Sources in the NHRC said this is the first time an active politician is being appointed to the post, which has remained vacant for over two years now.
IN A move that could have far-reaching impact, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre is in the final stages of appointing a politician from its own ranks as a member of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Sources in the NHRC said this is the first time an active politician is being appointed to the post, which has remained vacant for over two years now.
According to sources, BJP vice-president Avinash Rai Khanna is likely to be appointed as NHRC member in the next few days. Khanna, the party leader in charge of Jammu & Kashmir, was a member of the Rajya Sabha till April this year.
The chairperson and members of the NHRC are selected by a high-level committee headed by the Prime Minister, and comprising the Lok Sabha Speaker, Union Home Minister, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
Sources said the panel met last month to discuss names for the vacant post. “Some other names were also discussed, but his (Khanna’s) name was cleared. There was no dissent,” said a member of the panel. Section 3 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, which deals with the issue of “Constitution of a National Human Rights Commission”, says that only a former Chief Justice of India can be appointed NHRC chairperson.
The four full-time members, as per the Act, should include a former judge of the Supreme Court, a former chief justice of a high court and two others “from amongst persons having knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights”.
“While there is no bar on a political person being appointed to this post, it is certainly highly questionable. This sends a wrong signal. Couldn’t the committee find somebody without political links,” said a former NHRC member who did not want to be named.
After his Lok Sabha constituency of Hoshiarpur became a reserved seat, Khanna did not contest the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab appointed him as a member of the Punjab State Human Rights Commission. However, Khanna quit that post after about 13 months, after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.
When it was in the opposition, the BJP had stressed the need to appoint persons of impeccable credentials to such posts. In 2013, then Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had opposed, in writing, the move to appoint former Supreme Court judge Cyriac Joseph as a member of the NHRC as Joseph was “perceived to be close to certain political and religious organisations”. However, most of the other members, including then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, rejected the objections and cleared the appointment.
WHAT DO THE RULES SAY?
As per the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 NHRC chairperson and its members are chosen by a high-level committee. Prime Minister heads this search committee, which also has the Lok Sabha Speaker, union home minister, leader of opposition in both the houses, and deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
The NHRC chairperson can only be a retired chief justice of India. NHRC has four full-time members, who are selected by the panel.
One of the full-time members has to be a retired SC judge and another member should be a former chief justice of a high court. The two other members should have “knowledge of, or practical experience in, matters relating to human rights”.
WHO IS AVINASH RAI KHANNA?
Khanna was a Rajya Sabha MP till April this year, when his tenure ended. Earlier, he contested Lok Sabha elections from Hoshiarpur constituency in Punjab.
In 2009, Hoshiarpur became a reserved seat and he had to leave the electoral battle. The Badal government appointed him as a member of the Punjab State Human Rights Commission, which Khanna quit after 13 months, when he was elected to the Rajya Sabha.
He is currently the in-charge of Jammu and Kahsmir BJP.
BJP HAS CHANGED ITS STAND
Interestingly, the BJP seems to have changed its position on the appointment of a political person to the NHRC.
In 2013, the then leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitely had opposed appointment of retired SC judge Cyriac Joseph on the ground that he had political links.
Jaitley had written a letter to the then PM Manmohan Singh, who, however, had rejected his objections to clear the appointment of Justice Cyriac Josesph in the NHRC.