The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be celebrated across the nation and the world on Saturday, but the fate of Manipur Human Rights Commission (MHRC) remains uncertain. It has become non-functional since the retirement of acting chairperson Khaidem Mani on August 31.
Meanwhile, many are awaiting to raise their grievances and complaints of rights violations before the MHRC.
A group of street vendors of Khwairamband Keithel expressed their unhappiness on the non-appointment of chairperson. They expressed their wish to lodge complaints over violations of their rights but not confident that any recommendation or action will be taken up in the absence of a chairperson.
A social activist also expressed worry that many cases will remain pending at MHRC, mentioning that some actions were taken up at least when the acting chairperson was there, while recommendations for various complaints were also given.
Before Khaidem Mani retired, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed, seeking intervention of the High Court to appoint a chairperson and members of the MHRC.
Petitioner U Nobokishore urged 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. It may be mentioned that the previous commission was also reconstituted following the High Court direction.
Responding to a submission by Manipur advocate general who sought adjournment of the case owing to a strike within the state secretariat, the high court on October 10 observed that “we find that this excuse is not worthy of acceptance as the strike concluded quite some time ago and issuance of the advertisement, in term of the statutory requirement, would not consume much time.”
The court had given one last opportunity to the Manipur state government to prove its bonafides. The advertisement for the appointment of MHRC chairperson and members was issued on November 3.
Unlike the previous notifications issued for the appointment for filling the post of chairperson and members in the MHRC, the advertisement issued on November 3 has given more than two-and-half months for submission of application along with the bio-data of interested applicants. It may be recalled that the only one month's time was given in the previous notifications for such submission.
Questioning the intent of the Manipur state government, a MC (PIL) No 43 of 2022 was filed, urging the High Court to direct the Manipur state government “to make an endeavor to implement the provisions of section 21(6) of the protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 during the pendency of the appointment of the chairperson and members of the MHRC.”
The section authorizes the state government to engage the chairperson and members of other state Human Rights Commissions to take charge of another state commission simultaneously.
It may be noted that in the year 1998, when the MHRC was established, the sitting chairperson of the Assam Human Rights Commission Justice Surendra Nath Bhargava was appointed as the chairperson of the MHRC.
During a hearing on the case on Thursday, advocate general Lenin Hijam stated that the “state government would explore the possibility of making an interim arrangement under section 21(6) of the Act, pending the exercise of appointing a regular chairperson to the Manipur Human Rights Commission.”
During the hearing, counsel of the petitioner Okram Kiranjit, placed a reliance on the observation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dilip K Basu case, which states that in Para No 23 of this judgment the Supreme Court recommended to the state governments that “since the dates on which vacancies are scheduled to occur are known well in advance, the process for appointment of the incumbents against such vacancies should be initiated well in time in the future so that no post remains vacant in any state Human Rights Commission for a period or unfilled for any period for more than three months from the date the vacancy arises.”
The High Court has posted the case on December 13, 2022.