THE National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which completed 30 years recently, was set up through an Act of Parliament. The commission, headed by a former Chief Justice of India (CJI), was created by the government for the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. It was vested with powers to investigate cases of human rights violations and suggest corrective action. Intervention by the commission in some high-profile cases stirred public imagination. Very soon, it was flooded with petitions and representations from all over the country.
I joined the commission as the first Director General (DG) in charge of investigation. My foremost task was to set up a compact and competent investigation team to probe the complaints marked to it by the NHRC. The first chairman of the commission was Justice Ranganath Mishra, a former CJI. He was usually calm and composed and very careful in his choice of words. However, when gravely provoked by colleagues or subordinates, he would flare up, only to soon regain his composure.
At some meetings of the commission, there were ego clashes and sparks would fly, but Justice Mishra would apply the healing balm and assuage frayed tempers. Because of his excellent equation with then Prime Minister, the commission had a flying start and the teething troubles were avoided.
On a petition received from an inmate of the Tihar jail regarding torture and maladministration in the prison, he immediately issued orders for convening a meeting of the IGs of prisons and home secretaries of all states to discuss human rights violations in prisons and devise corrective measures. As the DG of the NHRC, I had to burn the midnight oil to prepare the background papers and the agenda for the conference.
At the inaugural session of the conference, I outlined its structure and purpose and then requested Justice Mishra to deliver the inaugural address. He highlighted the appalling, dehumanising conditions in prisons and emphasised the need for the protection of human rights of prisoners. In the plenary session that commenced after the inauguration, I requested him or any other member of the NHRC to chair it. To my surprise, he asked me to do the honours and came down from the podium with other commission members.
The members, who were former judges and human rights experts, were predictably unhappy with the chairman’s decision, but they had to accept it. I had goosebumps. With trepidation, I took up the gavel and commenced the job. As a gesture of encouragement, he remained present for some time and occasionally participated in the deliberations. He was glad to see that I was able to take on the responsibility given to me.
It was his way of inspiring and empowering juniors and telling me that he appreciated my work. In our hierarchical bureaucratic order, such thoughtful gestures are rare.
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