At present, former police chief is its acting chairperson

For more than a month now, the Bihar Human Rights Commission has been functioning without a head. Also, ironically enough, though the maximum number of the complaints it receives are against the police, its acting chairperson is a former officer of the force itself.

The BHRC was notified in 2000, but it was formally constituted only in 2008. From 2008 to 2013, it received 19,488 complaints, including 6,912 related to the police or force, according to the data released by the Commission recently.

“Nearly 40-50 per cent of the complaints we get are related to the police, but they are not of a serious nature,” Neelmani, acting chairperson of the BHRC and former Director-General of Police, told The Hindu.

Mr. Neelmani said most of the complaints were linked to investigation of cases. “When the police don’t make arrest, when people say they are falsely implicated, when there is a delay in investigation and so on. The police are registering nearly 1.60 lakh cognisable offences annually, so naturally the complaints against them are also on the rise. We receive fewer complaints of custodial torture,” he said.

In fact, Bihar now ranks 14th in the country in the number of custodial deaths reported, far below the developed States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. While Bihar had recorded 20 custodial deaths from 2005 to 2010, in 2011 and 2012, it recorded only one each.

Activists, however, rue the State’s laggard approach to human rights. In a recent letter to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) expressed concern at the BHRC going without a head. “The BHRC does not have a chairperson. A police officer has no business being its head, even if he is an acting head. You need a member from the judiciary. It shows how negligent and inadequate the State is,” PUCL president Father Philip Manthra told The Hindu.

Another concern is the compliance with the BHRC’s orders. While the BHRC does not have punitive powers, there is no telling how many of its orders are complied with.

Mr. Neelmani said 95 per cent of its orders were complied with. However, Rupesh, a food rights campaigner, said these orders were not binding on the State, so many a time no action was taken on them.

In 2009, Rupesh appealed to the BHRC in a case of starvation in the aftermath of the Kosi floods. It ordered the State to pay a compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to the family of a deceased. However, instead of giving a direct monetary compensation as per the order, the State made provisions for the family under various schemes instead, to the dissatisfaction of the family.

Questions are also raised about the growing backlog of cases. In 2008, the BHRC had a high disposal rate, resolving 93 of the 102 complaints it received. In 2013, it disposed of only 50 per cent of the complaints it received.

Moreover, “there are so many serious cases, but the Commission does not take any initiative. For instance, women’s groups had submitted a list of women who were targeted as witches, cases in which the police did not file FIRs. The BHRC did not take that application,” Mr. Rupesh said.