In the current times and situations, we see the country grappling in many aspects, but the most horrifying aspect is that of the migrant workers. India, unfortunately, is going through a humanitarian crisis and sadly, the courts, which are supposed to be the protector of the rights, have failed to rise up to the occasion. The Apex Court has delivered some of the most phenomenal judgements which has restored the faith of the people after the infamous ADM Jabalpur judgement.
This article points out the laxities on part of the SC in handling the present crisis of COVID-19 and how historically, there has been a pattern of the Apex Court turning their backs on crisis.
The Supreme Court of India has been regarded as the most progressive judicial body across the globe. In fact, the Apex court of our country heard somewhere around 593 matters and delivered around 215 verdicts, since the lockdown ensued. Everyone across the nation has applauded the judicial bodies of our country for quickly adopting to the new virtual system, which has replaced the archaic court system. Supreme Court of India in recent times has been wearing the proud batch of being “open minded”, “liberal” and “forward looking”. With judgements such as Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India which decriminalized homosexuality, Puttaswamy judgement which made privacy a fundamental right and Sabarimala judgement which allowed the entry of women in the famous temple of Sabarimala, the court has stood up to its name and has become the supreme leader of the rights of the country’s citizens. But this liberal approach of the Supreme Court did not develop over night. After a series of trial and error, several over rulings by larger benches and a lot of criticisms, the Court stands where it is today. SC is the champion of rights of the masses, sometimes also referred to as the last hope. But recently, there have been certain instances where we have seen a shift in the way the Apex court is dealing with the ongoing pandemic.
The High Courts of our country have been more actively taking cognizance of the migrant crisis which has engulfed the nation. We wake up every day to several disheartening pictures and news pieces relating to migrants who are stranded on roads, all across the nation. The Delhi High Court gave an order to the Delhi government to make sure that the hotline set up to help migrant workers is constantly working. Karnataka High Court has asked the state and central government to take immediate decision relating to the issue of migrant workers who don’t have the money to travel back to their hometowns in trains. Gujarat High Court has taken suo moto cognizance after the court realized that several people are dying of hunger. Andhra Pradesh High Court while hearing a PIL said that ignoring the plight of migrantworkers who are walking back home will amount to dereliction of duty of the courtas a protector of the poor. These are some of the stances taken by the High Courts of our country in order to help and lessen the plight and pain of migrant workers.
Recently, before the government had started trains and thousands of workers were walking bare foot, a PIL was disposed off by the Supreme Court which sought directions to permit migrant workers to return to their native places by trains without conditions and charges. SC stated that “As all necessary steps are being taken by the center and the states, we do not see any purpose in keeping this writ petition pending”. This is the first in the series of what can be termed as “unbelievable reasoning” that the Supreme Court has been giving in relation to the pandemic. The lockdown has proven to be extremely difficult and life threatening for the migrant workers. India is experiencing a humanitarian crisis which calls for a prompt and active participation of the highest court of the country. In an order dated 31st March, the court has also stated that “The migration of large number of labourers working in the cities was triggered by panic created by fake news that the lock down would continue for more than three months.”The petition was thus disposed off. The sheer insensitivity of the court was again on display when the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India S A Bobde while hearing a PIL seeking direction to the center to transfer wages to the accounts of migrants in shelter homes, asked, “if they are being provided meals, then why do they need money for meals?” Although, the answer to this question was given days later when stranded migrants could not go back to their home towns even after the trains started, just because they had no money as they had been out of jobs for weeks and weren’t paid any salary.
HISTORY OF SILENCE:
Whenever we talk about crisis and supreme court, the judgement which immediately springs to everyone’s mind is ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant. This judgement has been referred to as the darkest time in the history of the judiciary where the Apex Court decided to curtail the fundamental rights of the citizens. But thanks to the liberal approach of SC in recent times, ADM Jabalpur was overruled by a larger bench in the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India. ADM Jabalpur always reminds the legal fraternity of the dark times that the country went through and when they turned their hopes towards the Supreme Court, they were badly let down. The country was going through a crisis; people who voiced their opinions against the Indira Gandhi regime were put in jails, and there was nothing they could do as their fundamental rights had been suspended.
The crisis brought in by the Covid-19 infection has borne the soft underbelly of an otherwise very strong Supreme Court. We need to understand that this is the same court which struck down a Constitutional amendment regarding the procedure for appointment of Judges to the higher judiciary, set up Special Investigation Teams to investigate into financial irregularities and stashing of funds outside India and to investigate into atrocities and riots in various parts of the country. This is the same court where the senior most judges gave a press conference to address the internal politics which the ex-CJI was allegedly involved in, and yet we hear nothing but radio silence from the court regarding the current humanitarian crisis.
The Supreme Court kick started this year by making a very significant observation that access to internet is a fundamental right. Still, even during the time of crisis, the SC has decided to reserve its judgment on the need of internet in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir. The government has decided to make Aarogya Setu application mandatory, but the speed of internet connection remains so low that the residents are not even being able to download the app. While the government has given its reasoning that they have blocked internet access due to terrorist activities in the region, which seems fair and justified but several innocent citizens of J&K remain internet-less, while the whole world is dependent on the same in this pandemic. The SC has straight up refused to render a judgement yet and had given directions for setting up of panels to investigate the same.
Supreme Court in recent times had been criticized of giving judicial legislations because of the efficiency with which our courts have been working. But lately,the work which should have been done by our courts is being done by advocates and organizations such as NHRC through PILs, which in turn is being disposed off by the Apex Court. The country is seeing the worst large-scale displacement triggered by the lockdown, which was the reason of pandemic. Some have even compared the current migration crisis to that of 1947 partition. Now, lockdown was necessary and no one can be blamed for the same, but as a part of the democracy we need to voice our opinion against the radio silence that the top authorities of our country have resorted to when talking about the on going crisis. The Supreme Court has worked for centuries to develop its trust and loyalty towards the people of India, as a protector of their rights after judgements such as ADM Jabalpur shattered all hopes, and hence while keeping the same in mind, the court shall take steps to help the society in this crisis.