Judiciary failed to protect citizens’ rights amid Covid-19 pandemic: Dushyant Dave
The difficulties faced by citizens due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the failure of the government to tackle the same presented the judiciary with an opportunity to hold the government accountable and win back the respect of the public but it was squandered, senior advocate Dushyant Dave said on Saturday.
The courts failed to protect the rights of citizens during the crisis and remained silent as citizens suffered, Dave who is also the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association said in his speech on the topic ‘Role of Judiciary in Pandemic’ organized by the All India Lawyers Union.
“(Covid-19) pandemic really gave the 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 with specific reference to the Supreme Court’s handling of petitions relating to difficulties faced by migrant workers and other citizens due to the lockdown announced by central government on March 24.
The Supreme Court has consistently declined to entertain cases concerning migrant labourers since March when various petitions were first filed highlighting the plight of labourers.
In a plea seeking free transportation for migrant workers to their native states, the top court left it to the concerned states to take action to deal with the problem maintaining that 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 had remarked.
Another plea for payment of minimum wages to migrant workers during the lockdown was also disposed of by the apex court on April 21, without any concrete directions.
“If they are being provided meals, why do they need money for meals,” Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, who was hearing that case, asked.
Dave said that the lockdown, which was announced with a 4-hour notice, caused untold misery to people but the judiciary chose to look the other way.
“Judges cannot sit in an ivory tower and be blindfolded to the miseries of the citizens of India. The Constitution framers wanted the Judiciary to supervise the executive’s actions and inactions,” Dave said.
He also lamented that some of the outstanding judges chose to remain silent when they could have taken up cases suo motu (on its own) based on news reports instead of waiting for petitions to be listed before them by the Chief Justice of India.
“What is stopping outstanding judges from taking up matters (relating to Covid-19 issues) suo motu? They should confront the chief justice’s powers of master of roster. But they are remaining silent,” he said.
Various high courts also do not pass orders because they know that their orders will be overturned by the Supreme Court the very next day at the request of the government, he added.
“We lawyers should galvanise the judiciary into action. We have to stir up their conscience. Criticism of the judiciary is not contempt,” Dave said urging lawyers to speak up and remind judges of their constitutional duty.