The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, is in the news again.  The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has viewed the Tehelka exposé on Gujarat riots. The full seven member commission viewed the two hour sting operation after taking suo motu cognisance of the sting operation, and asking the Aaj Tak news channel to submit the two tapes. Having viewed the tapes, the Commission recommended a CBI probe into the accusations made . The NHRC found the contents “fit” for a probe by the agency. “The allegations had far-reaching implications and raised vital constitutional issues which need to be promptly addressed in the interest of all,” it said. The rights panel has also directed the state government to communicate its consent for CBI probe into the authenticity of the tapes allegations to it and the Centre within two weeks.

In its reaction to the NHRC’s recommendation the BJP party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said that recommendation for CBI probe is not only uncalled for but also a case of bias. NHRC’s observations on Gujarat under the UPA government have always shown an element of bias.

While Chief Minister Narendra Modi mulls his Government’s response to the NHRC recommendation. Offstumped takes a critical look at the NHRC’s functioning since the UPA Government assumed power in 2004.

For a quasi-executive body that swears by upholding people’s Rights, the NHRC’s track record in transparency to its own functioning is highly questionable. For all the criticism of the BJP in Gujarat, the NHRC’s was more transparent during the tenure of the Vajpayee lead NDA Government. While the NHRC had been dutifully making its Annual Reports publicly available online on its website over the years since its formation in 1993, that practice ended with the Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi lead Congress assuming office.

No Annual report has been filed on the NHRC website since 2004. The last annual report is for the year 2004-2005. In fact the NHRC has been merely paying lip service to RTI with its “Right to Information” Charter not been updated since 2005 with budget figures for the year 2005-2006. A good example of how lazy the NHRC has been is its report on Prison Population Statistics which has not been updated since 2005.

The NHRC’s activism in Gujarat is well known. Its website has a dedicated section on all its orders pertaining to the 2002 riots as well as a report available for purchase on the hearings from 2002. But the NHRC’s activism on Gujarat has been questionable on occasions, a prime example is the so called“mass graves” issue which ended up being not about “mass graves” but about “improper handling” of unclaimed corpses.

Offstumped has been critical of the partisan role played by National Conscience Keepers like the NHRC in recent times.

By acting on the sensational Tehelka Tapes which produced little new evidence the NHRC is in danger of having recommended another fishing expedition by the CBI similar to the mass graves incident.

With its poor track record on transparency of its functioning in the last 3 years, questions of bias on the NHRC’s actions are legitimate and need to be answered by the Commission.

Specifically the Commission must provide a reasonable basis with precedent on why it has recommended a CBI investigation.

What were the guiding principles, how often have these been applied and how often have these found to be valid in hindsight ?

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