NEW DELHI: India’s top lawyer Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi rose up on Wednesday to defend India’s human rights record at the third periodic review by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC) armed with flagship socio-economic schemes of the Narendra Modi government and the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Making an opening statement, Rohatgi not only invoked the Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam but also the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 2014 poll slogan “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas” (All together, Development for All). The Attorney General underscored the strength of judiciary in India while speaking about the incident where the Supreme Court was convened well past the midnight to hear the mercy petition of Yakub Menon, the convict in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts.
“I have also come across concerns raised regarding Indian judiciary’s ability for redressal of rights violations due to barriers to access to justice. The Right to fair trial and free legal aid up to the highest court are enshrined as Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of India and thus guaranteed to all individuals. So much so that as the Attorney General of India, I was summoned by the Supreme Court at 2 in the morning to hear a last-ditch petition, after several rounds of litigation, by a convict who was guilty of terrorism to escape punishment,” Rohatgi said in his statement at the third periodic review of India by the UNHRC in Geneva. Menon’s hanging in 2015 had kicked up a storm with a section of civil society terming it travesty of justice.
India will have to do some answering on the treatment of religious minorities, Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and the boiling situation in the Kashmir valley. Touching upon the issue of AFSPA, Rohatgi said: “Concerns have been raised with regard to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. However, this Act is applied only to disturbed areas where the law and order machinery is dealing with exigent circumstances like terrorism. These areas are very few and in proximity to some international borders. Whether this Act should be repealed or not is a matter of on-going vibrant political debate in my country. The Supreme Court of India has upheld the constitutionality of the Act and laid down strict guidelines.”
Rohatgi began with enlisting the major initiatives undertaken by the Modi government like Smart Cities, Make in India, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao--Celebrate the Girl Child and Enable her Education, Swachh Bharat--Clean India, Jan Dhan Yojana--Bank Accounts for All, Digital India, Skill India, Startup India etc. that he contended “mirror the targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals” for achieving the 2030 Agenda.
Prime Minister Modi might have mocked the Congress for bringing the white elephant bills seeking to provide food for all and jobs for all, but at the world forum, the schemes did find a mention. The ambitious socio-economic schemes like National Food Security Act, 2013 providing food and nutritional security to 75 percent of rural population and 50 percent of the urban population; and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme securing the right to work and the right to livelihood, was highlighted prominently by Rohatgi.
Rohatgi also highlighted the recognising of transgender as a ‘third gender’ also one of the key highlights of India’s strong case towards Human Rights.