Arun Kumar Mishra, retired Supreme Court judge, is the new chief of the National Human Rights Commission

Published : June 03, 2021 22:03 IST

Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Arun Kumar Mishra. Photo: Sandeep Saxena / The Hindu

The appointment is a departure from the norm of appointing former CJIs to the post.

Justice Arun Kumar Mishra, retired Judge of the Supreme Court who courted controversy by calling the Prime Minister a “versatile genius”, has been appointed as the new Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). His comment, made at an international judicial conference in January 2020, had embarrassed many in the judiciary who perceived it as a declaration of closeness to the ruling regime.

After the announcement of his appointment, Mahua Moitra, Trinamool Congress MP, tweeted, “All good things come to those who wait. Especially to those who while in office, described PM Modi as ‘internationally acclaimed visionary who can think global and act locally’”.

The NHRC was created by an Act of Parliament —The Protection of Human Rights (PHR) Act, 1993 — as an autonomous institution which could conduct inquiries into complaints of abuse and human rights violations by a public servant, the State or its agencies. This is the first time that someone other than a former Chief Justice of India has been appointed to the post of NHRC Chairperson, and this was made possible by the amendment to the PHR Act in 2019.

The post was lying vacant since December 2020, when the tenure of former CJI Justice H.L. Dattu ended. Justice Arun Kumar Mishra retired from the Supreme Court in September last year. Along with him, Rajiv Jain, former Director of Intelligence Bureau, and Justice M.K. Mittal, former judge of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court, were appointed as NHRC members.

According to reports, Justice Mishra’s appointment was made after steamrolling the concerns of Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and a member of the selection committee headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The other members on the committee were Home Minister Amit Shah, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Harivansh. Apparently, the committee ignored Kharge’s suggestion to appoint a member of the Scheduled Castes/Tribes, minorities or other marginalised communities to the post, as most of the cases that came to the NHRC pertained to these sections of society.

A statement signed by over 70 civil society members flagged the appointment as a violation of the Paris Principles of independence, pluralism and accountability, which guide the PHR Act. The statement recalled the cases Justice Arun Kumar Mishra had presided over and their outcomes in the Supreme Court. For instance, he had ordered the eviction of millions of poor forest dwellers in a public interest litigation (PIL) petition challenging the Forest Rights Act, and the order was kept in abeyance only after widespread agitations. He also tended to take a hard line in matters of personal liberty, favouring State action over charges of violation of individual liberties, according to the statement.

The statement mentioned how his orders in land acquisition matters indicated a tendency to favour the state as against individual land owners challenging the acquisition. Further, it alleged that he always sided with the Central government or acted in a manner to help some of its top leaders, citing numerous instances while singling out the Judge Loya case. In January 2019, four of the Supreme Court’s senior most judges — supposedly triggered by the assignment of the case to a Bench headed by Justice Arun Kumar Mishra — had conducted a press conference alleging that cases were being fixed and sent to particular benches.

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