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According to the Orissa High Court, the Human Rights Commission may only “recommend” compensation under Section 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act.

In the case of State of Odisha & Ors. v. Radhakanta Tripathy & Anr. (Case No.: W.P.(C) No. 38923 of 2020 Order Dated: 29th June 2022), according to the Orissa High Court, Section 18 of the 1993 Protection of Human Rights Act grants the Human Rights Commission just the authority to “recommend,” not to order compensation. Notably, the Section outlines the actions that the Commission must conduct “during and after inquiry. “A single justice bench As Arindam Sinha pointed out “Steps during and after the inquiry are outlined in Section 18. Since the Commission neglected to conduct an investigation as previously stated, it was unable to rely on section 18 for any of the actions required by it. However, the law simply gives the Commission the authority to recommend.”

Facts: The petitioner State was represented by Mr. A.K. Sharma, Additional Government Advocate. He argued that the Commission overstepped its bounds when it ordered the Chief Secretary of the Government of Odisha to give Rs. 1 lakh in compensation to each of the four deceased individuals who passed away from diarrhoea. In order to support his claim that the Chief Secretary should have been given the opportunity to be heard, he cited sections 13 to 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act. The communication was just the result of issuing a show cause notice and rejecting the response. He added that Section 18 only grants the Commission the authority to propose, but that in this particular situation, a direction to pay has been given. The aforementioned direction lacks jurisdiction as a result. He brought the court’s attention to a reply to the show cause that was made on October 30, 2019, and he claimed that the State’s investigation had found that the villagers had dug a well. A brook was also present. They used to draw water from the stream and well for drinking. Examination of the well and stream water samples confirmed the presence of a mutated, highly virulent strain of “vibro cholera.”He continued by pointing out that the administration held a group meeting and advised the locals not to drink from the well or stream in addition to taking all necessary efforts to provide medical aid to the villagers. Water supply from tanks and pipes was also directed to continue. He angrily claimed that under the circumstances, the government could not have been ordered to pay compensation.

Judgement: The Court observed that it did not appear that the Commission itself began an investigation based on the documents submitted in the writ petition and a review of the impugned message. Since the Commission made no inquiries, Section 16 was not invoked since there was no evidence that the Commission thought it necessary to look into any particular person’s behaviour or had determined that the reputation of any particular person was likely to suffer harm. Simply put, the Commission served a show-cause notice in the case, which it started after receiving a complaint from the opposing party no. 1. The Bench further noted, “The administration informed the Commission of its probe, which revealed that the villagers had dug wells and were using them and a stream for drinking water, in the aforementioned reply dated October 30, 2019. Vibro cholera with a modified virulent strain was found in a water sample. The administration also reported that the village’s water supply from tanks and pipes had not stopped. Without a Commission investigation, it is impossible to doubt the State’s claim that a tank and pipe supply of water existed and was being maintained.” The Court made it clear that Section 18 covers actions before, during, and after an investigation. The Commission failed to conduct an investigation in this case, hence it was unable to rely on Section 18 for any of the actions required by it. Therefore, the clause effectively gives the Commission the authority to only suggest compensation rather than to order it. The aforementioned factors led to the finding that the contested communication had been issued without proper authorization, which led to its dismissal. The Court did acknowledge that the claimed incident resulted in the deaths of four people. Therefore, it instructed the State to review its compensation policy to determine whether ex-gratia or compensation must be paid to the next of kin.

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY SNIGDHA DUBEY.

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