Mumbai: The 24-year-old law intern seeking justice for all
Meet Bhavika Phore, whose PIL in the SC, has brought to focus the absence of human rights courts in the country
It's been 26 years since The Protection of Human Rights Act (1993) was enacted, yet not a single court has been dedicated to handle human right violation cases across India. This compelled Bhavika Phore, 24, a law graduate from Delhi to file a PIL before the apex court on June 11, 2019. The impact of the PIL was that on July 8, when the matter was heard by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, the bench issued notices to the Central government, state governments and Union Territories on the delay in setting up special human rights courts in each districts and appointment of special public prosecutors.
On April 22, 2018, this news paper had highlighted this issue in a story titled "25 years after human rights act was formed, state has no courts to hear cases" on the basis of an RTI filed by city lawyer Rajeshwar Panchal. In its response, the state claimed that all session courts in the state are also human right courts. Phore, who studied law from Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida, is interning with M/s Law Office of the Georges & Associates in Delhi. In the last few days, she says, her inbox is flooded with congratulatory messages, but she is awaiting August 8, when the court will take the matter forward.
A first generation lawyer, Phore spent 18 months collecting information on the subject, meticulously drafted the petition and her senior counsel Manoj V George, argued her PIL before the three-bench court on a pro-bono basis. "While collecting data for the PIL, I have come across only disturbing facts about custodial deaths and torture in the prison," said Phore, adding that she was shocked by the RTI response from National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
"In order to find out more about Human Rights Courts in India since 1993, we sent an RTI application to the NHRC. Surprisingly, Public Information Officer and First Appellate Authority of NHRC replied stating there is no information on human rights courts available to them and that only respective states can answer such questions." Phore recalled a recent case that she had read about custodial torture—on June 12 it was reported that two cops in Kerala had been arrested for the alleged torture of Rajkumar, 49, an accused in a financial fraud case. Rajkumar died at Peermade Sub Jail.
"Deaths in police custody are often passed off as suicides, sudden medical complications, self-inflicted injuries and natural deaths. For instance, out of the total 84 cases of death in police custody recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the Ministry of Home Affairs during 2009, deaths in 80 cases were attributed to hospitalisation/treatment (9 cases); accidents (4 cases); by mob attack/riot (2 cases); by other criminals (3 cases); by suicide (21 cases); while escaping from custody (8 cases); and illness/natural death (33 cases)."
"The NHRC does not have jurisdiction over the Armed Forces under Section 19 of the Human Rights Protection Act. Further, the NHRC does not record statistics of torture not resulting in death. Torture remains endemic, institutionalised and central to the administration of justice and India has demonstrated no political will to end torture, as it remains widespread and integral to law enforcement," she added.
"The RTI application demonstrated the poor functioning of National Agencies in the country, which clearly implies that the sole custodians who should be responsible to look into it, never deemed it necessary to analyse the matter of establishing a Human Rights court in India" She added, "There is a need for designated courts to be set up on Human Rights issues and in order to do the same there should be a major change in approach. An action where an existing Sessions Court is given the designation to prosecute Human Rights matters as it further complicates and delays justice being served to the common man."
"Rights of being human is sacred and the state is constitutionally and statutorily obligated to protect and preserve the same. Even interns have a role in administration of rule of law. This PIL is about that," said Senior Counsel Manoj V George.
No. of deaths recorded by NHRC in police and judicial custody from 2001 to 2010
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