National Human Rights Commission
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National Human Rights Commission – Indian Polity Notes

National Human Rights Commission is watchdog of humans rights in country. It has upheld the human rights through suo-moto investigation of erring officials. It has been granted rank A by Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in 2017 for its work. 


In independent India, successive governments in its early phase have shown little to no regards to human rights, not as they were apathetic to situation. But, it was understood that citizens had Fundamental Rights and if they are violated, they can seek redressal from Judiciary.

In early 1990, Government has set up National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes etc. There was demand to have some kind of human rights watchdog at national level. Out of this need, Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 was passed and National Human Rights Commission was established as statutory, non-constitutional, quasi-judicial body.


Commission is comprised of a chairperson and four full time members.

It also have four ex-officio members, chairpersons of:

  1. National Commission on Minorities
  2. National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
  3. National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
  4. National Commission for Women
  5. National Commission for Backward Classes
  6. National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
  7. Chief Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities.


  • Chairperson shall be retired Chief Justice of India or retired Supreme Court Judge (added by 2019 Amendment).
  • Shall be serving or retired judges of Supreme Court.
  • Serving or retired chief justice of a High Court.
  • Two members having special knowledge or practical experience with respect to human rights.


Chairperson and members are appointed by the President on the recommendations of committee comprising:

  • Prime Minister
  • Union Home Minister
  • Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha, 
  • Speaker of Lok Sabha 
  • Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha.


Members along with Chairperson continues to hold office for 3 years or till age of 70 years whichever is earlier.

They are not eligible for further employment under Union or States. But they are eligible for reappointment.

Powers and Functions:

  • To inquirer into violation of human rights or negligence in prevention of such acts by a public servant.
  • Intervene into court proceedings in matters relating to human rights with permission of court
  • Visit any jail where persons are detained to study their living conditions and make recommendations.
  • Review constitutional or legal provisions available for the protection of human rights and recommend measures for their effective implementation.
  • Study treaties and other international agreements on human rights and make recommendations.
  • Undertake and promote research in domain of human rights.
  • Encourage efforts by multiple stake holders in the field of human rights.


The President can remove chairperson or members, if he/she is:

  • Adjudged insolvent
  • Accepted paid employment outside duties of office.
  • Unfit to continue.
  • Has unsound mind.
  • Convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.

The President can remove them on grounds of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. Such grounds needs to be proved before supreme court. If the supreme court upholds the grounds, the members stand removed.

The office can be vacated when resignation letter is addressed to the President or upon death of members.


The National Human Rights Commission is entrusted with all powers of a civil court. It is provided with its own investigation staff to investigate cases of human rights violation. It can also ask any officers or any investigation agency under Centre or States to aid the commission.

It may inquire into cases within one year of occurrence of incidence. 

After inquiry, if commission finds a public servant guilty then:

  • it can recommend concerned Government departments for initiation of prosecution. 
  • It can ask State to give compensation to victims or cam move to Supreme Court or High Court for such directions, orders.
  • It can recommend concerned department or authority for grant of interim relief to victim or members of family.

How to file complaint with NHRC:

Anyone can approach the commission via telephone, written application given in person or via post, application, website.

Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act 2019:

It made following changes into working of commission:

  1. It provided for appointment of 3 non-judicial members. It made it mandatory to have atleast 1 women member.
  2. It reduces term of chairperson & members from 5 years to 3 years.
  3. Act provides for reappointment of members and chairpersons. Earlier chairperson were not allowed to be reappointed.
  4. For chairman, it removed existing criteria of retired chief justice of India. The amendment allowed retired Supreme Court judges to be appointed as chairperson.
  5. Earlier members along with Chairperson were eligible for reappointment for 5 more years. Amendment allowed central government to specify the tenure of reappointment.
  6. It added chairpersons of NCBC, NCPCR and Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities as ex-officio members


  1. Former CJI H L Dattu has called NHRC had called NHRC as “toothless tiger”.
  2. Act is silent on whether judges who are to be appointed on commission shall have expertise in human rights cases or not.
  3. It’s for unknown reasons, the commission is barred form taking up cases older than 1 year. Whereas there are several cases wherein victims came up after substantial time has lapsed after gathering courage.
  4. Its been observed as out of allotted resources to the commission, major chunk is spent on administrative expenditure and maintenance of members leaving minor chunk for research and development, awareness programmes which are of key important.
  5. The commission is over burdened with complaint.
  6. In 2017, NHRC accepted in Supreme Court that despite of increase in complaints, it has seen decrease in staff. That has led NHRC to transfer cases to SHRCs to investigate.
  7. It has only recommendary powers.
  8. It doesn’t cadre of officers of its own. It has to depend on Home Ministry & DoPT for sending officers on deputation. 
  9. It has been noted that officers working on deputation with NHRC have their allegiance with their Home cadre and face conflict of interest.

Way Forward:

Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 needs amendments to add more teeth to the commission, like it shall be given power to investigate human rights violation in paramilitary forces which are under control of union Home ministry. Further it shall be given prosecution powers, so as to fulfil the purpose for which it was the commission was envisaged.

Recommendations made by the commission shall be made enforceable. To reduce commissions dependence on officers on deputation, it shall be allowed to raise its own cadre who’ll have adequate training & expertise in field of human rights. 

To complete UPSC Polity Notes, Click Here

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