Justice Anand as NHRC Chairman

Published : Mar 14, 2003 00:00 IST

THE former Chief Justice of India (CJI), Justice A.S. Anand, took over as the fourth Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on February 17, following his appointment by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on the basis of the recommendation by the selection committee which includes Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi. The President also appointed former Judge of the Supreme Court Justice K.T. Thomas a Member of the Commission.

Justice Anand, who retired as the CJI on November 1, 2001, will have a tenure of three years and 10 months as the NHRC chief. Speaking on the occasion of his joining office, he said that the NHRC should focus its attention on upholding human dignity, right to life, and civil, political, economic and social rights of the citizenry.

Justice Anand's comments on the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) have landed him in a controversy. He said: "POTA does have some provisions to safeguard against its misuse though those provisions may not be enough. Care has to be taken to see that the provisions of POTA are not abused... . There are apprehensions that POTA can be misused.... What we have to see is whether there is an inbuilt mechanism to safeguard the Act from being misused. It has. But more safeguards are required to be provided against its abuse." The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has expressed serious reservations about the `certificate' given to POTA by Justice Anand. Somnath Chatterjee, the party's leader in Parliament, said: "If, as he has claimed, there were inbuilt safeguards in the legislation, then why has Vaiko (of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu) or, for that matter, a former Minister (Raghuraj Pratap Singh) in the erstwhile BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, been held under POTA?" The CPI(M) leader, who said he did not hold a brief for these politicians, affirmed that the legislation had the likelihood of being misused against political rivals. He urged the NHRC Chairman to exercise restraint and "decide as and when matters come before him, and not give hasty observations".

The sharp reaction invited a swift rejoinder from the NHRC. In a clarification on its website, on February 21, Justice Anand and two members, Justice Sujatha V. Manohar and Virendra Dayal, described the controversy as unwarranted and claimed that when compared to the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), POTA contains some provisions that can safeguard against its possible misuse. "The Commission, however, is of the view that these safeguards are insufficient. It therefore remains the duty of the Commission to monitor the implementation of the Act with vigilance and ensure that the provisions of the Act are not abused or human rights violated," they explained. The Commission, curiously, did not identify the safeguards which it claimed POTA had and TADA did not have. The Commission' s subtle defence of POTA has surprised many observers who had hailed Justice Anand's predecessor Justice J.S. Verma's opposition to the very need for POTA. Justice Verma had felt that the existing laws with due safeguards were sufficient to contain terrorism. Therefore, the Commission's effort to reiterate that there was no change in the stand it had taken earlier in respect of POTA did not carry conviction.

V. Venkatesan
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