Data shared by the government indicates that the number of complaints regarding human rights violations filed with the NHRC has reduced by almost 40% between 2015-16 & 2020-21. The fall in complaints is due to the more than 50% fall in complaints from Uttar Pradesh, Odisha & Haryana.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was established for the protection and promotion of human rights in India. It was established as a statutory body under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (PHRA).
The act further lays down the functions and powers of NHRC. This includes – conducting enquiries into the petitions received regarding violation of human rights, intervene in any human right violations, review the safeguards, etc. The NHRC comes up with recommendations in these various cases, where it feels that the officials have not taken appropriate action in tune with the human rights violations and can also recommend compensation.
A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), highlights that there have been many human rights violations by the government against various people and groups who have voiced their opinion contrary to the government’s stand. It also highlights the human rights violations against the marginalised communities due to COVID-19 induced lockdown, where-in they had a loss of access to basic needs.
A report by Amnesty International further asserts the observations made by HRW, regarding the violations against the dissenters of the government policies. The report further highlights the plight of the migrants & marginalised sections during the lockdown and also the apathy showed by the law-enforcement authorities and governments towards violations and crimes committed by vigilante groups.
We had earlier written a story regarding the human rights violations against the Human rights defenders and analysed the trends in the complaints lodged, resolved, etc. In a response provided in Rajya Sabha in March 2021, the government stated that PHRA-1993 was amended in 2019 to strengthen the functioning of NHRC, which includes increasing the personnel in NHRC among others. We take a look at the trends in the complaints received by NHRC over the years.
Declining trend in the number of complains registered with NHRC
In the same response in Rajya Sabha, the government furnished the details of the complaints received by the Commission. NHRC also maintains a live dashboard of the complaints received by the institution. As per the dashboard, over 85 thousand cases were disposed of between 01 April 2020 and 15 April 2021. During this period, 78.9 thousand new complaints were received while around 12.4 thousand cases are under process.
As per the information provided in the Rajya Sabha, during the year 2015-16, NHRC received 1.17 lakh complaints from across the country. In the ensuing two years, there has been a steeper fall in the number of new complaints received in a particular financial year. During 2016-17, the number of complaints with NHRC fell to 91.8 thousand which further fall to 79.6 lakh thousand in 2017-18.
Although the number of complaints increased in 2018-19 to 89.5 thousand, the number fell again in 2019-20 with only 76.6 thousand cases registered in 2019-20. As per the latest information provided in Rajya Sabha, only around 68.4 thousand cases were registered until 28 February 2021, for the year 2020-21 i.e., in the 11 months period. The trend of the last few years does indicate an overall decline in the number of complaints received by the NHRC.
The decline in the number of complaints is contrary to the reports presented by various Human rights organizations across the world that talk about increased rights violations. One of the plausible explanations could be a lack of awareness in seeking the assistance of NHRC and other reasons such as coercion by authorities not to approach the commission.
The fall in the number of complaints can be attributed to the declining trend in U.P, Haryana & Odisha
During 2019-20, there were 32.6 thousand complaints registered from Uttar Pradesh. This constitutes around 43% of the total complaints that were registered across the country in the year. The proportion has dipped compared to the previous years with the cases in U.P constituting 48.5% (2017-18) and 46.8% (2018-19). The effect of the decline in complaints from the U.P is reflective in the overall decline of new complaints received at the national level. In 2015-16, around 49.7 thousand complaints were registered with NHRC from U.P alone.
Odisha and Haryana are the other two states which have had a higher number of complaints with NHRC. Even these states have shown a decline in the number of complaints by NHRC in recent years. During 2016-17, the number of complaints from both these states nearly halved compared to 2015-16 and continued to largely follow a declining trend over the ensuing years.
Few of the significant trends among the states include :
- Andaman & Nicobar Islands which have 2.1 thousand and 1.6 thousand cases in 2015-16 & 2016-17 respectively have reported only 35 complaints in the ensuing year and the numbers have remained in that range.
- In contrast, West Bengal which has reported lower numbers in 2015-16 & 2016-17 has seen an increase in the numbers in the ensuing years. Note that both these fall under the East zone of NHRC jurisdiction.
- While most of the other states have either shown a declining or consistent trend in the number of complaints being registered, there is an increasing trend observed in A.P, Tamil Nadu & Telangana.
Majority of the ‘Nature of complaints’ are categorised under the ambiguous ‘Miscellaneous’ category
Apart from providing the details on the number of complaints received year-on-year and by States/UTs, the response in Rajya Sabha also included the categorization by the nature of complaints. The two major categories under which the complaints are categorized are ‘Miscellaneous’ & ‘Police’.
As per the information available until 28 February 2021, around 24 thousand complaints were categorised as ‘Miscellaneous’ in 2020-21 i.e., around 35% of all the complaints in the year. Even during the earlier five years I.e., 2015-16 to 2019-20, the share of complaints categorised as ‘Miscellaneous’ ranged between 30-35%. In other words, more than three out of every 10 complaints were categorized under this ambiguous category.
‘Police’ is the major non-ambiguous category. However, its share among the total complaints has come down over the years. In 2015-16, around 30% of the complaints were categorized as under ‘Police’ which has gradually reduced in the more recent years to 17.5% during 2020-21.
The number of complaints has reduced across most other categories. Closer scrutiny reveals a fall in the number of complaints received under a few of the major heads, including ‘Women’, ‘SC/ST/OBC’, ‘Labour’ etc. It has to be noted that all these are the traditionally marginalized sections of society.
Need for facilitation for increased reporting of complaints with NHRC
One of the main purposes of NHRC is to hear the grievances related to Human Rights violations in the country. A key aspect to ensure that NHRC is able to deliver on this mandate is to have a mechanism where the complaints of human rights violations are received with minimal roadblocks.
The overall fall in the number of NHRC complaints could also be attributed to an improving Human Rights situation in the country. However, the reports & studies by national & international Human rights agencies provide a different narrative. The various incidents being reported from across the country also do not strengthen any claim of improved Human Rights situation. Therefore, the fall in the number of complaints could be due to the challenges in lodging complaints with NHRC.
It has to be noted that the fall in complaints is noticed majorly in the states like U.P, Haryana & Odisha which form the major portion of the NHRC complaints.
Furthermore, tagging a major section of complaints under ‘Miscellaneous’ does not help in analysing the nature of complaints received by NHRC. While NHRC has been claiming the improvements made in hearing and disposal of the complaints, this automatically does not translate into creating a suitable environment to make complaints against human rights violations. The NHRC would do well to analyse the actual reasons for the fall in complaints and take corrective action if necessary.
Featured Image: Complaints with NHRC