In 2012, families whose loved ones were killed by security forces in Manipur decided to fight the injustice and formed the Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association. They moved the supreme court against Assam Rifles, the army and Manipur police over alleged encounter killings of 1,528 people from 1979 to 2012. Their resentment was not only against the centre and state police machinery but also against the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which was supposed to investigate cases of human rights violation. The petition raises a pertinent question about the mandate of the NHRC, and describes it as a “toothless tiger”.
In its defence, the NHRC, which is an autonomous body set up under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, to investigate human rights abuses, told the court it has no powers to act against persons or authorities who do not follow the guidelines laid down by it. Nor does it have the power to give directions or pass orders: it can only make recommendations. This is the trouble with all commisions – the power to speak without the power to take corrective, or, if necessary, punitive action.
The verdict in the Manipur case is pending. The commission, however, expects that once the judgment is pronounced, it will add more clarity to its mandate, powers, and functions. Speaking on its 23rd Foundation Day on October 21 last year, NHRC chairman HL Dattu, a former chief justice of India, hoped the judgment would make the commission “roar like a tiger”.