A Conversation with Bilal Nazki and Nazir Ahmad Thakur: Chairperson and Secretary of J&K State Human Rights Commission

Amnesty International India
30 October 2019 3:56 pm

On 25 October, shortly after the announcement was made by the Jammu & Kashmir Government to abolish the Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (J&K SHRC) on 31 October, Amnesty International India interviewed Justice (Retd.) Bilal Nazki, Chairperson of J&K SHRC and Mr Nazir Ahmad Thakur, Secretary of J&K SHRC to understand the situation better.

Justice Bilal Nazki

Q. How do you look at the J&K Government’s decision to abolish the State Human Rights Commission in J&K?

A. In Union Territories, there are no human rights commissions. In Delhi, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has jurisdiction over all matters. In Chandigarh, the cases have been handed over to Punjab Human Rights Commission. What will happen in J&K is not known. As such, there is no mechanism provided under the 1994 Protection of Human Rights Act (the Act). Jammu & Kashmir may be asked to go to the human rights commissions in adjacent states, unless the government amends the law. That is the position.

Q. The J&K government also announced that until a solution is found, NHRC will have jurisdiction over J&K. Do you believe it will ease things for people?

A. The NHRC already had limited jurisdiction in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, but for union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, the Act does not provide any mechanism. Presently, we have no idea of how things will be rolled out. Everything is unknown. But the government will have to develop a mechanism and that too as soon as possible.

Q. What will happen to the cases that were being heard in J&K SHRC?

A. I don’t know. Only the government can answer it. The 1997 Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act under which the SHRC was created will be repealed on 31 October. People have to wait for the government to decide. Some institution may be established in due course and people may be asked to go there. The Law Department may send their files to that institution. But this transition will take time.

Q. Has the SHRC informed those who have filed their cases with the Commission, about what would be happening to their cases and whom they should approach in the future?

A. The notification from the government which says that the SHRC will seize to function from the end of this month is publicly available. We have not informed anyone. The law has been changed and law is supposed to be known to everybody.

Q. How independent was J&K SHRC?

A. It was independent. There was no interference in our work. At least in my tenure of three years, no one interfered. However, the government did not accept some of our recommendations.

Nazir Ahmad Thakur

Q. The government has asked you to hand over electronic gadgets, including computers, to the J&K Estates Department. What has happened to the data or documents in these computers?

A. We have kept all the data intact in the computers and are handing them over to the Estates Department. If we need any information tomorrow we can get it from these computers. We will ensure that there is proper safety and security of these gadgets and data in them.

Q. How many employees did the SHRC have and which departments they were originally associated with?

A. There were 71 employees in the Commission. Most of them have been relieved. They have reported back to their parent departments, which primarily include Department of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs and J&K Police.

Q. Whom are you handing over the case records of the Commission?

A. We are handing all the records over to the Secretary, J&K Law Department.

Q. Are you closing the cases that were being heard in the J&K SHRC?

A. No, we are not. These cases are very much alive. If the State Human Rights Commission is reconstituted again then we can hear these cases again. It is up to the government to decide. The Government of India can reconstitute the SHRC by issuing an ordinance. We hope that the Commission will be reconstituted again.

Q. If the  commission is reconstituted through an ordinance by the Government of India, then what will be the difference in this commission and NHRC as the members will be nominated by the same government?

A. I cannot comment on this. This is an issue for the government to decide.

BACKGROUND

Last week, the Jammu & Kashmir Government ordered the abolition of seven autonomous commissions in Jammu & Kashmir, including J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), State Accountability Commission (SAC), State Commission for Protection of Women and Child Rights (SCWCR), State Information Commission (SIC), State Commission for Persons with Disabilities (SCPD), State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (SCDRC) and State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC). This was done in accordance with the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 which was passed on 5 August and comes in force on 31 October. The Fifth Schedule to the Act lays down the central and state laws which will either be applied to the union territories or repealed. The Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Human Rights Act, 1997 under which the J&K SHRC was established is one of the laws which will be repealed.

The Jammu & Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, since its inception until 31 March 2019 had instituted 8529 cases of human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir, out of which 7725 cases were disposed. As per the official records, it made recommendations in 1862 cases during this period. In two years, between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2019, the Commission received 1174 cases and disposed of 1244 cases.

The official computers of the Commission, along with the data on human rights violations committed by state authorities, are being handed over to a separate department, which looks after the government infrastructure like government office buildings, government residential quarters, etc. The case records of the Commission are handed over to the J&K Law Department. Upon the handover of data, the Commission will not retain any copy of this data raising grave concerns on the rightful ownership and misuse of such crucial information.

The violation of individual rights has long been a pattern in Jammu & Kashmir. The denial of justice, deprival of communications, arbitrary and illegal detention including often of minors, and the assumed impunity of the armed forces has been consistent for three decades. The recent move of the Central Government to unilaterally revoke Article 370 of the Indian Constitution amidst a communication blackout, restriction on freedom of movement and detention of political leaders, reinforces such action. The abolition of an independent human rights commission amidst the ongoing crisis and without any concrete plan for the future further jeopardizes the rights of people of Jammu & Kashmir.