A division bench of the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday dismissed an appeal by the NHRC against a single bench order that set aside the human rights body’s directive deputing its official to identify sensitive constituencies and for deploying micro-observers for the upcoming panchayat polls in West Bengal.
The division bench said the direction of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seeks to encroach upon the jurisdiction of the State Election Commission (SEC) to conduct free and fair panchayat elections.
The NHRC in its June 12 order had deputed its director general (investigation) as a special human rights observer to apprise first-hand information of recent incidents and to conduct an on-the-spot survey of West Bengal in consultation with the SEC to identify the sensitive constituencies where such violation relating to panchayat polls is likely to occur.
It said that once the sensitive areas are identified, the DG will submit a comprehensive report to it for deployment of micro human rights observers in all sensitive constituencies in the state during and after the panchayat polls.
Holding that it is not inclined to interfere with the order passed by the single bench, a division bench presided by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam dismissed appeals by the NHRC and the DG.
The bench, also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, said that the NHRC order of June 12 does not speak of any specific violation of human rights or negligence in preservation of human rights or its abetment by a public servant.
The bench said the SEC being a constitutional authority vested with the power to conduct panchayat elections is duty-bound to ensure a free and fair election, and for such purpose, it has to identify sensitive constituencies, which is a part and parcel of assessment of the law and order situation.
The division bench said that the NHRC ought not to have issued the order “in the garb of protecting the human rights as the said direction seeks to encroach upon the exclusive jurisdiction of the SEC to conduct free and fair panchayat elections.”
It said that the Supreme Court had in a judgement held that the NHRC cannot function as a parallel seat of justice.
The bench said that matters relating to protection of human rights during the panchayat poll process are covered by the orders passed by this court from time to time.
Panchayat elections in West Bengal will be held on July 8.
Observing that it is the duty of the SEC, being a constitutional authority, to appoint observers, the bench said “the NHRC cannot encroach upon the jurisdiction of the SEC by appointing observers.”
The West Bengal SEC had contended before the court that while it is a constitutional authority, the NHRC is a statutory authority.
Holding that the jurisdiction of NHRC is also barred after the issuance of election notification by the SEC to pass an order appointing an observer, the division bench said that the NHRC’s directive amounts to usurping the jurisdiction of the SEC and also amounts to interference in the conduct of elections by the SEC.
The NHRC order had been set aside by the single bench of the high court, against which the NHRC filed the appeal.