The Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s parliament, approved a bill on Monday to amend the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993. The bill was passed by the lower house of parliament (Lok Sabha) last week and will become law once it receives presidential assent.
The bill was introduced to include, among other amendments, the provision that apart from a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a former judge of the Supreme Court can be the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Under the provisions of the original legislation, only a person who has been the Chief Justice of India could be made the NHRC chairperson. It also proposes to enable former judges of High Courts to head State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC), at the sub-national level. It seeks to reduce the official terms of office of the chairpersons and members of the NHRC, and the state-level human rights commissions, to three years or till the age of seventy years, whichever is earlier.
Opposition political parties criticized the bill, arguing that it enables the government to handpick members of the human rights commissions. Objections were also raised on alleged procedural irregularities, with some opposition members of parliament calling for the bill to face greater scrutiny before a parliamentary select committee.