Spread the love

This article is written by Ishtmeet Kaur of 1st Semester of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law (RGNUL)


Human rights are an inalienable and essential part of our lives. These rights are guaranteed to all the humans regardless of their caste, race, sex, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. Just as cells are the building blocks of our body, similarly, human rights are the building blocks for living a dignified life. They are the most fundamental rights that are granted to each and every individual. In fact, these rights are not given to us by the State but are inherent to all of us. These rights cannot be taken away from us by the State except in certain circumstances and are universally available to every human being. In words of Desmond Tutu, “Fundamental rights belong to the human being just because you are a human being.” Some of the fundamental human rights include Right to life and liberty, freedom from discrimination, right to get access to justice, right to a free trial, freedom of speech and expression, right to adequate standard of living, etc. [1]

International law also recognizes the importance of protecting human rights of citizens around the globe. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in December 1948 also emphasizes the significance of human rights. [2] However, despite all these global efforts, the world continues to see grave violation of human rights in various countries. In most instances, the governments and establishments of the respective countries crush the rights of their citizens with their money and muscle power.

 Even during this period of advancement of technology and development of Artificial Intelligence as the world looks forward to a bright future, the problem of human rights continues to haunt the planet. Therefore, it becomes essential for governments to respect the human rights of its citizens and make sure that there is no contravention of the same. To ensure that this purpose is served, India has established its own human rights watch dog called National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC).

Keywords: NHRC, Human Rights, custodial deaths, watch dog, statutory, extra judicial killings, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


National Human Rights Commission is a non-constitutional, statutory body established by Protection of Human Rights Act in 1993. It is responsible for protecting the human rights of the citizens and makes sure that no one is deprived of these rights. The body protects the human rights which are enshrined in the Constitution of our country as well as various international statutes, resolutions and conventions. [3]

Till now, the Commission has been successful in promoting human rights awareness among the people of the country. In some of the cases, its intervention has proved to be really helpful. At the same time, it has played a significant role in expanding access to justice to all regardless of their social status. NHRC has especially assisted and brought justice to the victims in the cases related to custodial deaths, tortures, extra-judicial killings (encounters), etc. It has also made sure that adequate compensation is granted to the victims and the accused are punished as per the rule of law. This article also aims to understand the composition, powers and functions of NHRC and what steps can be taken to improve the efficiency of this body. We will discuss the following concepts in this article:

  1. Origin of NHRC
  2. Composition of NHRC
  3. Powers and functions of the Commission
  4. Important Interventions by NHRC
  5. Failures and Limitations
  6. Conclusion

Origin of NHRC

The history of National Human Rights Commission goes back to 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the General Assembly. This declaration reflected the seriousness of the international community in preserving the human rights of global citizens. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to serve as a guiding document for government of various countries. This was followed by the adoption of Paris Principles in 1991 which set out the guidelines for National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI). After the enactment of the Paris Principles, India introduced its Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 which eventually led to the formation of National Human Rights Commission. [4]

Protection of Human Rights Act provides for the Constitution of NHRC and defines its composition, powers, functions and jurisdiction. This Act of 1993 has also led to the formation of State Human Right Commissions.

Composition of NHRC

NHRC has a very simple composition. It includes a chairperson and 8 other members. The Chairperson of NHRC is the retired Chief Justice of India. Out of the 8 members, 4 are full time members whereas the other 4 are deemed members. Out of the 4 full time members of NHRC: [5]

  • One member should be a working or retired Judge of the Supreme Court.
  • Other member should be working or retired Chief Justice of a High Court
  • Two members are selected based on their experience and knowledge of human rights.

The 4 deemed members of NHRC are the chairpersons of National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and National Commission for Women. The appointment of the Chairperson and other members are made by the President of the country in consultation with a committee which consists of Prime Minister and 5 other members. It can be clearly observed that most of the members of NHRC are retired or working judges of Supreme Court and High Court. This has been done to ensure the independence of the body from the legislature and the executive.

Powers and Functions of NHRC

Although the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 provides for the powers and functions of NHRC but the actual source of power for the body is the Constitution of India. Part III of the Constitution provides for the Fundamental Rights of the citizens and moreover prohibits the state from violating these fundamental rights as per Article 13(2) of the Constitution. [6]

It includes the Right to Equality, Right to Freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, Cultural and Educational Rights and last but not the least Right to constitutional remedies. It is the duty of NHRC to make sure that all these rights are protected and are not willfully contravened by the institutions of democracy. The powers and functions of NHRC have been mentioned below:

  • NHRC has the power to investigate into complaints which are related to violation of human rights. It can initiate the investigation either on receiving the complaint or Suo-moto.
  • NHRC can visit any prison under the control of state government to ensure that the inmates are provided with good living conditions. This practice is essential to ensure that the prisoners are able to live with dignity as per Article 21 of the Constitution (Right to Life and Personal Liberty). The members of NHRC make sure that there are no cases of custodial deaths or tortures in the prisons.
  • Another major function of NHRC includes carrying out research in the field of human rights. It also has the obligation of spreading human right awareness among various sections of society through media, seminars and conferences.
  • NHRC can undertake a review of various rights and safeguards provided by our Constitution and can suggest some measures for effective implementation of these safeguards to protect the weaker sections of society such as minorities, women, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, etc.
  • Another essential function of NHRC is to study the international treaties, resolutions and conventions on human rights and to find out a way to effectively implement these in India with some required modifications.

Important Interventions by NHRC

There have been various interventions made by the NHRC which have truly preserved the essence of human rights in the country. As per the records, the non-constitutional body has disposed more than 17 lakh cases, paid more than Rs 1 billion to victims of human rights violations as compensation and has also conducted more than 200 conferences to spread human rights awareness among the people. Some of the cases in which the Commission’s intervention has proven to be successful are mentioned below:

  1. 2007 Nandigram Violence in West Bengal: The West Bengal government wanted to set up a SEZ (Special Economic Zone) and a chemical hub in Nandigram. However, the local people protested against the acquisition of land and started protesting. On 14 March, 2007 the police opened fire on the people which was condemned in the media. NHRC took Suo-moto cognizance of the case and helped the victims get compensation from the government. [7]
  2. Extra Judicial Killings in Punjab: During the period of 1984-1996 when Punjab was suffering from militancy, the police officials took law in their hands and killed innocent youth of Punjab in encounters by labeling them as terrorists. NHRC intervened in the situation and ordered relief of around 27 crores to the families of the victims. [8]
  3. Case of Nithari Village in Noida, UP: Another major intervention of NHRC was in Nithari village of Noida, Uttar Pradesh where the children were being sexually abused and murdered. This incident pointed towards the negligence of state administration in conducting routine investigations which led to this grave human rights situation. NHRC demanded a report of this situation from the state authorities and suggested that the negligent officials should be sacked immediately to set a right precedent for other officers. [9]

Failures and Limitations of NHRC

Although NHRC has tried its best to preserve and promote human rights in the country but at the same time, it has suffered from various failures and limitations. Extra Judicial killings, custodial deaths, tortures, sexual harassment of women and children, human trafficking, poor conditions of inmates in prisons, hate speeches, mob lynching, caste related violence, etc. continues to taint our country. Some of the limitations of NHRC have been discussed below: [10]

  • Inadequate Infrastructure and Lack of manpower: NHRC faces the same issue as our judiciary. It lacks infrastructure and manpower which is required to investigate into the cases of serious human right violations. As a result, Human Rights Commission is not able to give us a satisfactory result in most of the cases. There has been a sharp rise in the pendency of human rights violation cases in the recent years. With the current capacity of staff members, NHRC can investigate only a limited number of cases.
  • Government interference and lack of independence: Most of the cases handled by the NHRC are against the police and the administration. At the same time, it is the same administration that provides funds and resources to the human rights body. Isn’t it quite an irony? This also raises questions on the independence of NHRC as it keeps itself away from the cases that could lead to political implications. Moreover, the appointment of the Chairman and other members of NHRC are under the control of the government only, which ultimately leads us to speculate upon question of the independence of the institution. [11]
  • Recommendatory body: It is quite regrettable that the recommendations made by NHRC are not binding in nature. Thus, the human rights watch dog of our country has been merely reduced to a recommendatory body with no actual powers. It does not have any authority to implement or enforce its decisions upon the administration. This leaves the administration to do anything that they want without having to care for the basic human rights of an individual.


It is really disheartening to see that even after 75 years of independence of India; innocent people continue to suffer from human rights violations due to inefficient and autocratic nature of administration. What is more regrettable is that these violations are taking place despite the presence of NHRC. Due to this reason, former Chief Justice H.L. Dattu has even labeled NHRC as a “toothless tiger”. [12] Living in a democratic country, every individual expects to be treated with dignity, if not more. Therefore, it is the right time that we make the administration accountable for its transgressions by strengthening and empowering organizations like NHRC (National Human Rights Commission).

One of the important steps that can be taken in this direction is providing adequate manpower and infrastructure to NHRC so that it can investigate the cases without any hassles. Efforts should be made to make the Commission a more independent body without any political inclinations. This can be achieved by reforming the way in which the appointment of members is done. Moreover, separate fund allocation should be made for the activities of NHRC to make sure that it is not dependent on the administration for resources. The recommendations made by NHRC should be made binding in certain circumstances to ensure that the officials are not able to escape their liabilities.

To conclude, it can aptly said that there is a serious need to revamp National Human Rights Commission to make sure that all the cases of human rights violations are dealt effectively and the victims are brought to justice. When all the citizens of the country will be able to live with dignity and enjoy their rights without any unreasonable restraint, only then, India can claim to be a global power.


[1] What are Human Rights? OHCHR, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/what-are-human-rights, last seen on 15/06/2023.

[2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, available at https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights, last seen on 16/06/2023.

[3] National Human Rights Commission, Byju’s, available at https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/national-human-rights-commission/, last seen on 15/06/2023.

[4] Vision and Mission, National Human Rights Commission, available at https://nhrc.nic.in/about-us/vision-and-mission, last seen on 15/06/2023.

[5] S. 3, Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

[6] Art. 13(2), the Constitution of India.

[7] Commission’s 12-point recommendation on Nandigram Violence, National Human Rights Commission, available at https://nhrc.nic.in/press-release/commissions-12-point-recommendations-nandigram-violence, last seen on 17/06/2023.

[8] J Balaji, Punjab extra-judicial killings: NHRC orders relief, The Hindu (03/04/2012), available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/punjab-extrajudicial-killings-nhrc-orders-relief/article3277636.ece, last seen on 17/06/2023.

[9] NHRC notice to UP govt in Noida case, Hindustan Times (02/01/2007), available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/nhrc-notice-to-up-govt-in-noida-case/story-ac5eFxu1MFNAIj0AI6MrhI.html, last seen on 17/06/2023.

[10] National Human Rights Commission, ForumIAS, available at https://blog.forumias.com/answered-discuss-the-structure-powers-and-limitations-of-the-national-human-rights-commission/#:~:text=Limitations%3A,not%20have%20independent%20investigative%20machinery. , last seen on 16/06/2023.

[11] Apurva Vishwanath, NHRC turns 25 – and that’s pretty much all it has achieved, The Print (16/10/2018), available at https://theprint.in/india/governance/nhrc-turns-25-and-thats-pretty-much-all-it-has-achieved/132716/, last seen on 15/06/2023.

[12] Madhubani, Is NHRC a Toothless Tiger? , Legal Service India, available at https://legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-9024-is-nhrc-a-toothless-tiger-.html#:~:text=But%20the%20spirit%20that%20led,Dattu. , last seen on 17/06/2023.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *