Statutory Commission Reports

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In 2013, PACS commissioned a study into the functioning of the national and State-level Statutory Commissions that were established to protect and promote the socio-economic and political rights of the five socially excluded groups that PACS works with. The study highlighted critical gaps in the functioning of the Commissions and made recommendations on how to make them more vibrant and responsive.

The 5 reports on the functioning of Statutory Commissions

What are the Statutory Commissions?

Under the Constitution of India (1949), various provisions were established to safeguard the rights and ensure the development of certain historically marginalised groups.

In the early 1990s, national and state-level Statutory Commissions were created as institutional mechanisms tasked with specifically monitoring, championing and ensuring the rights and development of specific socially excluded groups.

However, in 2009, a report by the Administrative Reforms Commission observed that the Commissions for socially excluded groups had not been meaningfully fulfilling their mandates. The report concluded that the institutions needed to become more vibrant, responsive and accountable to the needs of the people they were set up to serve.

Why did PACS want to produce reports on the Statutory Commissions?

PACS aims to empower five socially excluded groups in India (women, Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Muslims and disabled people) supporting them to access their rights and entitlements more effectively.

There are national and State-level Commissions for each of these groups - Commissions for Women, Commissions for SCs, Commissions for STs, Commissions for Minorities and Commissions for Persons with Disabilities.

PACS realised the need to work with these Commissions because:

  • They represent existing, accepted constitutional spaces where rights violations and issues of discrimination should be taken up by socially excluded groups.
  • They are potential spaces where civil society can advocate for better, more inclusive legal and constitutional mandates to ensure discrimination-free access to rights.
  • They are possible actors who we can work with to initiate debates and create a more inclusive and enabling legal environment to address discrimination.

However, in order to collaborate with these Commissions, PACS first needed to find out how each Commission was functioning.

How were the reports carried out?

In February 2013 PACS commissioned Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) to research the current status of the Commissions for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Women, Minorities and People with Disabilities in the seven PACS states – 35 Commissions in total.

The research looked at both the perceived and actual functioning of these Commissions including:

  • Their legislative mandate, structure, composition, modes of functioning and delivery.
  • Awareness and access of people, especially those from socially excluded groups.
  • The linkages they have with different stakeholders.

As a result of the reports, a set of recommendations were made to make these institutions more vibrant, responsive and accountable.

The research was carried out in three phases:

  1. The first phase involved desk reviews of the mandates and remits of each of the Commissions and field visits to meet and interview the office bearers of the Commissions.
  2. The second phase involved deeper study of 14 of the 35 Commissions. Interviews and focus groups were held with people from socially excluded communities to assess awareness levels and their experience of engaging with the Commissions, especially in cases of violations.
  3. The final phase focused on scoping recommendations, solutions and early partnerships through state-level consultations with a cross-section of stakeholders, including government representatives.

What did the reports find?

Whilst it was found that the Commissions at state-level differ hugely from each other in purpose, structure and power, there are notable similarities in how the Commissions function across the states, and where there needs to be improvement.

The research found the following:

  • There is an overall lack of awareness amongst people, especially those from socially excluded communities, about the existence and functioning of the Commissions. It was recommended that there needs to be increased public awareness about the Commissions’ role and remit to ensure that demands are raised by people to create citizen pressure on the system.
  • There is huge variation in the way that the state Commissions have been constituted. As a result their purpose, structure and legal power differ from state to state. It was recommended that the existing institutional capacities of the Commissions, including human
and financial resources, infrastructure, legal power and tenure, should be strengthened and made more uniform.
  • Due to their lack of uniformity, the Commissions exist and function independently of each other and there is currently a lack of linkage between the Commissions and other government and civil society agencies (including nodal departments, the Police, the Judiciary, local government mechanisms, NGOs, media and academia). It was recommended that linkages, both between the Commissions and with other actors, should be further developed so that, in turn, their legal, social and development functions are strengthened.

If these recommendations are acted upon, a greater number of cases should be taken up by Commissions, the Commissions should be more responsive and more accountable, and discrimination and violations against socially excluded groups should be addressed and, ultimately, decrease.

The five national-level reports were launched in 2014 during a 3-day National Consultation in Delhi (13-15 February). The reports launched were:

The Consultation involved an open plenary session followed by a series of panel discussions – one per report. Panelists were drawn from a diverse cross-section of experts in development, legal rights, human rights and women’s empowerment, along with officials from various state and national Commissions.

The event provided an opportunity to share the findings of the reports and successfully initiated and stimulated debate around the effective functioning of the various Commissions. It helped to establish linkages between the Commissions, civil society and activists, paving the way for advocacy to make the statutory institutions stronger and more vibrant.

Indeed, as a result of the Consultation, some of the national-level Commissions organised meetings with respective State-level Commissions to further discuss better ways of working.

PACS partners who attended the Consultation have since been working to increase public awareness about the Commissions and, in some cases, worked with their local Commissions to organise public hearings and seminars with communities on discrimination and rights-based issues.

However, the recommendations regarding changing and unifying the structural and legal mechanisms of the Commissions would require changes at the policy level and these have, so far, not been carried out.

About PRIA

PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia) is a transnational alternative policy group and learning centre that produces and disseminates analyses, proposals and information tools oriented towards the promotion of participatory democratic governance and the enhancement of social justice and ecological sustainability.

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