NHRC Chairperson Justice Arun Mishra today said that unrepresented classes in services be provided reservations within the reserved category to to ensure overall development. He also said that it is desirable to move in the direction of a Uniform Civil Code as the world is increasingly recognizing equality as a parameter of human rights.

He was speaking at a function to celebrate the Foundation Day of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), at Dr. Ambedkar International Centre, New Delhi.

Justice Arun Mishra highlighted the fact that protection and promotion of Human Rights in the country is a shared responsibility of the National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions.

It was also mentioned that Human Rights find expression in Indian tradition and philosophy. Rights and duties go together. Indian culture has assimilated all Dharmas like Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. Bhakti and Sufi traditions brought a reform movement in India.

The Chairman also said, "The Foundation of culture prevalent in India is based on cosmic balance. Sun and Moon are essential for life on earth. Sun spreads light equal to all without discrimination. The Commission logo borrows the same and reminds us of our responsibility to ensure equality and that nobody is deprived of human rights, irrespective of place of birth."

Stating that several steps have been taken for the socio-economic and political upliftment of the marginalized sections of society, the Chairman stressed upon the need for more affirmative action and stated, "The time has come to clarify that unrepresented classes in services are provided reservations within the reserved category to ensure overall development. India has many socio-economic welfare schemes."

Focusing on the issue of gender equality, the Chairman said that we must achieve gender equality and equal rights for all, particularly women and further mentioned –

"They cannot be discriminated against and deprived of civil liberties and rights under the guise of Dharma or customary practices. Without gender equality in all respect realization of human rights would remain a distant dream."

Further, it was stated that several religious practices/customs prevail, which deprive half of the population of equal dignity and gender justice which is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Justice Mishra further spoke about Uniform Civil Code to recognize equality as a parameter of human rights and mentioned –

"The world is increasingly recognizing equality as a parameter of human rights; it is desirable to move in the direction of a Uniform Civil Code as envisaged in Article 44 of the Constitution of India. Several Countries, like America, France, U.K, etc., already have Common Civil codes."

Additionally, it was stated, "India cares for flora and fauna, and biodiversity. The Supreme Court has extended the reach and ambit of human rights and recognized the right to food, even for animals. Such precedents are stepping stones, not halting places. The Commission has to take human rights to its logical end."

Stressing upon the prevention of economic exploitation of the country, Justice Mishra said that life-saving medicines are to be made affordable to the poorest of the poor.

"Intellectual property rights of a patent should give way to the right to life. We still see the patents of vaccines for Covid-19 at the cost of colossal loss of human life and the economy world over," the Chairman said.

Furthermore, it was mentioned, "Due to technological advancements, new trends for violating human rights are being noticed. Cyberspace has invaded human rights, including individuals' privacy, resulting in the infringement of civil and human rights. Due to the advent of ecommerce, cross-border transactions take place. Cases of fraud in e-commerce, hacking data and demand for ransom in cryptocurrency multiply the difficulty of identifying and tracking offenders."

Justice Mishra also touched upon the aspect of human trafficking and stated that it is still prevalent in the entire world and mentioned –

"96% of the dark web of cyberspace has emerged as the most potent human and sex trafficking medium. Trafficking of Women and Children, Tribals and Vulnerable Sections must stop. Poverty is to be eradicated, and we have to tackle the social and economic factors responsible for this scenario at the local level. Trafficking is a matter of concern, and the Commission and its Investigation Wing are working on it."

Next, the Chairman also talked about the challenges of the transborder movement of hazardous waste, degradation of the environment, global warming and scarcity of potable water.

"No country has the right to dump waste in other countries. We have to think globally and act locally to protect the environment. Every winter, Delhi chokes due to the burning of stubble (Parali) in neighbouring States. It must stop at once. The same is a grave violation of the right to clean air and endangers life. Ambient air in several cities, including the capital city of Delhi, does not meet prescribed quality standards for most of the year. The water quality in most rivers and streams also does not meet the specified parameters," stated Justice Mishra.

The Chairman stated that to ensure timely identification, treatment, and elimination of discrimination against the persons affected by leprosy, the Commission, in its Advisory, recommended amending 99 laws. It is a matter of satisfaction that the Government of India has accepted Advisory 2.0 issued by the Commission in 2021 to take care of Bonded Labour.

Justice Mishra also apprised the audience of the fact that the Commission has issued an advisory to improve working conditions of truck drivers inter alia to provide insurance cover of Rs. 15 lacs, halting places, proper food, regulation of working hours, for least interface by law enforcement agencies on roads for the well-being of physical and mental health.

Further, the Chairman stated, "Various measures, including proper storage of chemicals, such as slaked lime used in betel, which cause irreparable visual loss, use of pointed toys and the kind of firecrackers which are being currently used is also a common cause of loss of vision, same needs to be regulated and banned in crowded places."

Justice Mishra also stated that the Commission recently visited the mental hospitals at Gwalior, Agra and Ranchi, and Special Rapporteurs are visiting 39 other hospitals in the country. The condition of the hospitals is required to be improved drastically. Most State governments have not complied with the mandate of the Mental Health Care Act of 2017.

Expressing displeasure, Justice Mishra stated that Jails are places to reform criminals but unfortunately, they have become places where crimes are often committed and thus mentioned-

"Urgent jail reforms are required to get rid of such acts. Crimes in jail need to be dealt with sternly. Since the State is responsible for the lives and health of the inmates in jails, the Commission has recommended States formulate a policy prescribing compensation in cases of death in custody by suicide or negligence, etc."

During the pandemic, Justice Mishra said that the Commission had issued 20 Advisories regarding Human Trafficking, Informal Workers, Disabled persons, Prisoners-Police Personnel particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), Dignity and Protecting the Rights of Dead, Mental Health and Food security, and nutrition, etc.

"During the last year, the Commission received more than 1.21 lakh complaints and decided on more than 1.28 lakh complaints and recommended a monetary compensation of approximately Rs. 100 million in 250 cases. In 30 years, the Commission has recommended compensation of Rs. 2.3 Billion," Justice Mishra said.

Addressing the gathering as the Chief Guest, the Vice President of India, Jagdeep Dhankhar said that serious challenges to human rights arise primarily on account of the silent and voiceless existence of the majority of our citizens, which in fact is a topic that needs to be brought into sharper focus in the public limelight. Human rights are quintessential for a flourishing democracy.

He also said, "Human rights get compromised in the face of corruption. Poor and vulnerable are easy victims of this menace. Continual onslaughts on corruption are a bright sign in this direction and vulnerable section are prime beneficiaries."

Appreciating the NHRC for propagating philosophy that human rights nurture and blossom in a regime where there is a rule of law and not Law of ruler, Mr. Dhankhar credited the Commission for its report on West Bengal Postpoll violence under a judicial fiat in shortest time underlining that the Law of the ruler not the rule of Law is the bane of human rights in the State.

He also lauded the NHRC for its various Advisories and said that media should talk about them in high decibels to serve the cause of human rights. Protection of human rights is a shared responsibility of the society as a whole and not just of Government or the NHRC. However, he said there is a strong need for the Commission to inspire and provide handholding support to the State Human Rights Commissions wherever it is required. He also urged every citizen to work for the protection and promotion of human rights.