Fresh doubts about validity of appointments to NHRC
There is considerable evidence to suggest that the appointment in 2013 of former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Cyriac Joseph and former Police Chief S.C. Sinha as members of the National Human Rights Commission violate the transparency norms prescribed by the Supreme Court in P.J. Thomas case. Significant revelations have been brought forward by the recently published book, "Constitutional Conundrums: Challenges to India's Democratic Process", authored by senior journalist V. Venkatesan.
Renowned legal journalist, Venkatesan makes several revelations in the book by filing several RTI applications in the process of unearthing relevant information. Some of the replies to his applications have become a part of the book, as annexures.
One such disclosure is the Minutes from a meeting of a statutory selection committee chaired by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to select NHRC appointees. The minutes show that the dissent recorded by the then Leaders of Opposition (LoPs) in the two Houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, submitted with reasons, was rejected and the appointment made without any reason or explanation for the same, as required by the Supreme Court’s judgment in the P.J.Thomas case. (Centre for PIL v. UOI, WPC 348/2010)
All it said was that their notes of dissent are enclosed. The Supreme Court, in its judgment in the P.J.Thomas case, delivered in March 2011, held his appointment as the CVC as unconstitutional, and this resulted in his resignation as the CVC subsequently.
The apex Court in that case had held that appointments made to statutory bodies were subject to judicial review and that whenever there was no unanimity or consensus, "that Member should give reasons for the dissent and if the majority disagrees with the dissent, the majority shall give reasons for overruling the dissent." It quashed his appointment by emphasizing the concept of institutional integrity.
This standard was set by the apex Court, in order to "maintain the integrity of the decision-making process".
While expressing disapproval over Joseph’s proposed appointment, Sushma Swaraj unequivocally stated her objections, contending that "Integrity and Competence are essential for a public office. The proposed name lacks both."
Expressing his dissent, Jaitley stated that Joseph was "completely unsuitable" because as a judge "he was known for not writing judgments". He added: "As against a few hundred judgments authored by every judge of the Supreme Court, during his tenure Justice Cyriac Joseph is believed to have written only six judgments." Besides, Jaitley alleged that Joseph was "perceived to be close to certain political and religious organizations."
About Sinha’s appointment, Jaitley’s dissent states that the proposal was "in the chain of post retirement appointments given to heads of investigative agencies by the UPA government." Jaitley recalled such rewards being showered by the UPA Government to the three CBI directors who had retired during its tenure, and wrote: "I am completely opposed to this compromise with the autonomy and independence of the CBI and NIA."
Sushma Swaraj voiced her dissent by stanchly accusing the UPA government of "reserving" posts in the NHRC for IAS and IPS. Acknowledging the need to appoint "such persons who have earned a reputation in the field of human rights", Swaraj pointed out that in the current NHRC team, there was "no woman nor a representative of the Northeast nor a media person nor anybody associated with human rights organisations".
Activist and lawyer Vrinda Grover had also opposed Joseph’s nomination and stated, "How can a Judge found unfit for the post of TDSAT chairman owing to his working style is fit for the membership of the NHRC? The spate of violations experienced by people across the country demands from the members of the NHRC a very high level of integrity, commitment and efficiency, as the right to life and dignity of the most disadvantaged is at stake."
Speaking to Live Law, Mr.Venkatesan said that, his book, “CONSTITUTIONAL CONUNDRUMS: CHALLENGES TO INDIA'S DEMOCRATIC PROCESS”, published by Lexis Nexis, “tries to give a complete picture of the controversies and conundrums discussed under each chapter of the book -under four parts, and indicates his own perspective on each of them. “In the process, there have been several revelations, which were not reported in print earlier” he, says.
He adds, “I have short-listed 10 such revelations. The readers may find more, if they read the book closely and between the lines….The 24 chapters constitute 24 constitutional conundrums. There may be more conundrums, which need to be unraveled. They may require another volume. I chose them because of my familiarity with them, and my interest and my current competence to deal with them sufficiently. These are challenges to India's democratic process, because our failure to unravel them would mean our democracy itself may get weakened in the long run, as each of these has a bearing on the health of our institutions, be it Parliament, Executive, Judiciary, Election Commission or the media"
Mr. V. Venkatesan hails from Madurai, Tamil Nadu. After his graduation in Chennai, he went on to pursue M.A., M.Phil and Ph.D. in Presidency College, and the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras.
He started off by joining the edit page of The Times of India and went on to work under the late Arvind N. Das, the late Dilip Mukherjee, and Mr.Dileep Padgaonkar. There years later, he joined Frontline’s New Delhi bureau. He also studied law at the Law Centre in Delhi University.
Talking about the inspiration to write the book, he states, “My book is a result of several factors. One is that as a journalist, I found that some of my articles did not see the light of the day, because of professional hazards like space crunch, or disagreements with the editor about the merits of an article, etc. As a journalist, I felt that it is my responsibility to inform the reader about what I find in the course of my duties. Not everything that a journalist comes to know deserves to be reported immediately, if at all it needs to be reported. Certain things deserve to be retained and revealed at the appropriate time, to make a better impact. The journalist concerned alone is competent to decide what to reveal and when.”
The book is divided into four parts. Part I elucidates upon the issues concerning powers and limitations of Parliament and the Executive. Part II deals with certain unresolved federal tensions. Part III includes chapters on the scope of judicial activism and Part IV differentiates between the perception and actuality of the Election Commission’s autonomy.
He further adds, “It has been my experience that I have not been able to do justice to subjects of many of my reports, because of the inherent limitations of journalism. As the profession puts a premium on immediacy, there was limited scope to revisit controversies of yesterday, and quench one's scholarly thirst. Therefore, the option of the book to facilitate such revisiting was an open invitation to experiment, innovate, and decide for myself what would go into the book. It was exciting as well as challenging.”
The book has indeed started leaving its mark already, with revelations coming to the fore due to Mr. V. Venkatesan’s dedication and skill. He has listed 10 revelations but if we go by his vision, there are certainly more to come our way, we just need to look closely and read between the lines.