The Supreme court is being targeted for failing to perform as a constitutional court during the migrant crisis. Do you agree? Discuss.
As India, along with the rest of the world, grapples with the public health crisis caused by COVID-19, it faces many unique challenges.
The most acute problem is faced by migrant labourers: they have no work, no source of income, no access to basic necessities, no quality testing facilities, no protective gear, and no means to reach home.
Every day, we hear of migrant labourers walking hundreds of miles, many dying in the process. The saddest is the apathy shown by the institutions meant to look out for their interests.
The Supreme Court, which has failed to satisfactorily acknowledge that the fundamental rights of migrant labourers have been violated, and ignored these workers when they most needed protection.
Undeniably, the state must ensure that adverse consequences of this pandemic are minimised. But any duty performed by the arms of the state, even during emergency, must always be bounded by constitutional propriety, and respect fundamental rights. The judiciary becomes the all-important watchdog in this situation.
In this lockdown, enough and more evidence points to fundamental rights of citizens having been grossly violated, and especially those of vulnerable populations like migrant labourers.
But instead of taking on petitions questioning the situation, the Supreme Court has remained ensconced in its ivory tower, refusing to admit these petitions or adjourning them.
By effectively not granting any relief, the Court is denying citizens of the most fundamental right of access to justice, ensured under the Constitution.
In doing so, it has let down millions of migrant workers, and failed to adequately perform as a constitutional court.
In one of the strictest lockdowns in modern India, the Centre issued many directives, but designated the States as the implementing authorities.
But the issue of migrant labourers is inherently an inter-State issue, and States have had to tackle it both internally as well as inter-se.
Who will guarantee safe transport for the return of migrant workers? When in quarantine, who will grant them a sustenance allowance, or look after their health issues, or look after needs besides food? Who will ensure job loss compensation? Who will conduct regular and frequent testing?
In rejecting or adjourning these petitions, the Court has made several questionable remarks: the condition of migrant labourers is a matter of policy and thus, does not behove judicial interference;
There are numerous judgments where it has laid out matters of policy: for instance, the Vishaka guidelines on sexual harassment in the workplace; the right to food; and various environmental protection policies. In these cases, the Court formulated policies and asked the States to implement them.
One is struck immediately by the lack of compassion or judicial sensitivity in handling this situation, and it prompts two observations.
First, the Court is not merely rejecting or adjourning these petitions; it is actively dissuading petitioners from approaching the courts for redress because the Court determines that it is the executive’s responsibility.
Today, it is found that the Supreme Court that has time for a billion-dollar cricket administration, or the grievances of a high-profile journalist, while studiously ignoring the real plight of millions of migrants, who do not have either the money or the profile to compete for precious judicial time with other litigants.