NEW DELHI: While freedom of speech is a fundamental right that has to be protected, it cannot be an ‘unruly horse’ that violates sovereignty and integrity of the country, public order, decency or morality, said Justice (retd) Arun Mishra, chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
He was speaking on the occasion of Human Rights Day.
The former Supreme Court judge said one is obligated to be faithful to the values in Article 19 of the Constitution and related laws, and that honesty in the freedom of speech is feared the most.
President Ram Nath Kovind said the world should also debate and discuss the ‘right to a healthy environment and climate justice”.
Kovind also said India has been able to save millions of lives by adopting a policy of free and universal availability of COVID-19 vaccine.
"While the pandemic is not yet over, and the virus seems to be one step ahead of humankind, the world has so far responded to it by placing our trust in science and in global partnership," he said.
He said that though the pandemic affects the humanity universally, it is also seen that it has disproportionately devastating impact on the vulnerable sections of society.
"In this context, India, despite the obvious challenges, has been able to save millions of lives by adopting a policy of free and universal availability of vaccine.
With the biggest vaccination exercise in history, the government has also been able to provide protection against the virus to nearly a billion people," he added.
He praised doctors, scientists and all other "corona warriors" for their heroic efforts to uphold people's right to life and right to health.
The president said that in this battle with this invisible enemy, there have been multiple setbacks.
"During some of the more difficult times, institutions of the government tried their best to respond to a situation for which no amount of preparation could have been sufficient," he said.
He noted that the National Human Rights Commission, "with its deep concern for the rights of the vulnerable and marginalised sections of society affected by the pandemic", issued several advisories, which helped in improving the response.
"The NHRC has worked with other stakeholders, including civil society, media and individual activists, to strengthen human rights," he said.
The president said the theme of this year's Human Rights Day is "equality".
He stated that equality is the very soul of human rights.
"While non-discrimination is the first condition for absolute respect for human dignity, the world is beset with countless prejudices. They, unfortunately, hinder the full realisation of individuals' potential, and thus are not in the interest of society as a whole. Human Rights Day is the ideal occasion for us to ponder collectively and find ways to overcome such prejudices that only hinder the progress of humanity," he said.
Kovind said that on this day, the world should also debate and discuss the "Right to a Healthy Environment and Climate Justice".
Expressing concern over the degradation of nature which is leading to irreversible changes in climate, he said, "We are already witnessing its harmful impact."
"The world is waking up to the harsh reality, but it is yet to build the resolve to make decisive change. We owe it to our children that we save Mother Nature from the worst effects of industrialisation. The time is running out," he said.
He stressed that India has taken initiatives at home as well as at the recently held global climate conference, which would go a long way in restoring the health of the planet.
"Especially commendable is India's leadership in the International Solar Alliance and a series of measures to promote green energy," he said.
NHRC chairperson Justice Arun Mishra also acknowledged the contribution of India to the humanity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He opined that health coverage to all at affordable cost is a facet of the right to life.
"The world community needs to take a prompt collective action to ensure that the right of patent holders must succumb to the right to life," he said.
Justice Mishra said that the recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to ensure more inclusive society, wherein even small vendors do not starve and the digital divide is overcome.
He stressed that the State is bound to provide facility to reach the minimum standards of health, education and economic opportunities.
"Each individual must share power, material, resources and opportunities without discrimination to achieve harmonious society. Tolerance and inclusion are non-negotiable human rights," he added.
He said that it is necessary to provide remedy to the victims of unfair economic structure and business-related human rights violations.
"Besides, all individuals have the bare minimum right to a safe, clean healthy environment," he said.
The NHRC chief said that people's fundamental duty is to proactively save the environment, forest, flora and fauna to strengthen the National Climatic Policy.
He said that the freedom of speech is the most cherished value and fundamental right to be protected.
"However, the extent of freedom of cyber space both online and offline is a matter of debate, as it has fuelled grave apprehension of its misuse, violating the sovereignty, integrity of the country, public order, decency and morality," he said.
While noting that the rule of law requires the delivery of speedy justice, he said it is necessary to avoid imprisonment of a suspect without trial.
"There is no room for fake encounters. The government is accountable to its people. The functioning of the Commission is of bridging gaps, ironing out the creases and helping in good governance by providing motions," he added.
Shombi Sharp, UN Resident Coordinator in India, said that India is a strong champion of human rights, which has reflected in many ways including in the strong democratic institutions it has set up.
He also read out the message of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Human Rights Day.
The UN Secretary General in his message said that the United Nations "will continue to work for justice, equality, dignity and human rights for all."
(With PTI Inputs)