The Supreme Court has directed the Madhya Pradesh government and High Court to set up special Grievance Redressal Authorities (GRAs) to provide relief to aggrieved citizens against harassment and abuse of power by government officials.The order, given on August 13, by a SC bench comprising Justice D.K. Jain and Justice Madan B. Lokur, came on a Special Leave Petition filed by tribal rights organization Shramik Adivasi Sangathan (SAS). The GRAs, which the State government has to notify by August 31, 2012, will be set up in three districts of Madhya Pradesh-Harda, Betul and Khandwa.
Aggrieved citizens would be able to approach the GRAs in cases of harassment by government officials, including registration of false complaints or police cases and abuse of power by a government official. On receiving such information, the GRA would examine it and if found substantiated, “the authority will submit a recommendatory report to the District Judge, the State Legal Services Authority and the Chief Secretary for appropriate action, including disciplinary action”. Significantly, the SC has provided that if any member of a Scheduled Tribe belonging to any of the three districts (Betul, Khandwa, Harda) is arrested, the arresting officer would be required to intimate it to the Chairperson of the Authority and the Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority within 24 hours of the arrest.
The Chief Justice of the M.P. High Court would nominate a retired District Judge to head the authority as its chairperson within fifteen days of the notification establishing the authority. Besides the chairperson, each authority would have four members, to be recommended by the Chief Justice in consultation with the Chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission, the Lokayukta and the Chairperson of the State Public Service Commission. The SC has requested the Chief Justice of the M.P. HC to make the recommendations to this end by September 30, 2012. The Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority “appointed under Section 9 of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 will be the ex-officio Secretary to the Authority and will assist the Authority in its functioning”.
Further, every member of a Scheduled Tribe would be entitled to legal services free of any charge, the SC has directed. The SC will be reviewing the compliance of the order (establishing the GRAs) in November this year. The Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, an organization working with Adivasis in Betul, Harda and Khandwa districts, had filed a Public Interest Litigation before the M.P. High Court alleging that the police, forest and other district authorities had been harassing activists and other tribal members of their organization by way of false cases. The PIL also alleged that the Police either did not lodge their complaints or in case it did, it did not investigate the said cases.
The M.P. high court had disposed off the PIL on the ground of res judicata. Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared on behalf of the petitioner (SAS) in the Supreme Court. “The cases mentioned in our PIL are only the tip of the iceberg but we welcome the SC order. For the first time in the country the apex court has examined the scope of GRAs to address the issue of abuse of power by the police and other authorities,” said Shamim Modi, SAS member and assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.