November 8th, 2016
Speculations of a political controversy might soon hit Narendra Modi government as it is set to appoint for the first time an active politician for a post in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which remained vacant for over two years now.
According to Financial Express, 55-year-old BJP vice-president, Avinash Rai Khanna is likely to be appointed as a member of the NHRC, which is headed by a former Chief Justice of India. The post has been vacant for past two years. Khanna’s name was cleared by the panel comprising of the Lok Sabha speaker, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Union Home Minister, leaders of opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, with the Prime Minister as its head, last month.
Khanna is a former Rajya Sabha member from Punjab and BJP, in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir. He will perhaps be the first active politician to be appointed as a member of the NHRC.
About NHRC membership
Members of NHRC are appointed under Section 3 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, which deals with the issue of “Constitution of a National Human Rights Commission”. The NHRC chairperson can only be a retired Chief Justice of India. NHRC has four full-time members, who are selected by the panel.
According to the act, among the members, one should be a former judge of the Supreme Court, one Chief Justice of the High Court, and other two with knowledge or practical experience in the field.
However, there is no restriction in the appointment of a politician as a member of NHRC
BJP drawing flak from opposition
BJP’s decision has drawn strong voice against the appointment of Khanna. Former Swaraj Abhiyan leader Prashant Bhushan tweeted, “Modi government’s alarming decimation of all Accountability Institutions continues with the appointment of BJP’s JK VP as member NHRC.”
Modi govt's alarming decimation of all Accountability Institutions continues with Appt of BJP's JK VP as member NHRChttps://t.co/cybiCiPnK3
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) November 6, 2016
BSP leader Sudhindra Bhadoria wrote on twitter, “BJP government is trying to change the character of NHRC by appointing party nominee.”
— Sudhindra Bhadoria (@SudhinBhadoria) November 6, 2016
Eminent historian Ramchandra Guha was also not convinced with the decision to appoint an active politician on the human rights panel.
The National Human Right Commission's standing is already low: this move will lower it further:https://t.co/BTptRC1MUG
— Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) November 6, 2016
Lackadaisical stand of BJP
In 2013, when BJP was in the opposition, leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley had opposed the move to appoint former Supreme Court judge Cyriac Joseph as a member of NHRC claiming that he had political links.
Jaitley had written a letter to the then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who, however, had rejected his objections to clear the appointment of Justice Cyriac Joseph in the NHRC.
The UPA’s stand in 2013
Justice Cyriac Joseph was heavily criticized for being the Acting Chairperson of the NHRC. It was found that Cyriac Joseph authored only seven judgments during his tenure as a Supreme Court judge from July 7, 2008, to January 27, 2012.
Arun Jaitley had written to Manmohan Singh about Justice Cyriac Joseph: “As a judge, he was known for not writing judgments. As against a few hundred judgments authored by every judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Cyriac Joseph is believed to have written only six judgments. He has been, even during his tenure as a judge, perceived to be close to certain political and religious organizations. When there are other eminent names of retired judges eligible for appointment available, which include Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice V.S. Sirpurkar, suggested by the government, and Justice Ravindran, Justice H.S. Bedi, Justice Deepak Verma as suggested by some of us, I am unable to persuade myself to concur to the appointment of Justice Cyriac Joseph as a member of the NHRC”.