SC dismisses NHRC’s plea on deploying observers for WB rural polls

The Supreme Court has dismissed a plea by the NHRC challenging an order of the Calcutta High Court setting aside the human rights body’s directive deputing its official for identifying sensitive constituencies and deploying micro-observers for the recently concluded panchayat polls in West Bengal.

A bench of Justices B V Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan said interference by the NHRC affected the autonomy and independence of the State Election Commission (SEC).

The top court was hearing a petition filed by the NHRC challenging an order of the division bench of the high court which said the direction of the National Human Rights Commission sought to encroach upon the jurisdiction of the SEC to conduct free and fair panchayat elections.

The NHRC had, by its June 12 order, deputed its director general (investigation) as a special human rights observer to give it first-hand information on incidents of violence and to conduct an on-the-spot survey of West Bengal in consultation with the SEC to identify the sensitive constituencies where violations were likely to occur during the polls.

It had said once the sensitive areas have been identified, the DG will submit a comprehensive report to it for deployment of micro human rights observers in all sensitive seats.

Holding that it is not inclined to interfere with the order passed by the single bench, a division bench of the high court presided over by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam had dismissed the appeal by the NHRC.

The high court had said the NHRC order of June 12 does not speak of any specific violation of human rights or negligence in the preservation of human rights or its abetment by a public servant.

It had said the SEC, being a constitutional authority vested with the power to conduct the 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 the assessment of the law and order situation.

The division bench had said 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 the Supreme Court had in a judgement held that the NHRC cannot function as a “parallel seat of justice”.

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