Activists, members of human rights organisations, academics and researchers on Wednesday condemned the Centre’s decision to appoint former Supreme Court judge Arun Mishra as the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission. Mishra assumed office on Wednesday morning.

The statement took note of the fact that the appointment was made despite the objections raised by leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge. The Congress leader, who was also part of the committee that made the appointment, had written to the prime minister, urging him to include at least one member, if not the chairperson, in the commission from the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and minority communities.

“The suggestion was ignored and no reasons for discarding the same have been placed on record by the government,” the statement, signed by 71 individuals, noted.

The statement also pointed out that the appointment “shows open contempt” for the mandate which stipulates that the first preference for the post of the NHRC chief should be a former chief justice of India.

“This decision made by the Modi-led Government smacks of brazen arrogance and indifference to public opinion and once again highlights the cynical disdain of the government for democratic norms and constitutional proprieties,” the statement noted, adding that Mishra’s tenure at the Supreme Court was “very controversial”.

The statement suggested that the appointment was not based on the track record of the person selected, but on the basis of “whether the person selected was close to the ruling dispensation”.

The signatories added that during his tenure at the Supreme Court, Mishra had “scant respect” for matters involving critical right to life and livelihood issues of people from the margins of society.

“He was much criticised for ordering the eviction of millions of poor forest dwellers in a PIL [public interest litigation] challenging the Forest Rights Act and the order was kept in abeyance only after numerous nation-wide agitations launched by affected tribal communities,” they said.

The statement added:

In short, in all politically sensitive cases, he always sided with the central government or acted in a
manner to help some of the top leaders of the central government. These include Loya Case, Sahara Birla Corruption Case, Sanjiv Bhat Case, Haren Pandya Case, the tussle within CBI case, bail for Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha.

— Joint statement issued by 71 activists

The statement added that Mishra’s appointment seemed to be a “reward” for praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a judicial conference involving judges from 24 countries in January 2020. Mishra was criticised by the Supreme Court Bar Association after he praised Modi, calling him an “internationally acclaimed visionary” and a “versatile genius, who thinks globally and acts locally”.

The statement said that the appointment was a “flagrant violation of the ‘Paris Principles’ which govern the recognition of the NHRC in international law. Mishra’s appointment violates three of the six foundational principles – independence, pluralism and accountability – laid done by ‘Paris Principles’,” the statement added.

The 71 signatories included People’s Union for Civil Liberties members Ravikiran Jain, V Suresh and Mihir Desai; academicians Nandini Sundar and Apoorvanand, human rights activists Aakaar Patel and Harsh Mander, among others.