The basic premise behind making administration citizen-centric is to ensure that the benefits of good governance are available to all sections of society and one of the pillars of a citizen-centric administrative structure is a robust grievance redressal mechanism. Since some categories of citizens are more vulnerable than others, there is need for institutions which redress grievances specific to them.

In fact, the Constitution itself provides for various socio-economic and political safeguards to certain disadvantaged sections of society. These are guaranteed through enshrining of certain specific rights to such citizens and by laying down a number of 'Directive Principles of State Policy' for the State to act upon.

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Several Constitutional and statutory institutions which look into the grievances filed by citizens been discussed below.

Human Rights Commission

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was constituted in 1994 following the enactment of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.  It observed that there had been "growing concern in the country and abroad about issues relating to human rights". Regard to this, and the changing social realities and emerging trends in the nature of crime and violence, it had been considered essential to review the existing laws and procedures and the system of administration with a view to bring about greater efficiency and transparency.

The Human Rights Protection Act, 1993 facilitates that State Government may constitute State Human Rights Commission to exercise the power conferred upon, and perform functions assigned to it under the Act.

Analysis of NHRC and SHRC
a) Commissions make recommendations to government, which include: payment of compensation to the victim or to her/his family; disciplinary proceedings against delinquent officials; etc however, they lack the power to enforce decisions.
b) Governments often ignore the recommendations completely or furnish a long bureaucratic discourse on how compliance with the recommendation is not in the public interest.
c) The law requires the NHRC to concentrate more on civil and political rights than on social and economic rights.
d) The Act requires that three of the five members of a human rights commission must be former judges but does not specify whether these judges should have a proven record of human rights activism or expertise or qualifications in the area.
e) Under the Act, human rights commissions cannot investigate an event if the complaint was made more than one year after the incident. Therefore, a large number of genuine grievances go unaddressed.
f) State Human Rights Commissions cannot call for information from the national government, which means that they are implicitly denied the power to investigate armed forces under national control. Even the powers of the National Human Rights Commission relating to violations of human rights by the armed forces have been restricted to simply seeking a report from the Government, (without being allowed to summons witnesses), and then issuing recommendations.
g) Most Human Rights Commissions are functioning with less than the prescribed five Members. This limits the capacity of commissions to deal promptly with complaints, especially as all are facing successive increase in the number of complaints.

National Commission for Women

The National Commission for Women was set up as a statutory body in January 1992 with the mandate to review the constitutional and legal safeguards for women, recommend remedial legislative measures, facilitate redressal of grievances and advise the Government on all policy matters affecting women.

To carry out these functions, the Commission has all the powers of a Civil Court trying a suit, as exists in the case of the NCSC/NCST. The Union Government causes the reports made by the Commission concerning the working of the safeguards provided to women to be laid before each House of Parliament along with an Action Taken Report on the recommendations and the reasons for non-acceptance, if any. In case of matters pertaining to any State Government, the report is placed before the State Legislature along with its Action Taken Report.

Analysis of National Commission for Women

a) The commission is dependent on the grant from the Union Government.
b) The commission does not have the power to select own members. The power is vested with the Union Government.
c) The commission has no right to concrete legislative power.
d) It has only power to recommend amendments and submit reports with are not binding on state or Union Government.
e) The Commission's Jurisdiction is not operative in Jammu and Kashmir.
f) Financial assistance is so less.
g) The National Commission for women in India seizes women's cause only when it is brought to light. Unreported cases of oppression and suppression of women are not attended to.
h) In rural sector still there is lack of awareness education, opportunities and basic facilities for women for economic of empowerment.

National Commission for Scheduled Castes

Originally, Article 338 of the Constitution provided for a Special Office for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This Office was designated as Office of Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Consequent to the 46th Amendment, a multi-member Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was constituted in 1978.

The Constitution (Eighty-ninth Amendment) Act, 2003 provided for the constitution of separate Commissions for the Scheduled Castes and for the Scheduled Tribes. Accordingly, the first National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) was constituted in 2004.

The mandate of the Commission is to present Annual and other Reports to the President. These Reports contain recommendations on measures to be taken by the Union and State Governments for effective implementation of the safeguards and other welfare measures. These Reports are to be laid before both Houses of Parliament along with a Memorandum explaining the action taken or contemplated by the respective Ministries/departments and reasons for non-acceptance, if any. In case the recommendations pertain to State Governments, these are to be laid out before the respective State Legislatures along with a similar Memorandum.

Analysis of NCSC

  • By choosing to interpret its constitutional mandate narrowly, the Commission has laid itself open to the charge of elite bias. The Commission acts on complaints, and it is the more upwardly mobile sections within these groups that are articulate and capable of mounting claims, it could be said to have been less than sensitive to the exclusions engendered by the lack of education or information, and has not used its powers of suo moto cognisance actively enough.
  • The Commission has been active in suggesting ways of streamlining procedures or ensuring fairness in the implementation of reservations and development schemes. It is, however, less active in making a stronger case for fundamental change, or even a frank and sharp analysis of the social realities of discrimination. By drawing attention to the landlessness of dalit wage labourers, and highlighting the need for streamlining land revenue administration, the Commission has clearly sought to go beyond its role as protector, to advance the welfare of disadvantaged social groups. It has, however, failed to bring about any concrete change in these areas, if only because the ostensible - and weakly articulated - consensus on such issues results in politically correct homilies rather than in concrete policy.
  • The lack of institutionalisation in the procedures of appointment to the Commission has meant that competent and committed members are less likely to be appointed, especially in a political and policy environment where membership of the Commission becomes a convenient sinecure for unemployable politicians or a temporary shelf for bureaucrats belonging to these groups.
  • The most significant handicap of the Commission is the fact that its decisions are not binding, but recommendatory.
  • The Commission is supposed to prepare an Annual Report for presentation to Parliament. Reports are often tabled two or more years after they have been submitted to the President. Such delays are usually on account of the requirement that the Action Taken Report be submitted along with the main report. This means that the President circulates the Report to all the Ministries and Departments which are mentioned in it, and it is only when they have all explained their actions, or justified their inaction, that the Report can be presented in Parliament. The Constitution does not fix any period within which the Report must be discussed in Parliament Even when Reports are tabled in Parliament, they are frequently not discussed.
  • In many policy sectors, as in the case of the Scheduled Castes, the proliferation of institutions has created an institutional jungle in which the roles and powers of each are obfuscated. The duplication and multiplication of institutions is, in such situations, primarily a symbolic low-cost response to political pressures, imbued with few serious expectations.

National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes had an origin similar to the NCSC. It was constituted as a separate Commission in 2004 following the amendment of Article 107 and insertion of Article 338A by the Constitution (Eighty-ninth Amendment) Act, 2003. Before that, as mentioned above, monitoring of constitutional safeguards provided to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was done by a common body.

The composition, term, functions, powers and procedure for presentation of Reports in case of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) are similar to that of the NCSC. The constitutional and legal safeguards provided to Scheduled Tribes are also similar to those provided for SCs.

The NCST functions through six units which look after administration, coordination, socio-economic and educational development, service safeguards and atrocities related matters. The NCST has six regional offices which provide it with a regional perspective.

Analysis of NCST

  • There is lack of independent financial authority over use of the funds.
  • It handles low number of cases, compared to the large number of cases that occur in the country. It is due to lack of staff to deal with the volume of cases that come in.
  • There is a tendency among staff to concentrate on the more easily manageable service cases where the petitioners are more organised and hence more vocal, and thus neglect the atrocities cases.
  • Appointment of active politicians and regular government officials leads to the conflict of interest
  • The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has no information about the action taken by the concerned Ministry/department on the advice/views given by the Commission.
  • The Commission has to depend upon the Tribal Ministry for its day to day functioning. It has also to route its proposals on financial, administrative and legal matters through the Ministry.

Issues with the Institutional Mechanisms

The above stated institutions have been constituted for providing special focus on redressing the grievances of specific sections of society. Suggestions have been made, from time to time, to merge all Commissions into a comprehensive Human Rights Commission with separate Divisions for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Women and Children.

The overall issues related to these mechanisms and recommendations are:

There is a lack of coordination among the different organizations. The suggestion for merging of the Commissions came from different experts, particularly in larger States, is impracticable and would fail to adequately address the special problems of different disadvantaged groups. However, this may be possible in case of some of the much smaller States where the various Commissions to redress the grievances of different sections of society could be constituted into a single 'multi-role' Commission to carry out the specific functions of the existing constitutional and statutory Commissions of that State.

The existence of a large number of Commissions' should enable each one of them to look into specific categories of complaints thereby ensuring speedy action on the complaint. However, this multiplicity of Commissions could lead to problems of overlapping jurisdictions and even duplication of efforts in dealing with complaints. Some of the laws had envisaged these problems and made legal provisions for the same.

For example, in order to prevent duplication of efforts among the National and State Human Rights Commissions', Section 36 of The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (PHRA) mandates that the NHRC shall not inquire into any matter which is pending before a State Commission or any other Commission duly constituted under any law for the time being in force. Furthermore, Section 3(3) of the PHRA provides that the Chairpersons of the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and the National Commission for Women shall be deemed Members of the NHRC for the discharge of various functions assigned to it. However, this does not cover functions prescribed under Section 12(a) of the PHRA, which deals with inquiry, suo motu or otherwise, into a complaint of violation or abetment of violation of human rights or negligence by a public servant in the prevention of such violation.

Moreover, it is evident that there exists national as well as state level Commissions to redress similar grievances. The Central law itself provides for the constitution of National and State level Commissions for safeguarding human rights and child rights. Further, different State governments have constituted statutory Commissions for safeguarding the interests of SCs, STs, Women and Minorities. Among all these Commissions, the Human Rights Commissions have the widest mandate due to the broad definition of the term 'human rights' provided in the PHRA, 1993. Similarly, wherever the States have established statutory State level Commissions' (such as those for Women, SCs and STs, Minorities, Children etc) whose jurisdictions may overlap with the National level Commissions, it is necessary to evolve a mechanism to prevent duplication of efforts.

Thus there is need to provide a more meaningful and continuous mode of interaction between the National and State HRCs. At the basic level, in case of complaints, coordination between different Commissions at the national and state levels could easily be facilitated through creation of electronic data bases and networking. For having a seamless exchange of data, a common complaint format needs to be devised for all such Commissions constituted to monitor and investigate the constitutional and legal safeguards. This common format would have specifically designed data fields to capture the details of the victim(s) and complainants. In case of complaints filed without utilizing the specifically designed format, the necessary details could be ascertained at the time of registration of the case itself.

The creation of a database and networking would assist these Commissions in not only streamlining their workload but also in deciding which body would be the best agency to carry out investigations. Further, it would also help in identifying those areas and groups where the rights of such groups of citizens are more prone to abuse. This would assist the respective governments in devising specific measures to address the situation.

Further a large number of complaints are received by these Commissions which are regularly disposed by them by providing some relief to the victims. Efforts have to be made by the Union and State Governments to ensure that the cases of violation of the rights of citizens especially the vulnerable sections are significantly reduced if not eliminated altogether. Preventive measures would also have to be taken to eliminate cases of serious human rights violations such as custodial deaths, torture etc.

In addition to the criminal justice system, the National and State Human Rights Commissions as well as the other Commissions could play an important role in preventing such violations of citizens' right and also in mitigating the hardships of the victims. An analysis of the cases disposed of by NHRC over the last three years reveals that a wide variety of complaints of human rights violations are received and processed. But despite the efforts of the NHRC/SHRCs, the number of such cases has not been significantly reduced. Therefore, the Union and the State Governments should take proactive steps to eliminate causes of such occurrences. This could be achieved by prioritizing the more serious offences like custodial deaths/rapes etc. Guidance of the NHRC ad SHRCs may be taken to prepare and implement an action plan for this purpose.

Lastly a separate Standing Committee of Parliament may be constituted to look into Annual Reports submitted by these statutory Commissions.


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