Commissioning A Change!

In a place like Kashmir if lone Human Rights watch body busies itself with issues like traffic mess, private tuition centres, food adulteration etc, then something is not right. Bilal Handoo reports an apparent change in the Commission and its limitations while dealing with serious issues like Human rights violations   

human-rights--bulding-(2)The headless impasse that had gripped Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) since 2011 ended with the appointment of Rafiq Fida as acting chairman. But the appointment cannot rule out an apparent shift in the functioning of rights body from past one year.

During its headless stint, SHRC “commissioned a change” which otherwise wasn’t common with it. Perhaps, it was due to this ‘change’ which compelled the Commission on Dec 14 last year to term the bad conditions of roads, unchecked traffic movement, incessant traffic jams and overcrowded passengers buses as an instance of human rights violation.

And then four days later on Dec 18, SHRC shot one more notice. And this time, it castigated the state government for failing to regulate functioning of coaching centres according to norms in Kashmir.

“Inability on the part of the government to deal sternly with the mounting mayhem of coaching centers is a gross violation of human rights,” Rafiq Fida, then member SHRC observed in an order.

Established under the Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act 1997, SHRC had been in news due to acute financial shortage, lack of necessary infrastructure, lack of support and cooperation from the state government and the police. Many believe, all these factors have collectively tilted SHRC’s approach towards immediate public affairs.

“It isn’t that the Commission is now emerging with different colours,” says a mid-level official in SHRC, “Earlier, rights body used to cater only conflict related matters, but now it has also started taking cognizance of other public matters which otherwise falls in its ambit.”

But then, an apparent shift in approach can’t discard the fact that some powers of the Commission were axed in 2002. Then an amendment in the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act clipped the Commission’s power to appoint its technical staff—which resulted in dependence on the state government for the same!

In fact, the Annual Report of SHRC (2004-2005) revealed that in the absence of an independent investigating agency, the Commission had to be dependent on the state police to conduct investigations even if the cases were against the police personnel. Under such circumstances, impartial investigation was not possible.

Then in July 2006, the then Chairman of SHRC Justice AM Mir resigned in protest by saying “during my tenure, not a single recommendation made by the Commission was implemented.”

The same concern was voiced by then SHRC Chairperson Justice (Retd) Bashir-ud-Din: “The provisions of the Human Rights Protection Act, at first sight gives an impression that the Commission is an autonomous body but on closer examination proves that it is not.”

By Feb 2011, Din during his meeting with the Government of India-appointed interlocutors stated that the powers that the Commission should be vested with are not there: “The Commission’s recommendations need to be acted upon both at the centre and state level.”

Sensing the surged state intervention in SHRC, Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Geelani termed the Commission as a failed institution last summer. “SHRC is incompetent and government forces as well as other state institutions have no constitutional or legal obligation nor they are accountable for their wrongdoings,” Hurriyat Conference said. Hurriyat Conference said that SHRC is a toothless institution and has no mandatory powers to investigate incidents like Kunan Poshpora.

But the toothless tag didn’t stop SHRC to issue notices to Principal Sec Home, J&K DGP on Nov 25 last year for considering the installation of CCTV cameras in all police stations across the state and to file report in the instant case.

Not in a distant past, the Commission had impressed upon the government to introduce Human Rights Education among the Para Military Forces including Jammu and Kashmir Police, so as to make them people friendly and do not inflict damage to life and public property even when provoked.

Lately, when food adulteration issue hit the valley, SHRC expressed serious concern over sale of “substandard and unsafe milk” in Kashmir, saying it was tantamount to “genocide.”

And last year itself, SHRC was seen taking strong notice to the complaint filed by parents against the premier educational institute of the valley. In a secular state, the complain reads, the school management has kept 5 marks for the religion of parents of the school kids—Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist.

“Such type of discrimination is prevailing in Palestine where Arab schools are offered few facilities and educational opportunities,” the Commission reacted.

But the change in the Commission didn’t end there. On August 19 last year, valley’s clerics also knocked at SHRC’s door, taking a dig on Waqaf Board and Hajj and Auqaf. The complain read: “These bodies have failed to protect the interest of ‘Imams’ while both these bodies are paying handsome salaries to their employees ignoring the plight of religious clerics.”

Then on June 27 last year, SHRC termed doctors’ strike as ‘unethical and unconstitutional’, and asked them to desist themselves from going on rampant and illegal strikes.

And then on September 12, 2013, spurious drug scandal swung SHRC back into action. It castigated government, Commissioner Secretary to Health Department, Director Health Services Jammu and Superintendent GB Pant Hospital Srinagar for not filing their respective reports before the Commission on spurious drug scam.

Now when the Commission seems tilting from its earlier stance, many say change started in the summer of 2012. It was when the state asked SHRC to dispose off the case on unmarked graves saying the matter will be investigated by the yet to be constituted Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). So, it seems the state has indeed presided over!

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