At human rights commission, its a sad state of affairs

No chairperson, no registrar, no members. Over 8,000 cases pending

"We are hoping to have a Commission chairperson soon. Please do file your complaint with us. Notices will be issued as soon as the office starts its work," clerk Ranjappa Nandedkar informs each complainant who walks into his pigeon-hole cubicle at the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) office in south Mumbai. Nandedkar's is the only office that has been "operational" at the commission for the last 10 months.

With every officer-rank post chairperson, the registrar and two members lying vacant, and as many as 8,271 cases piled up before the commission, Nandedkar says, "Only wish people did not file any more complaints."

Even on the occasion of World Human Rights Day on Monday, the date chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly's adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Commission in Mumbai wore a desolate look.

Many complainants, mostly from mofussil regions of the state, go to the commission only to return in despair. Some even get into fights with the clerical staff.

"It takes a great deal to arrange for a vehicle and reach Mumbai. Local police have been refusing to take down my complaint. A neighbour had burnt by cattle shed last month. I came here hoping to have my complaint heard. They (clerical staff) say the commission is defunct at present and will get back to me," said Tirath Bhatge, who travelled overnight from Akola.

Since the SHRC has only one office, a complainant is left with little choice but to travel great distances at times. While another option, that of sending the complaint through post, is available, people desperate for justice prefer to lodge their complaints in person.

"We tell people to post their complaints. But they do not trust us when we say we do not have any members to help them at present," said another clerk.

The SHRC, which falls directly under the Chief Minister's Office (CMO), has its chairperson and other members selected on the recommendations made by the CM, state home minister, speaker of the state assembly, and the opposition leader. The recommendations are then sent to the Governor for approval. "As many as 20 proposals have been sent to the CMO. No decision has been taken so far," said a senior official from the CMO.

Sources say the committee is finding it difficult to fill the post of the chairperson, as it has to be a retired chief justice of the High Court. However, for the members' posts, recommendations have already been sent.

On Monday, although a small function celebrating the Human Rights Day was arranged, it painted a dismal picture. "We appeal to the state government to fill in vacancy at the earliest," said the commission's secretary at the function. Since its inception in 2001, the Commission has received 54,703 complaints. While most cases were disposed of at an impressive rate, on a yearly basis, cases have piled on since the commission remained vacant.

This appeal has been made several times in past nine months, say SHRC's staff members. In February, one of the members Justice (retired) V G Munshi retired. Within a week, chairperson and retired HC Chief Justice Kshitij Vyas, too, resigned. Another member, T S Singaravel retired in October 2011.

"One can understand why no alternative arrangement was made for Justice Vyas' position. But the state knew about the other two posts, then why such laxity," asked an officer in the administration department, who has been documenting complaints every day and stacking it in the office.

Research officer Dr Jaishree Patil is also waiting for the appointments so she can hand over her studies for recommendations. "As many as five research works were taken up by my department. It has been nearly two years' worth of hard work. At the time when I was ready to submit them, Justice Vyas quit," Patil said.

The vacancies

In February, one of the members Justice (retired) V G Munshi retired

Within a week, chairperson and retired HC Chief Justice Kshitij Vyas, too, resigned

Another member, T S Singaravel retired in October 2011

How Commission's appointments happen

The SHRC falls directly under the CMO

Its chairperson and other members are selected on the recommendations made by the CM, state home minister, speaker of the state assembly and the opposition leader

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