[Answered] What are ‘fourth branch institutions’? Critically comment on the effectiveness of ‘The National and State Human Rights Commissions’ as a ‘fourth branch institutions’ in Indian democracy.


Demand of the question

Introduction. What are fourth branch institutions?

Body. Discuss how effective National and State Human Rights Commissions as a ‘fourth branch institutions’ are in Indian democracy.

Conclusion. Way forward.


The fourth branch institutions is an unofficial term referring to groups or institutions perceived variously as influencing or acting in addition to the three branches of the democratic government i.e. legislative, executive and judicial. Some of these bodies are established by the Constitution itself. For instance, the Election Commission and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Others have been established under law for example, the Information Commission under the Right to Information Act and Human Rights Commissions under the Protection of Human Rights Act.


Mandate of NHRC and SHRC as fourth branch institution:

  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 intervenes 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 spreads human rights literacy among various sections of society and promotes 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.

Limitations of NHRC and SHRC that impact its working:

  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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