Judiciary failed to hold govt liable: SCBA presidentUpdated: May 23, 2020 23:41 IST
New Delhi: Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave on Saturday said the judiciary has squandered a chance of winning back the public respect by failing to hold the government accountable for its “failures” in tackling the difficulties citizens have faced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“[The] pandemic really gave judiciary a chance to win over the hearts of the people by taking proactive steps in the time of crisis, and earn back the respect it once commanded… The judiciary intervenes through public interest litigation in all kinds of matters but when it came to the crunch, it failed,” Dave said in his speech titled ‘Role of Judiciary in Pandemic’ at a webinar organsied by the All India Lawyers Union.
Dave was referring to the Supreme Court’s handling of petitions relating to difficulties migrant workers and other citizens have faced during the lockdown imposed in late March to check the pandemic’s spread.
He said the courts “failed to protect the rights of citizens during the crisis and remained silent as citizens suffered”.
The Supreme Court has declined to entertain pleas concerning migrant labourers left jobless because of the lockdown , nor intervene to mitigate their pain during their long walk back home.
In response to a plea seeking free transportation for the workers, the court left it to the concerned states to deal with the situation. The court maintained it cannot pass orders based on media reports. “How can we stop people from walking? It is impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking,” the court remarked on May 15.
“If they are being provided meals why do they need money for meals,” chief justice of India S A Bobde said while hearing another plea for payment of minimum wages to the workers.
Dave said the lockdown was announced with a four-hour notice and caused untold misery but the judiciary chose to look the other way. “Judges cannot sit in the ivory tower and be blind to the miseries of the citizens... The Constitution’s framers wanted the judiciary to supervise the executive’s actions and inactions.”
He lamented some of the judges chose to remain silent when they could have taken up cases suo motu based on news reports. “What is stopping outstanding judges from taking up matters [related to Covid-19] suo motu? They should confront the chief justice’s powers as the master of roster. But they are remaining silent.”
Dave said various high courts also do not pass orders because they know they will be overturned by the Supreme Court the next day at the government’s request. “We lawyers should galvanise judiciary into action. We have to stir their conscience. Criticism of the judiciary is not contempt,” Dave said, urging lawyers to speak up and remind judges of their constitutional duty.