Human Rights Commission Can Only ‘Recommend’ Compensation U/S 18 Of Protection Of Human Rights Act: Orissa High Court

In the case of the State of Odisha & Ors. v. Radhakanta Tripathy & Anr. (W.P.(C) No. 38923 of 2020), the Orissa High Court has held that Section 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 empowers Human Rights Commission only to ‘recommend’ and not to direct compensation, through the Single Bench of Justice Arindam Sinha.

Brief Facts Of The case: Mr. A.K. Sharma, Additional Government Advocate appeared on behalf of the petitioner-State. He submitted that the Commission exceeded its powers by directing the Chief Secretary to Government of Odisha to pay compensation of Rs. 1 lakh each to four deceased persons, who died of diarrhoea. He relied on sections 13 to 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act to contend that the Chief Secretary ought to have been given an opportunity of hearing. Merely issuance of show cause notice and rejection of the reply resulted in the communication. He further contended that under Section 18, the Commission has jurisdiction only to recommend but in the instant case, there has been a direction to pay. Therefore, the said direction is bereft of jurisdiction. He drew the attention of the Court to reply dated 30th October, 2019 to the show cause and submitted that inquiry by the State revealed that the villagers had dug a well. There was also a stream. They used to collect drinking water from the well and stream. Examination of water collected from the well and stream revealed the presence of a modified virulent strain of ‘vibro cholera’. He further pointed out, apart from taking all steps to provide medical assistance to the villagers, the administration conducted a group meeting and told the villagers not to drink from the well and stream. Also, continuation of tank and pipe water supply was directed. In the circumstances, the administration could not have been directed to pay compensation, he vehemently argued.

Judgement: The Court noted that from documents disclosed in the writ petition and perusal of impugned communication, it did not appear that the Commission itself launched an inquiry. As there was no inquiry by the Commission, Section 16 did not stand attracted as there was no question of the Commission considering it necessary to inquire into conduct of any person or form opinion that reputation of any person is likely to be prejudicially affected. Simply the Commission issued show cause notice in the proceeding, commenced by it on a complaint lodged by opposite party no. 1. Further the Bench clarified that Section 18 provides for steps during and after inquiry. As there was an omission by the Commission to conduct inquiry herein, Section 18 could not be invoked by it for any of the steps to be taken thereunder. Thus, the provision, in effect, empowers the Commission only to recommend and not to direct compensation.

For the aforesaid reasons, the impugned communication was found to have been issued in excess of authority and accordingly, was set aside and quashed. However, the Court acknowledged the fact that four persons died in the alleged incident. Therefore, it directed the State to consider its policies on compensation, so as to see if compensation or ex-gratia has to be paid to the next of kin.

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