Bombay HC seeks Maharashtra govt’s reply over human rights panel’s request for office premises

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has sought a reply from the Maharashtra government after the state human rights commission approached the court with a rather odd request.

The commission, which has been urging the state government for years now to allocate an adequate office space for its day-to-day work, requested the HC that it be permitted to continue operating from its current office space.

The commission’s counsel told HC that while the government, in compliance with a 2016 order of the court, has finally allotted a 6,000 sqft office space in the Cuffe Parade area for its operations, it would like to continue working from its current, small office space near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus.

The reason being that though the state finally allotted the office space, it remained silent on who will pay the whopping monthly rent of Rs 17.4 lakh for the said office premises. The commission claimed that it could hardly make ends meet from the budget allocation and funds it received from the state.

Therefore, paying such high rentals for the new office space from its own pockets was implausible, it told the court. The commission also said while it had already written to the government on the issue, it was yet to receive a response. In a hearing conducted on March 15, a bench of Justices Shantanu Kemkar and M S Karnik took a serious note of the submissions made by the commission.

It directed the Maharashtra government to file a detailed affidavit responding to the submissions and also, to provide details of the total funds allocated to the commission. The bench also directed the government to inform the court of the steps taken to appoint adequate staff members and to regularise the appointments of the existing staff members of the commission.

The state, meanwhile, submitted that of the existing 14 employees, five had been regularised by the law department and the remaining applications were under consideration. The state also assured the court that it will soon fill up the 39 vacant positions in the commission. It said that the appointments for 15 of the 39 vacancies had already been sanctioned.

“Let all these aspects be made clear on affidavit by the Maharashtra government within four weeks,” the bench said. “A detailed affidavit must be filed by the state in regard to compliance of all earlier directions of the court, including release of requisite funds,” it said.

Various benches of the high court have been hearing a bunch of petitions filed in 2013, drawing the court’s attention to the inadequate funds and infrastructure provided by the government for the State Human Rights Commission. On a previous hearing, the court had observed that “despite recording increasing instances of human rights violations, and unsolved custodial deaths in the state, the Maharashtra government probably didn’t care about the human rights commission,” for it did not show any will to extend even basic facilities to the latter.

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