Bill on communal clashes aims more muscle to NHRC

The draft Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2013, which the United Progressive Alliance government intends to table in the ongoing winter session, seeks to empower the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to probe riots and even public servants’ failure to prevent violence.

The bill, which the government claims has been diluted to accommodate reservations of opposition parties on bias towards one community and infringing on the federal structure, is still expected to invite criticism on the double yardsticks it adopts in dealing with state and Central forces deputed to control riots.

Also, it takes away the power from states to appoint designated judges to probe riots.

While the draft legislation seeks to probe the role and fix accountability of state public servants found wanting in riot containing duties, the NHRC’s jurisdiction has been limited to merely “seek a report” and make “recommendation” to the Central government on receiving complaint against armed forces and security forces, perhaps to shield the Army.
 
As of now, the NHRC takes suo motu action on riots, suggests remedial measures such as compensation to victims and fixes accountability on the states on the premise that affected people lose their human rights in such conflict areas.

Their actions, however, have not proved detrimental in the absence of statutory backing.

But, as per Chapter V – National Human Rights Commission to Carry out Functions Related to Maintaining Communal Harmony – the commission will have the powers to “intervene in any proceeding, involving any allegation of communal violence pending before a court,  with approval of such court”. 

The move comes from the experience the NHRC had when it intervened a few years ago in the Supreme Court pleading transfer of Gujarat riots case outside the state. The apex court had shifted the Best Bakery case to Maharashtra on the NHRC petition.

Shinde’s stand

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Tuesday told reporters that “this is one of the promised actions that we have to do and we will do. We will try (to bring in this session)”.

Asked about some state governments' opposition to the bill, the home minister said if any state had any reservation over any clause, they can talk to him directly or can communicate to him and also to his officers. “If they have any reservation on any particular point, we are ready to discuss,” he added.

The commission, if the bill gets Parliament nod, will observe, review and monitor “effectiveness of steps taken, recording of offences committed, timely and effective investigation and prosecution of offences” by government officials deployed on riot duties.

The draft legislation, however, says that only the Centre will have the power to appoint designated judges in consultation with chief justices of high courts to try offences committed under this act.

The provision is expected to raise eyebrows of states as well as of the opposition parties for the draft bill gives over-powering legal handle to the Centre as it says, “notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, or in any other law for the time being in force, the offences specified under this Act shall be tried by designated judges appointed under this Act”. 
 
The NHRC will also have the power to entertain appeals against the decision of the state committees set up to look into riots, frame in consultation with the Centre schemes for providing reparation and remedy to affected people and guidelines for prevention and control of violence, the draft bill points out.

Also, it will be authorised to receive regular reports at least once every quarter on incidents, outbreaks and patterns of communal violence from states and Union territories.

Similarly, the state human rights commission will carry out functions for maintaining communal harmony, the bill states.

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