violations in the independence of the NHRC. This apart, the other request of Mr. Kharge who suggested that there be greater diversity in selection of NHRC members by appointing Dalit, Adivasi or Minority communities, was also summarily rejected by PM – headed Selection Committee who reportedly finalised the appointments of the former Director of Intelligence Bureau, Mr. Rajiv Jain, and former J&K HC Judge, MK Mittal as members. Once again, the Selection Committee has shown the scant respect it has for Dalit, Adivasi, minority and marginalised communities by appointing former police/ security officials who were seen to be close to the ruling dispensation thereby ignoring the demand for ensuring diversity in appointment of NHRC members.
They also raised the question why the members from Dalit, Adivasi, minority and other marginalised communities , who have been former judges of High Courts and Supreme Courts, leading academics and professionals amongst them are not appointed as members of the NHRC.
“This too highlights the claim of the government of respecting diversity as bare tokenism, and that too in bad faith. It is time the voices of the silent majority are heeded and non-officials from these communities are recognised and appointed to the NHRC”.
The statement was signed by Ravikiran Jain, President, PUCL; Dr. V. Suresh, General Secretary, PUCL; Mihir Desai, VP, PUCL ; Karen Coelho, Academic, Chennai; Prabhakar Sinha, PUCL, Ex-President; Malika Sarabhai, Dancer and Cultural activist; Rohit Prajapati, PUCL, Nationl Secretary; Apoorvanand, teacher and writer; Aakar Patel,activist and writer; Harsh Mandar, writer and activist; Nandini Sundar, academic, ; Amar Jesani, health researcher; V S Krishna (Human Rights Forum), Vishakhapatnam; Vipul Mudgal, writer and Human Rights Researcher; Natasha Badhwar, Author and Film-Maker; Abha Bhaiya, feminist activist; Sundar Burra, Member, (Constitutional Conduct Group); Nivedita Menon, teacher and writer; Pamela Philipose, Writer and Journalist; Meera Sanghamitra (National Alliance of People’s Movements);Fr. Cedric Prakash, Sj, Human Rights Activist;Arundhati Dhuru (NAPM); Sandeep Pandey (Socialist Party India); Prafulla Samantaraa (NAPM); Anuradha Talwar (Poschim Bonga Khet Mazdoor Samiti); Syeda Hameed, Writer, Former member (Planning Commission),; Bela Bhatia, Advocate and human rights worker ; Dr. Sunilam, ex MLA; Kavita Srivastava; Shabnam Hashmi; Henri Tiphagne; M G Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.); Bhanwar Meghwanshi, Dalit writer; Anjali Bhardwaj and others.