"NHRC is a recommendatory body. The parliament has enacted it that way. But at the same time it has the power of the civil court. We can summon any person connected with the violation of human rights, we can summon records, we can hold court proceedings," Sharma told IANS in an interview ahead of the International Human Rights Day Dec 10.
The Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
"The NHRC is not a toothless body because 99 percent of our recommendations are accepted," said Sharma, former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
One issue the Commission is looking at is the juvenile justice system.
"The juvenile justice system in our country is in a very bad shape. We have had a national conference on this. We have tried to sensitise people, the authorities involved in it. But sadly it's not being handled as per the spirit of the law," he said.
On the priorities of the Commission, he said: "Mental healthcare, child labour and bonded labour, health, education, condition of jails and hospitals are some of our priority areas. In healthcare, we are now focussing on a disease called Silicosis."
Sharma said the Commission has recently written to the Medical Council of India (MCI) to have a compulsory paper on mental healthcare for medical students.
This, he said, was aimed at overcoming the problem of lack of experts in the field of mental health.
"We have been reviewing mental healthcare in the country and realised there is a dearth of experts to deal with patients suffering from mental problems," Sharma said.
"What I suggested therefore was there should be a compulsory paper for medical students on mental healthcare so that they are more in sync with the issue and how to deal with such patients," he added.
Elaborating further, Sharma said: "So in a particular college, if 100 doctors are doing MBBS and if you make mental healthcare as part of their curriculum and make it compulsory for them to pass that, it means those 100 doctors will be able to deal with mental cases along with with the experts. Otherwise deficiency of manpower will always remain."
The MCI is "thinking about the recommendation", he added.
NHRC was established in October 1993 and it recently celebrated its 16th foundation day. When the Commission started, it used to get around 4,000-5,000 complaints every year. The number has now gone up to nearly 100,000.
Talking about the inadequacy of hands to handle the deluge of cases, Sharma said: "Our staff has certainly increased from what it was in 1993, but to cope with the complaints that are now pouring in, the staff is certainly inadequate.
"We do ask the government (for more staff) from time to time. But I think there is a general policy now not to recruit more people," he added.
New Delhi: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is "not a toothless body" as is often alleged and 99 percent of its recommendations on key issues are accepted, says its member PC Sharma.
First Published: Tuesday, December 08, 2009, 16:37