National Human Rights Commission – UPSC

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India was set up as an independent statutory body under the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 on 12 October 1993. It acts as a watchdog of human rights in India. The Act defined Human rights as the rights related to life, dignity, equality, and liberty of the person guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and enforceable by courts in India or embodied in the International covenants. NHRC was set up in compliance with the Paris Principles adopt for the promotion & protection of human rights, endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 20 December 1993. It falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs.


On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was a milestone declaration for the first time that sets out the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Therefore, 10 December is observed as Human Rights Day every year.

In October 1991, the UN meeting in Paris developed a detailed set of principles, that is, Paris Principles, which became the foundation for setting up and operating the national human rights institutions. In 1993, United Nations General Assembly adopted these Paris Principles.

In 1993, the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 was enacted by the Indian Parliament to strengthen human rights in India by creating the National Human Rights Commission. The 1993 Act also authorized the State Government to set up State Human Rights Commission at a state level.

Objectives of the Commission

The specific objectives of creating the National Human Rights Commission are as follow:

  • To strengthen the institutional management for greater accountability and address human rights issues entirely in a more focused manner.
  • To strengthen and complement the efforts which have already been made for human rights.
  • To look into the allegation in a manner that would undermine the commitment of the government to protect human rights.

Structure of the Commission

National Human Rights Commission is a multi-member body comprising of the Chairman and eight members. The Chairman of NHRC should be the retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. Out of eight members:

  • One member should be the sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court.
  • One member should be the serving or retired chief justice of a High Court.
  • Two members should have knowledge or practice experience in matters relating to human rights.
  • The remaining four members are ex-officio members, that is, the Chairmen of the below National Commissions:
    • National Commission for SC’s.
    • the National Commission for STs.
    • the National Commission for Minorities.
    • the National Commission for Women.

The commission also includes five specialized divisions: Investigation Division, Law Division, Training Division, Policy Research & Programme Division, and Administration Division.

Appointment of NHRC members

The President of India appoints the Chairman and members of NHRC on the recommendation of the six-member selection committee. This selection committee includes:

  • The Prime Minister (head of the committee).
  • Speaker of Lok Sabha.
  • Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
  • Union Home Minister.
  • Leader of Opposition of the both houses of the Parliament.

Tenure and Removal

The tenure of the NHRC’s Chairman and members is three years or the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier. After their tenure is completed, they cannot be eligible for further employment under Central and State governments.

The Chairman and any member of the NHRC can be removed from office by the President of India under the following circumstances:

  • If he engages in any paid employment outside his official duties during his term.
  • If he adjudged as insolvent.
  • If he is unfit to continue his office because of the infirmity of mind or body.
  • If he is of unsound mind, so declared by a competent court.
  • If he is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for any offense.

In addition to these, the Chairman or any member can also be removed by President on the ground of proved misbehavior or incapacity. But, in this case, the President has to refer the matter to the Supreme Court of India for an inquiry.

The Central government determines the salaries, allowances, and other service conditions of the Chairman and members of NHRC.

Working of the Commission

The headquarter of the commission is in Delhi. It can also set up its office at other places in the country. The commission is empowered to regulate its own procedure and has all the power of the civil court. Its proceedings have a judicial character. For investigation purposes, the commission has its own investigation staff to investigate matters of human rights violations. It is also empowered to utilize the services of an investigation agency or any officer of the Central government and State governments. NHRC may call for information from the Central as well as State governments or any other subordinate authority.

The commission can look into a matter of human violation within one year of its occurrence. It is not empowered to inquire into the matter after the expiry of one year from the date on which the act constituting the human rights violation has been committed. It may take the following steps during or upon the completion of the inquiry:

  • It may approach the Supreme Court of India or the concerned High court for the necessary directions, orders.
  • It may recommend to the concerned authority or government for initiating the proceedings for prosecution or any other action against the guilty public servant.
  • It may recommend to the concerned authority or government to grant immediate interim relief to the victim.
  • It may also recommend the concerned government or authority for making payment of compensation to the victim.

Functions of NHRC

Section 12 of the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 deals with the functions of the National Human Rights Commission, which are as follow:

  • Inquire into any violation of human rights in the country, either suo moto or after receiving a petition or an order of a court.
  • It has the power to intervene in any judicial proceeding that involves the allegation of human rights violation.
  • It can visit the prison or detention places or any other institution under the control of state government, where persons are detained, to observe the living conditions of inmates. It can further make recommendations based on its observation thereon.
  • It can review the Constitutional or other legal safeguards for the protection of human rights and can suggest appropriate remedial measures for their effective implementation.
  • It can review the factors, including terrorism acts, which inhibit the enjoyment of human rights. It can further recommend remedial measures.
  • It studies treaties and other international instruments related to human rights and makes suggestions for their effective implementation.
  • It undertakes and promotes research in the human rights field.
  • It promotes awareness of safeguards for the protection of human rights and spreads human rights literacy.
  • It encourages the efforts of non-governmental organizations, which are working in the field of human rights.

Role of the NHRC

As the functions of NHRC are mainly recommendatory in nature, it has no power to punish the violator of human rights or provide any monetary relief to the victim. Further, its recommendations are not binding on the concerned authority or government. It may play an advisory role, yet the government takes into consideration the cases forwarded by it.

The commission submitted its annual or special report to the President of India, who further laid down these reports before each house of the Parliament, along with the memorandum of action (MoA) taken on the commission’s recommendation.

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