Human Rights Commission Has Jurisdiction To Award Compensation For Human Rights Violations: Kerala High Court






Case Title: Kottayam Municipality & Anr. v. The Chairperson, Kerala State Human Rights Commission & Ors.

A Division Bench Justices S Manikumar and Murali Purushothaman upheld the decision of State Human Rights Commission to pay compensation to a person for a violation of human rights.

The court was hearing the petition filed by Kottayam municipality seeking quashing and setting aside of the order passed by Kerala State Human Rights Commission directing it to pay Rs 50,000 as compensation to a street vendor for summarily evicting him and taking away the articles kept for sale.

The incident took place in 2015 when a street vendor (3rd respondent in the petition) was evicted by employees of the Kottayam municipality. According to him, a sanitation worker from the municipality asked the vendor to remove a waste kit placed near where he was stationed with his wares. The vendor refused the same stating he has not kept the waste kit there and this enraged the worker. After some time when the street vendor went for buying medicine, 15 employees of the municipality came in a garbage collection vehicle and took away all the clothes kept by him for sale because of which he sustained a loss of Rs 2,34,000 and same has to be compensated by the municipality. Considering the facts, the Commissioner directed the municipality to pay compensation

The municipality contented that the 3rd respondent (street vendor) had occupied the ¾ portion of the pavement and was littering the area causing blockage of the drain which has resulted in obstructing to vehicular and pedestrian traffic in K.K road and M.L. road and hence he was evicted pursuant to an order issued by it and in exercise of its powers under Section 367 (3) of the Kerala Municipality Act, 1994.

Thereafter,the Human Rights Commission (‘HRC’) visited the premises of the Municipality and recorded that only one box and a few items could be seen and no details of the items seized were recorded in the mahazar and further it reported that though several persons were vending at the side of the road, only the 3rd respondent was evicted. It also found that the action of the Municipality in picking and choosing the 3rd respondent for the purpose of eviction is discriminatory. The Commission also found that the eviction of the 3rd respondent without notice from the place where he is doing business for a quarter century is inhumane and is in violation of natural justice and hence directed the Municipality to pay an amount of Rs.50,000/- as compensation to 3rd respondent.

Arguments by the Municipality

  1. There is no violation of human rights.
  2. HRC lacks jurisdiction to entertain the complaint of the street vendor.
  3. Municipality can summarily evict the encroachers under Sections 367 (3) and 372 of the Kerala Municipality Act, 1994.
  4. HRC cannot order payment of compensation and can make only recommendation to the Authority under Section 18 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

Arguments by the 3rd Respondent-Street Vendor

  1. He is entitled for protection from eviction and for re-allocation under the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014.
  2. The action of the petitioners in evicting him without notice and by destroying articles amounts to great injustice and violation of human rights.
  3. HRC has jurisdiction to entertain the complaint and to order compensation.
  4. Issue as regards to the jurisdiction of the HRC and maintainability of the complaint was not raised before the HRC at the first instance, the petitioners are estopped from raising said objections in awarding compensation
  5. The municipality challenged the order at High Court and contended that there was no human rights violation.

Observations of the Court

  1. While going through the provisions of Section 367 and section 372, it ascertained that as per Section 367(3), the power vested in the Secretary to summarily evict encroachments is discretionary and shall be exercised judicially and reasonably. The power of summary eviction shall be exercised by the Secretary in cases of urgency which brooks no delay.
  2. The action of the Municipality has infringed the fundamental right to equality guaranteed to the 3rd respondent under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Municipality cannot follow pick and choose policy and there cannot be any discrimination in the matter of eviction of street vendors.
  3. Human rights of the 3rd respondent had been violated by the Municipality in this case
  4. HRC has jurisdiction to direct payment of compensation to the 3rd respondent for violation of his human rights.
  5. Further, placing reliance upon State of Kerala and another v. Human Rights Commission and others, it held that when the Human Rights Commission recommends to the concerned Government or Authority to make payment of compensation or damages, it is with the intend to make payment by the said authority.

In view of the above, the writ petition was dismissed by the court granting petitioner two months’ time to make payment of the amount awarded by HRC to the street vendor.

Story Update By: Ms. Sai Sushmitha, Correspondent at Lawgic.

Edited By: Ms. Nandini Nair, Content-Head at Lawgic.

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