NEW DELHI: The Union Cabinet on Thursday decided to move official amendments to the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill in the monsoon session to incorporate changes recommended by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, said Union Minister and Cabinet spokespersonPriyaranjan Dasmunsi.
Efforts would also be taken to get the Cabinet approve the Bill during the monsoon session. It was introduced in Parliament last year and referred to the Standing Committee for study.
The Bill, among other things, has a provision to relax criteria for appointment of chairpersons of the National and State Human Rights Commissions (SHRC) to provide for more choice. At present, only retired Chief Justices of the Supreme Court are eligible to become NHRC chairpersons while only retired Chief Justices of High Courts can become chairpersons of SHRCs. The criterion is being relaxed to allow all retired judges of the Supreme Court with at least three-year experience to be considered for appointment as NHRC chairperson and also to allow all retired High Court judges with minimum five-year experience to be considered for appointment as SHRC chairpersons.
Other salient features of the Bill are: enabling the NHRC to inquire into cases of human rights violation referred to it by courts, in addition to the present system of making an inquiry suo motu or on a petition by the victim or on behalf of the victim; enabling the NHRC to make surprise visits to jails, now possible only after intimating the State Government concerned; and enabling the NHRC to recommend an award of compensation or interim relief to victims during the process of inquiry. At present, the Commission can do so only after completion of the inquiry.
The Bill also seeks to enable the NHRC chairperson delegate some of his powers and functions to the Secretary General; enable the Commission transfer cases to SHRCs if it feels the complaint falls within the latter's jurisdiction and reduce the number of SHRC members from five to three.
In addition, the Bill provides for appointment of common chairpersons/ members of an SHRC for two or more states, particularly for smaller states which may be unable to establish separate commissions for financial and other reasons.
The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also approved moving amendments in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill. The fresh amendments to this would also be moved in the monsoon session.
The Bill provides for increasing the penalty for publishing juveniles' names from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 25,000, making it mandatory for States to constitute Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees and ensuring that juveniles are not detained along with adults in jail.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, which also met on Thursday, decided to provide a one-time contribution of Rs. 65 crore to the Rs. 200-crore corpus of the Public Health Foundation (PHF), being set up with assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Indian diaspora.
The PHF will focus on strengthening education and research in public health and seek to build new world-class public health institutions, apart from improving the existing ones. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will contribute Rs. 65 crore to the Foundation.