[Answered] Discuss the structure, powers and limitations of the National Human Rights Commission.

Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss the structure, powers and limitations of the National Human Rights Commission.  Conclusion. Way forward.

NHRC is a statutory body, setup in 1993. The commission is the watchdog of human rights in the country. It works to protect the right to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.

Structure: NHRC consists of a chairperson and other members as follows:

  1. Chairperson: A retired Chief Justice of India.
  2. One member: Either a working or a retired judge of the Supreme Court.
  3. One member: Either a working or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court.
  4. Two persons: Having knowledge or practical experience in matters relating to Human Rights.
  5. Four ex-officio members: Chairpersons of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Minorities and National Commission for Women.

Powers and Functions:

  1. Investigation: Investigating complaints or failure of any public official regarding the rights violation, either suo moto or after receiving a petition.
  2. Prevention and Safeguard: Monitoring the living conditions of the inmates and to make recommendations thereon. Reviewing statutory safeguards or treaties for the protection of human rights.
  3. Research and promotion: Promoting research and encouraging NGOs in the field of human rights. While making an inquiry into the complaints, the commission enjoys the powers of a civil court. It also studies treaties and other international instruments on human rights and make recommendations for their effective implementation.
  4. Intervention: It intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a court with the approval of such court.
  5. Human rights: NHRC review the factors, including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend appropriate remedial measures.
  6. Awareness: NHRC spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promote awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, the media, seminars and other available means.
  7. Working with NGOs: It encourages the efforts of non-governmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights.


  1. Only a recommendatory body: NHRC can only make recommendations, without the power to enforce decisions. This lack of authority to ensure compliance can lead to outright rejection of its decision too.
  2. Investigation: It does not have independent investigative machinery. Under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, 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.
  3. Ceremonial body: It is often viewed as a post-retirement destination for judges, police officers and bureaucrats with political clout. Bureaucratic functioning, inadequacy of funds also hamper the working of the commission.
  4. Incapacity to award relief: It can only ask the authority to approach the higher Courts to provide relief to the victims. The concerned authority has to implement its recommendations within one month or communicate reasons for not complying.
  5. Armed forces: Commission can’t investigate the violation in case of armed forces and has to rely on the report of the Centre.

Way forward:

  1. More powers: Its decisions should be made enforceable by the government. The efficacy of commissions will be greatly enhanced if their decisions are made enforceable by the government.
  2. Armed forces: The definition should be restricted to only army, navy, and air force. Further, even in these cases the Commission should be allowed to independently investigate cases of violation of rights.
  3. Commission’s membership: Members of NHRCs should include civil society, human rights activists etc. rather than ex-bureaucrats.
  4. Amending law: Misuse of laws by the law enforcing agencies is often the root cause of human right violations. So, the weakness of laws should be removed and those laws should be amended or repealed, if they run contrary to human rights.
  5. Independent Staff: NHRC should have its independent investigating staff recruited by itself, rather than present practice of deputation.

The situation of persistent human rights violations across the country presents manifold challenges. There is a need to improve and strengthen the human rights situation. It is important to empower NHRC to make it work more efficiently and independently.

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