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Rights chief takes over

New Delhi, Feb. 17: On his first day as chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice A.S. Anand indicated that he would walk a tightrope when handling controversial issues.

While standing up for human rights, he would make sure not to embarrass the government or take a confrontationist line.

Soon after assuming charge, Justice Anand spoke on the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act. “Pota (as the law is referred to) did have some provisions to safeguard against its misuse though those provisions may not be enough. Care has to be taken to see that the provisions of Pota are not abused,” the former Chief Justice of India said.

“There are apprehensions that Pota can be misused. Any law can be misused. What we have to see is whether there is an in-built mechanism to safeguard the Act from being misused.”

Justice Anand said while the law did have these in-built mechanisms, “more safeguards are required to be provided against its abuse”. The former Chief Justice of India, however, refrained from spelling out these safeguards.

Justice Anand chose the occasion to echo deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s views that “the rights of a person in uniform was as important as those who belong to the civilised society and a balanced approach to both is necessary”.

He talked about the difference between a criminal and a terrorist, saying: “While all terrorists are criminals, it does not necessarily mean that all criminals are terrorists.”

Justice Anand described the problem of illegal immigration as “very serious” and maintained that the government has to take steps to get them out of the country. But he refused to comment on the controversy over Bangladeshi migrants, saying: “The policy of the government needs to be studied before commenting and I have not done it so far.”

Justice Anand’s predecessor, Justice J.S. Verma, had embarrassed the Centre with his tough stand on the failure of the Gujarat government to protect the life and property of minorities in the riot-ravaged state.

A team of the rights body that had visited Gujarat last year came out with a scathing indictment of the state government.

Asked whether a change of regime in the NHRC would mean a softening of stand on the Gujarat riots, Justice Anand said: “I will go through the records in the case and do whatever remains to be done.”

Those who know the former Chief Justice of India said he will “uphold what is right”.

During Justice Anand’s tenure as chief justice, questions were raised about his date of birth. Former law minister Ram Jethmalani had written to the government opposing Justice Anand’s appointment to the NHRC. But the government shrugged off the allegations.

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