Home Ministry informs RTI activist Agrawal

Justice Y.K. Sabharwal was not considered for the post of Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission following adverse media reports after a Supreme Court Bench he headed passed orders for demolition of unauthorised constructions in the capital.

This information was furnished by the Deputy Secretary in the Home Ministry on an application filed by rights activist Subash Chandra Agrawal seeking reasons why the former Chief Justices of India, Justice Sabharwal and Justice R.C. Lahoti, were not considered in spite of their availability.

Vacant since 2009

The post, which only a retired CJI can occupy, has been vacant since May 2009. After the retirement of Justice Rajendra Babu, Justice G P Mathur, a retired Supreme Court judge, is officiating as its acting chairperson the NHRC.

In December last, Mr. Agrawal wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the government's failure to appoint an NHRC chairperson. In reply, the Home Ministry said Justice Lahoti was not inclined/available for different reasons for holding the post. As there was no reference to the availability of Justice Sabharwal, the applicant filed another application.

Mr. Agrawal also wanted copies of correspondence between the Union government and Justice Lahoti/Justice Sabharwal on its offer of the post to them. He sought complete information on moves, if any, to amend NHRC rules to provide flexibility in eligibility criteria for the post. Under the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act, only a former CJI could be appointed NHRC Chairperson. In its reply, the Home Ministry said: “It is true that both Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice Y.K. Sabharwal were eligible for appointment to the post. However, “because of the adverse media and other reports with regard to Justice Sabharwal, it was felt that the highly sensitive post may not be offered to him.”

As for Justice Lahoti, the then Home Secretary spoke to him enquiring about his availability to take up the post. “It appears that Justice Lahoti indicated that he was otherwise very busy and would not be in a position to accept the offer. Accordingly, it was recorded on the file that Justice Lahoti and Justice Sabharwal are not inclined/not available for different reasons.”

As the offer was made to Justice Lahoti orally, there was no recorded correspondence. However, the conversation with him was reported by the then Home Secretary to the Home Minister, the reply said.

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