At last, the state government has implemented the directive of High Court of Manipur in appointing a Chairperson and a member of the Manipur State Human Rights Commission.
The Commission had long been without a full-fledged Chairperson. In a directive given on December 13 last year, the High Court had asked the state government to take measures to ensure that the Manipur State Human Rights Commission is functional by the next date of hearing on January 13, 2023, be it by appointing a regular chairperson or by way of an interim arrangement. The judgement further said that if the state government fails to take steps, the High Court would be left with no option but to entertain complaints regarding violation of human rights from aggrieved persons in the form of writ petitions and the HC would have to deal with the same in a timely manner.
Clearly, the High Court have had enough of dilly-dallying excuses of the state government. Enough time had already been given to the government through the Advocate General. If the state does not comply with the directive of either appointing a regular Chairperson or make an interim arrangement of reviving the State Human Rights Commission, the High Court would have no other option to entertain complaints of human rights violations directly, which will no doubt have far reaching consequences.
The Commission had become non-functional ever since the lone member Khaidem Mani who was holding charge of the post of Chairperson retired on August 31. How did the state managed to land itself in such a predicament?
Questions would surely come up. Everyone knows, no government is keen on a full-fledged state Human Rights Commission and they try to pay lip-service to the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 by appointing a single member who becomes the Acting Chairperson. Even in such a case, there is little manoeuvring room due to lack of adequate infrastructure and staff.
Now, the state has appointed Justice Utpalendu Bikas Saha, a retired judge of Tripura High Court as the Chairperson and one Kangjam Khagendra, a practising lawyer of the state bar as a member of the Commission.
The Imphal Free Press (IFP) has been following the PIL filed by one U Nobokishore urging the court to direct the Manipur government to ensure timely appointment of chairperson and members. The petitioner further argued that the Manipur government will not appoint them unless the high court issues a direction.
The former member Khaidem Mani, who retired on August 31, was also appointed following a direction from the High Court. After his retirement, it seemed the government was in no mood to revive the Commission again. However, since the PIL was for timely appointment of a regular Chairperson and members hearings continued in the High Court. Hence, the December 13 directive. Again, it is not the question of reviving the commission in namesake only but also of strengthening the commission if the mandate of the Protection of Human Rights Act is to be enforced.
The Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) was set up on June 27, 1998 following several allegations of human rights violations in the insurgency-afflicted Manipur under the Protection of the Human Rights Commission Act, 1993. It remained defunct for eight years and three months. It was only on June 25, 2018 that the BJP-led government revived the MHRC. However, it has appointed a single member only who also acts as the Acting Chairperson.
In the initial years of the Human Rights Commission, a Chairperson and two members were appointed. Not since the retirement of Justice WA Sishak, a full-fledged Chairperson had been appointed in the Commission. Governments often cite the unavailability of eligible persons for the post as it has to be a retired Chief Justice of a High Court. However, a serving or retired High Court judge or a District Judge and someone with knowledge or practical experience in human rights could be appointed as members.