Speech of Mr. Justice H.L. Dattu, Chairperson, NHRC on the inaugural of the Camp Sitting and Open Hearing at Bhubaneswar,
Bhubaneswar, 9th January, 2017 : “My esteemed colleagues – Members of the National Human Rights Commission, Secretary General, NHRC, Chief Secretary, Government of Odisha, Senior Officers from various Departments of the State Government, Senior Officers and Staff of the NHRC, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me immense pleasure to welcome all of you to this Camp Sitting and Open Hearing in the State of Odisha.
The NHRC has been holding Camp Sittings across States and Union Territories to ensure speedy disposal of pending cases and interact with officials of the state, NGOs, civil society and the media to understand the key human rights concerns within a State/UT. The Commission has also initiated Open Public Hearings to hear and decide cases of atrocities against persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SCs). This is in keeping with the recommendations made by the K. B. Saxena Report, commissioned by the NHRC to study the problems faced by persons belonging to Scheduled Castes. The Commission invites complaints from the general public for the hearings through the electronic and print media and on receiving these, calls for reports on the cases from the concerned authorities. These cases are subsequently heard by the Commission’s Single Bench in the presence of the Chief Secretary of State and other senior state functionaries during the public hearings. In addition, the Commission also takes up cases of human rights abuse during its interaction with senior officers of the State Government.
These Open Hearings and Camp Sittings have been instrumental in giving voice to the persons from marginalized sections/communities and giving relief to them on the spot. The victims of the human rights violations have been compensated in many cases and action has been recommended against the perpetrators of human rights violations.
I am certain that the Open Hearing and Camp Sitting being organized in Odisha will also provide an opportunity to deliberate upon human rights issues pertinent to Odisha, provide a platform for all stakeholders to voice their opinions and concerns, and in turn, help chart a way forward to address these human rights issues collectively.
In the course of the various visits undertaken by the Commission and its Special Rapporteurs across Odisha, it has been observed that while many positive developments have taken shape, there are several areas in which efforts are required to further improve the situation of human rights within the State.
It has recently come to the attention of the Commission for instance, that in certain areas, such as, Malkangiri district of Odisha, schools lie in a state of abject neglect, with reports suggesting that nearly 72 primary schools in the district have no infrastructure worth the name. This raises serious concerns involving the implementation of the ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’ (RTE Act) and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the district.
Incidentally, Malkangiri district is also severely affected by left-wing extremism. Among the several factors which have contributed to the persistence of Maoist violence in the district include, the poor socio-economic status of the local population, a majority of who belong to the Scheduled Tribes, and lack of basic facilities such as, education and healthcare.
In the period 2015-2016 (up to 20.12.2016), the Commission registered a total of 21,912 cases from the State of Odisha. A number of these cases relate to issues concerning internal displacement, child and bonded labour, implementation and enforcement of the Forest Rights Act 2006, problems faced by farmers and agricultural labourers, trafficking in women and children, and socio-economic backwardness of the KBK districts, among others.
The Commission notes with concern several instances from within the State of acquisition of land for various developmental projects without adequate compensation or alternative livelihood support to those displaced from their lands. To add to this, there are disturbing allegations of police brutality against protesting villagers and even journalists covering such protests.
The problem of trafficking of women and girls, such as in Sundargarh District are indicative of a problem that is not simply related to lack of effective protection for women and girls, but also aspects of poverty, illiteracy, and lack of adequate livelihood opportunities, which often compel families to relinquish care of their children, including adolescent girls to outsiders, such as unscrupulous employment agencies, agents, and even shelter homes.
The Commission has been deeply concerned about the protection of the rights of girls and women, and in this context we would like to know from the authorities regarding the initiatives taken, particularly with respect to human trafficking, missing women and children, dowry deaths, women and child helplines, if any, child marriage as well as efforts towards gender sensitization among police personnel and other public functionaries.
Starvation deaths in the KBK districts have also been of concern to the Commission since the time that it first took cognizance of the matter in the 1990s. In this regard, the Commission wishes to underscore that the effective implementation of key socio-economicFlagship Programmes of the Government of India are crucial in ensuring the socio-economic well-being of particularly those who grapple with poverty and lack of livelihood opportunities on an everyday basis.
These programmes include the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), and Public Distribution System (PDS), and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), among several others. To elucidate, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is a vital programme which must be honestly and adequately implemented, including the provision of unemployment allowance to beneficiaries, especially in cases where the state government fails to provide work.
Thus, there is close connection between the proper implementation of these socio-economic schemes and programmes and the well-being of people and protection of their human rights. Hence, it is vital that in the education sector, schools function properly; Aanganwadi centres under the ICDS are provided requisite infrastructural and financial support to function effectively; and PHCs and CHCs run effectively by ensuring that vacancies of doctors and para medical staff are filled up and there is proper supply of medicines in these centres and hospitals.
On the important issue of atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and other depressed sections of society, it will be important to ascertain what concrete measures the authorities have taken to ameliorate their condition – whether in the context of registration of cases and action taken as per the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, their land and tenancy rights, residential schools for children belonging to SC/ST communities, the overall status of their literacy and education as well as other human rights challenges that confront members of these communities.
Similarly, the full and proper implementation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 is extremely important. We would also especially like to highlight the importance of the issue relating to the rehabilitation of rescued/released bonded and child labourers.
Issues concerning prison reforms, custodial justice, condition of juvenile homes, basic sanitation and other facilities in thanas and prisons, delay in submission of compliance reports as well as the issue of the submission of legible copies of reports by state authorities, need to be addressed.
The Commission is deeply committed to promoting human rights awareness and does so by organizing programmes for various sections of society. Simultaneously, the Commission has endeavoured to promote a culture of human rights in the country by pressing for the introduction of human rights education in the school and university curricula. It would therefore, be of interest to the Commission to understand the emphasis laid on human rights education in school and university curriculums.
The NHRC firmly believes that human rights defenders and civil society are crucial allies in the fight to preserve and promote the inalienable rights of the citizens since they play a vital role in fighting discrimination, investigating violations, and helping victims gain justice and support. And therefore, it is vital that state governments, UTs and various public agencies, together with the support of the Commission, do their utmost to protect them and safeguard their freedom of expression and assembly to facilitate their efforts in the defence of human rights in the country.
The Open Hearing and Camp Sitting scheduled to be held here, therefore, will be vital in strengthening the partnership between public officials, NGOs, media, and the NHRC in the pursuit of their shared, common objective to better protect human rights of the citizens of the country.
It is my ardent hope that during the ensuing discussions in this Camp Sitting of the Commission, we will be able to deliberate meaningfully on these important human rights issues concerning the State of Odisha and create a blueprint for more effective cooperation and coordination between the Commission and government agencies and officials, with a noble objective of better protection and promotion of human rights in the State.”