Rights panel recommendations binding upon government: HC

In a significant ruling, a Full Bench (comprising three judges) of the Madras High Court has held that recommendations made by the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), after a full-fledged inquiry into allegations of human rights violations, are binding on the government and that they are legally enforceable immediately.

Justices S. Vaidyanathan, V. Parthiban and M. Sundar ruled that the State could not choose to ignore the recommendations and that the only remedy available to it would be to approach the High Court seeking judicial review of the recommendations. The authoritative ruling was made while answering a reference made to the Bench.

The judges said SHRC could also approach the High Court for enforcement of its recommendations if the government fails to enforce them within a month or a larger time-frame fixed by the commission. The government could not oppose such a case filed by SHRC unless it had also filed a petition to review the recommendations.

The Full Bench further held that the Commission could direct the State to pay compensation to victims of human rights violations and the State, in turn, could recover the money from the erring official concerned. However, before effecting recovery, a show cause notice must be issued to the official seeking his explanation.

Such explanation must be sought only with respect to the quantum of compensation recoverable from him/her and not on the aspect as to whether he/she was responsible for the human rights violations, the Bench ordered.

A similar show cause notice would be sufficient even if the delinquent official had to be imposed with minor penalty.

On the other hand, if the official had to be imposed with a major penalty, a limited departmental inquiry must be conducted to ascertain the extent of culpability, the judges said. They also stated that the officials found guilty by the commission could also approach the High Court challenging the findings as well as the recommendations.

After answering all legal questions, the judges said: โ€œWe are constrained to express our considered opinion that despite all the provisions in the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993โ€ฆ a perception has been gaining ground in the corridors of the implementing authorities that the recommendation of the Commission lacks legal sanctity and hence can be trifled with.โ€

Hence, they suggested suitable amendments to the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993 โ€œto provide for an internal/self-contained mechanism qua Human Rights Commission for enforcing its recommendations under Section 18 of the Act.โ€

Such amendment would complete the Act and leave no room for procrastination, the judges said.

Before concluding the 517-page judgement, the Full Bench commended SHRC counsel R. Srinivas assisted by Arun Anbumani, amicus curiae B. Vijay and advocates D. Nagasaila and Sarath Chandran for enriching the Bench to gain insight into the relevant and important case laws, conventions, treaties and other related materials.

โ€œTheir scholarship collectively has contributed to our conclusion and without their varying degrees of perspectives, we would not have been able to discover our pioneering and plausible answers to the reference,โ€ the Bench observed.

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