Human Rights Commission’s orders awarding compensation/damages not mere recommendations, State duty bound to comply (in absence of order being set aside/modified)

Allahabad High Court:  Deciding the question as to whether orders of Human Rights Commission to make payment of compensation or damages are mere recommendations, the Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud, C.J. and Yashwant Varma, J. observed that  “Governed as we are by the rule of law and by the fundamental norms of the protection of life and liberty and human dignity under a constitutional order, it will not be open to the State Government to disregard the view of the Commission The State Government is at liberty to challenge the order of the Commission on merits since no appeal is provided by the Act. But it cannot in the absence of the order being set aside, modified or reviewed disregard the order at its own discretion.

The deceased was an undertrial prisoner lodged in the district jail in Muzaffarnagar and suffering from chronic lung disease. The treatment record indicated that he was provided treatment only from 15-5-2012 and he died on 21-5-2012. Though he had been admitted to jail on 9-9-2011, until 15-5-2012, neither medical check up was carried out to control or treat his lung disease nor was he sent to a competent medical facility until his condition had deteriorated. After an inquiry, finding a case of negligence on the part of jail officials in not providing adequate medical treatment, the Commission recommended the grant of compensation of Rs 2 lakhs to his next of kin. Subsequently, the Commission directed the State Government to report compliance of the same along with proof of payment, which order is under challenge here.

The petitioner’s contention was that the power of the Commission under Section 18(a)(i) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 was to “recommend” to the Government or authority concerned to make payment of compensation or damages to the complainant or victim or the members of his family and since the Commission’s power being recommendatory in nature, the directive to furnish proof of compliance was contrary to law and liable to be set aside.

The basic question is whether the use of the expression “recommend” in Section 18(a) can be treated by the State Government or by an authority as merely an opinion or a suggestion which can be ignored with impunity. The Court observed that “to place such a construction on the expression “recommend” would dilute the efficacy of the Commission and defeat the statutory object underlying the constitution of such a body. The Commission is entitled to do so where it finds either a violation of human rights or a negligence in the prevention of a violation of human rights.”

The Court held that  “While a challenge to the order of the Commission is available in exercise of the power of judicial review, the State Government subject to this right, is duty bound to comply with the order. Otherwise the purpose of enacting the legislation would be defeated. The provisions of the Act which have been made to enforce the constitutional protection of life and liberty by enabling the Commission to grant compensation for violations of human rights would be rendered nugatory. A construction which will produce that result cannot be adopted and must be rejected.”  [State of Uttar Pradesh  v. National Human Rights Commission, Writ Petition (C) No. 15570 of 2016, decided on  April 8, 2016]

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