‘Disheartening that human rights commission defunct body at present’, Bombay HC directs Maha govt to expedite appointments

According to an RTI reply received by PIL petitioner Vaishnavi Gholave on May 28, of 51 sanctioned posts for the staff, only 26 were filled.

Observing that “it was disheartening to note the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) is a defunct body at present,” the Bombay High Court on Wednesday pulled up the Maharashtra government for not filling up vacant posts of chairpersons and other members of the panel within two months as directed by it on July 12.

The bench asked the state government to ensure the commission is functional to its optimum capacity and expedite appointments for all posts within a month.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a PIL filed by social activist Naresh Gosavi in connection to vacancies in MSHRC, the need for a bigger office and providing the commission adequate funds to ensure its financial autonomy. The court has been hearing the PIL for the last seven years.

According to an RTI reply received by another PIL petitioner Vaishnavi Gholave on May 28, of 51 sanctioned posts for the staff, only 26 were filled. The reply also revealed that along with the post of the chairperson, of five major posts in the state commission, four, including that of the chairperson, judicial member, expert member and inspector general of police, were lying vacant, noting that only the secretary of the commission was appointed.

On Wednesday, additional government pleader Geeta Shastri told the bench that progress has been made regarding appointments and the state has received eight names for being appointed as chairperson and it would need a month’s time to finalise the appointments for the same and other posts.`

However, advocate Arif Doctor representing MSHRC submitted that in November 2018, the HC passed orders to appoint a chairperson within six months from the then order and that has not happened yet. He submitted that more than five constitutional posts are vacant in the panel and only the post of secretary is filled up.

The HC in February 2020 directed the state government to take possession of a new office allotted to MSHRC in MTNL Building at Colaba. MSHRC counsel said that while the panel required larger space, it was given an office in MTNL Building, but that was already allotted to someone else and had major leakage concerns.

Shastri claimed that the MTNL premise was allotted after the MSHRC officials inspected it and they do not want to leave the present office.

After hearing submissions, the bench noted that the then CJ Pradeep Nandrajog, had given three names in recommendations for the post of chairperson and nearly two years have passed since.

“One of the three names was of Justice (retired) V M Kanade who was appointed as Lokayukta last month. So you were sitting on the names for almost two years,” CJ Datta said and questioned why a meeting of the chief minister with other senior officials was not initiated to resolve the issue.

CJ Datta said that earlier this month, he had given eight names to the state government for the post of chairperson and other members. The names were sent six months ago but appointments have not been made yet.

“Why is no action taken? Such an important body does not have a premise. This is not how the human rights commission should function and you ought to expedite appointments,” the bench remarked.

“It is disheartening to note that the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission is a defunct body, at present,” HC noted in the order.

Posting both the PILs for the next hearing on October 25, the bench noted, “we hope and trust that the state government would rise to the challenge and make the necessary appointments by that date. Earnest endeavour shall also be made by the state to appoint (the) requisite number of staff to make the Commission functional in all respects.”

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