A recent interview by Dhir Jhingran (former national coordinator of the RTE Division, NCPCR) in Governance Now reveals that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) set up under the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 (CPCR Act) and the monitoring authority under the RTE Act, 2009 is a rather toothless establishment. This independent authority was established under a separate statute to monitor the implementation of child rights in India. He criticized the stronghold that the Ministry of Women and Child Development has over the NCPCR. The fact that this statutory authority was established to perform a particular role, but is treated like a subordinate office of a ministry makes one wonder about the necessity of such an authority. However, the fact that the HRD ministry funds and supervises RTE work in the NCPCR does not seem to be of much help to those working in the RTE Division. Dhir Jhingran expresses his frustration over internal politics and plans to sabotage work taken up by some; he calls to question the commitment of the organisation to work towards achieving the targets set forth under the RTE Act.
The trend of spending less on children and programmes related to children is not new to India (read more). Much like the Indian judiciary, the funds to the NCPCR is controlled by our ruling elite. Financially speaking, neither of these institutions are free from political control. Further, the funding, expenditure and recruitment patterns of the NCPCR are subject to political will. An example of such pervasive state control may be found in the Comptroller and Auditor General Reports on the NCPCR. From 2006 to 2008 the NCPCR was barely allowed to spend up to Rs 5.4 Crores on its activities (read more). In 2008-2009 the NCPCR was granted a sum of Rs 5.4 Crores. The recruitment pattern also seems strange. The fact that many members of the commission are recruited as consultants and not permanent staff makes one wonder if this a system that is bound to fail even on the human resource front.
A close examination of the powers and functions of the NCPCR reveals that the establishment has insufficient powers to influence any change in the way the issue of child rights is dealt with in India. The CPCR Act vests in the NCPCR the powers of making recommendation on implementation of child rights, making recommendation of compensation to victims, conducting inquiry into violations of child rights and approaching the courts for justice. The RTE Act states that the NCPCR at the national level and the SCPCRs at the state level shall be the monitoring and grievance redressal bodies. It is important to note that the functions of the NCPCR under the RTE Act and the CPCR Act are not very different. If any complaints are taken up by the child rights commissions, they may merely make recommendations (which may or may not be considered by the ruling elite) or approach courts (which people are apprehensive about) on how to resolve the grievance. Clearly, they do not have the power to act upon such complaints.
Another example of the toothless nature of its establishment is the NCPCR’s guidelines on elimination of corporal punishment. Although the RTE Act prohibits the use of corporal punishment, mental harassment or discrimination in schools, the fact that the child rights commissions cannot do much about violation of these guidelines describes the limitations placed upon these institutions. The guidelines are not binding on states, provided states specifically adopt them. There are only about 16 states which have adopted the guidelines, therefore the guidelines are binding only on these 16 states (read more). This is despite the fact the guidelines provide for a comprehensive grievance redressal mechanism for children and parents on the issue of corporal punishment and mental harassment. If implemented properly, they would call to question every authority including the magistrates and the police officers who will need to be involved if corporal punishment and mental harassment are recognized as child abuse.
There have been instances to show that state or private person accountability is not brought to question when they ignore the Commission’s interventions (read more). A close examination of the workings of the child rights commissions would make one wonder if Dhir Jhingran is right when he says “we create institutions and do not invest in them and weaken them on purpose.” Where is the independence of this independent child rights protection authority? More importantly, what do we mean by an independent monitoring authority?