The Supreme Court bench comprising the Chief Justice, Justice J.S.Khehar, and justices N.V.Ramana and D.Y.Chandrachud, today gave the Central Government four more weeks to fill a vacancy in National Human Rights Commission, which has remained unfilled since March 1, 2014.
The petitioner, Radhakanta Tripathy, who appeared-in-person, must have been surprised at the bench's indulgence, because the previous bench, headed by the then Chief Justice, T.S.Thakur, had on December 2 last year, found the Government's explanation wholly unsatisfactory, to say the least. That day, Additional Solicitor General, Pinky Anand, had assured the bench that she would file a detailed report indicating the following:
(i) When was the reference to the Statutory Committee under the Act asking for filling up of the vacancies made and by whom?
(ii) Has the Committee met for doing the needful and, if so, the date on which such meetings were held and the result of the meetings be indicated? Relevant file concerning the selection process shall also be secured by Ms. Anand for perusal of the Court.
(iii) As regards the appointment of Director General (Investigation) when was the recommendation for appointment of suitable officer made and by whom was it approved. The cause for delay in making of the selection/recommendation may also be explained.
Appointment to the post of Member, NHRC is to be made from amongst persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights, after obtaining the recommendations of a Committee. The Government told the Court that The Competent Authority has been requested to take appropriate action for appointment of the Member, NHRC.
The post of Director General (Investigation) is filled by DG level empanelled IPS officers. On 10th October, 2016, the Commission has conveyed that the Chairperson of NHRC has agreed to the appointment of one of the officers to the post. Necessary further action in this regard is under process, the Government had told the Court on December 2. This post has been vacant from October 31, 2014.
Today, however, there was no mention of the detailed report which Pinky Anand had promised to file on December 2regarding these appointments. Instead, the bench trusted the Government's statement that the appointment of the DG-Investigation is pending consideration before the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, and gave it one more week to clear the issue. The bench merely hoped and expected that the process of appointing a member will be completed within four weeks.
A change in the bench's composition, with the retirement of the former CJI, Justice T.S.Thakur, appears to have come as a blessing in disguise to the Government, whose non-filling of the vacancies in time, has considerably weakened the NHRC's ability to function as a watchdog on human rights.
Read the order here.