HC order to revive Human Rights Commission: A new year gift to the people of Manipur

Dr Th Suresh Singh *

High Court building of Manipur at Chingmeirong, Imphal :: 16 September 2016
High Court building of Manipur at Chingmeirong in September 2016 :: Pix - Sohajit Ng

The Hon'ble State High Court has allowed the revival of Manipur Human Rights Commission in its judgement pronounced on 04/01/2018 in respect of my PIL No.4/2014. The PIL was filed in January 2014. It took 4 Yrs. and 34 hearings, the final hearing was held on 07/09/2017 by Hon'ble acting Chief Justice N. Kotishwar and Justice Kh. Nobin Singh.

The judgement was reserved on the final day of hearing and pronounced the same on 04/01/2018 i.e. after 4 months of reservation. In the meantime, 2 Chief justices of the Hon'ble State High Court had already retired, the present acting Chief Justice being the 3rd incumbent. The Commission was constituted on 27/06/1998 by a Law Deptt. notification. It remained non-functional for the last 8 yrs.- a short of a record and a humiliating one indeed. Nevertheless, Justice delayed is far better than Justice denied.

Background : While I was preparing for my PIL for repeal of AFSPA at Supreme Court in 2012, I came across a recommendation of our Manipur Human Rights Commission regarding AFSPA. On 28/04/2010, It recommended repeal of AFSPA by observing that the Act denies citizen of India living in Manipur the "the right to life". I also came across at that time that it was not functioning for a few years.

I was just wondering at that time that, with so much fake encounters in Manipur, why the same was not functioning. I also wandered, with so much violent incidences and active Civil Societies, why the same is not mentioned in the form of bandh and demonstrations etc. (which the state famous of).

Anyway, 2012 and 2013 were very busy year for me for preparation and hearing of AFSPA and Manipur Merger Agreement implementation (Article VIII, clause 3) at India's Supreme Court. By the time, year 2013 was about to end, I was determined to move a PIL as nobody was taking interest for the same. Hence the present PIL was filed in January 2014.

The hearing : There are many interesting facets in the hearing. The previous Congress Govt. AG was just trying to postpone the hearing by stating that Chairman of the Commission, who is supposed to be a retired Chief Justice of a High Court, was not available in spite of the Govt's best efforts. Similarly, other members of the Commission was also not appointed by giving one reason or the other.

The hearing goes on postponing for one reason or the other with the 2 previous Chief Justices mocking the AG occasionally about Govt. intention. Beginning of 2016, as a petitioner, I was taking more interest and asking my Advocate why so many postponements and why not appointing other members even if the Chairman was not available etc. and etc.

Finally, The then Chief Secretary O. Nabakishore was forced to attend the Court in person. He did so on 22nd February 2016 and gave an assurance to the Court that the Chairman would be appointed within 3 months. That time passed with no sign of revival of the Commission.

Meanwhile, another assurance was given to the Court by the then AG on 04/07/2016 that the remaining members will be appointed within 6 weeks. Those 6 weeks also gone with the wind with no +ve sign. The hearing goes on postponing to my utter frustration giving reasons of bandh, holiday, court not functioning etc. with the final blow of election code of conduct.

The new govt. came. I was optimistic that somehow or other, the SHRC will be made functioning. But alas, that hope was also belied with the new AG giving unreasonable argument that other members of the Commission could not be appointed if the Chairman is not appointed 1st. Incomplete hearing/ postponement continued for another 7 times with the new AG.

The clinching : I represented self in the court in the last and last but 2 hearings. The clinching was the last hearing on 07/09/2017. I represented self on the last hearing. Advocate A. Romenkm, who acted as Amicus Curiae, pointed out as well as presented to the Court many Supreme Court rulings for appointment of the many state Human Rights Commissions within 3 months and other directions.

This helped the court quite a lot. On my part, I pointed out the unreasonable time of 2 wks notification for appointment of 2 members of the Commission by the Law Deptt. notification dt. 01/07/2017. I also pointed out to the Hon'ble Court about AG's unreasonable stand of inability to appoint other members without appointing the Chairman when the Law Deppt. had already notified for appointment of other 2 members. I still remember the hearing lasted for about 1_!2 hrs. Judging the Judge's mood, I was optimistic that we will get a +ve judgement.

The Judgement : At the press conference held on 12/01/2018, I distributed a certified copy of the judgement to all 16 reporters present. It was a very well- attended press conference, thanks to our media brethren. The high Court allowed my PIL for revival of Manipur Human Rights Commission. The operative order reads as ' the Chairman and the members of the Manipur Human Rights Commission are directed to be appointed within a period of three months from today as also directed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court.

Other directions issued by the Hon'ble Supreme Court in DK Basu as reproduced above are also to be followed. The other officers and staff as provided under section 27 of the Act commensurate with the responsibilities and status are also directed to be appointed in a time bound manner as the State Commission in the absence of adequate officers and staff to assist will not be in a position to function effectively and efficiently'.

In Para 20, the court ordered that notification for appointment of the 2 members be re-notified by giving a minimum period of 1 month

Conclusion : Many waters, polluted or otherwise, had drained to our beautiful Loktak Lake between the filling of this PIL and the final judgement. I still remember, a similar order was issued by the Hon'ble Guwahati High Court in October 2011 for functional of the same within 4 months vide PIL NO. 15/2011 by one gentlemen T. Ibobi Sharma of Kongba Road.

In spite of that, the Commission remained non-functional. Hence, we have to be on our toes till this order is fulfilled. My task as a petitioner will be complete only when the Commission starts functioning. Till then, I see no reason to rest on the horizon.

Being an optimistic, the Petitioner believes that CM Biren and the Law Minister Jayantkm. will fulfil this HC order in true spirit. It is all the more so especially when CM previously belonged to media fraternity. Let it be another cap to the many performances of the present BJP Govt.

It is also hoped that our media family will also cover such important PILs by giving more wide coverage by earmarking legal reporters for more awareness.

* Dr Th Suresh Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
Dr Th Suresh is Ex-Director, Health & WHO Fellow
This article was posted on January 21 , 2018.

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