Answer Synopsis 30/11/2020

Question : Discuss the structure, powers and limitations of NHRC?

Structure of the answer

  • Write about the purpose of NHRC, its structure, powers.
  • Highlight limitations to its functioning.
  • Provide some suggestions.


NHRC is a statutory body, setup in 1993, as the watchdog of human rights in India.


NHRC consists of a chairperson and five other members as follows:

  1. Chairperson is a retired Chief Justice or a judge of the supreme court of India.
  2. One member is either a working or a retired judge of the Supreme Court.
  3. One member is either a working or a retired Chief Justice of a High Court.
  4. Three persons having knowledge or practical experience in matters relating to Human Rights (out of which one should be a women).
  5. Seven ex-officio members: Chairpersons of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Women, National Commission for BCs and National Commission for protection of child rights and Chief Commissioner for persons with Disabilities.

Powers and Functions

  1. Investigation:
    • Investigating complaints or failure of any public official regarding the rights violation, either suo moto or after receiving a petition.
  2. Prevention and Safegueard:
    • Monitoring the living conditions of the inmates and to make recommendations thereon.
    • Reviewing statutory safeguards or treaties for the protection of the human rights.
  3. Research and promotion:
    • Promoting research and encouraging NGOs in the field of human rights.

While making an inquiry into the complaints, the commission enjoys the powers of a civil court.


  1. Investigation: It does not have independent investigative machinery. So its investigation sometimes fails to be impartial.
  2. Incapacity to award relief: It can only ask the authority else approach the higher Courts to provide relief to the victims. The concerned authority has to implement its recommendations within one month or communicate reasons for not complying.
  3. Only recommendatory body: Its recommendations are not binding on the authorities.
  4. Armed forces: Commission can’t investigate the violation in case of armed forces and has to rely on the report of the Centre.
  5. Commissions’ membership: As non-judicial member positions are increasingly being filled by ex- bureaucrats, therefore commission is more an extension of the government, rather than independent agency.

Way forward

  1. More teeth: Its decisions should be immediately made enforceable by the government.
  2. Armed forces: The definition should be restricted to only army, navy, and air force. Further, even in these cases the Commission should be allowed to independently investigate cases of violation of rights.
  3. Commission’s membership: Members of NHRCs should include civil society, human rights activits etc. rather than ex-bureaucrats.
  4. Independent Staff: NHRC should have its independent investigating staff recruited by itself, rather than present practice of deputation

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