Migrant Crisis: Solicitor General Says A Few High Courts  Are Running Parallel Governments
Migrant workers wait in a bus on the banks of Yamuna River while being transferred to a shelter during the coronavirus lockdown in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Migrant Crisis: Solicitor General Says A Few High Courts Are Running Parallel Governments

India’s second-most senior law officer criticised Thursday some high courts and members of the civil society on the issue of migrant workers, thousands of whom have walked hundreds of kilometres to their homes after losing jobs during the lockdown.

Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, was speaking during a hearing at the Supreme Court, which took up the matter suo motu. The court had refused to intervene earlier, evoking criticism from former judges to senior lawyers even as some high courts held central and state governments accountable.

‘High Courts Must Not Play To The Gallery’

The Solicitor General said that a few high courts in the country are running parallel governments and getting applause of “armchair intellectuals”. He said in his view courts must not be playing to the gallery and should exercise their discretion with their own wisdom.

Neither did the Supreme Court ask which courts or judges he was referring and neither did Mehta specify that.

‘Court Must Not Hear Those Who Haven’t Made Contribution’

The Solicitor General said there are a handful of “prophets of doom” in the country whom he accused them of not acknowledging the efforts made by the government to address the crisis.

“The court was persuaded to take suo motu cognisance for which the central government is thankful but that, as per the reports in the media, are essentially based upon some letters, other media reports or some other handful of people writing letters and giving interviews,” Mehta said.

Without naming anyone or who he referred to “armchair intellectuals”, Mehta asked the court to ensure that whoever approaches it seeking interventions, impleadment applications or petitions must first inform how have they contributed to in the times of the crisis.

Persons who have not contributed in any manner and merely written articles, letters, interviews and never cared to come out of their air conditional drawing rooms and help, must not be heard in times of this great human crisis.
Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India

At one point in the hearing, Mehta asked Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal the same question when he got up to argue and even sought to know what contribution he had made. To which Sibal said, “Rs 4 crore.”

‘Handful Of People Want to Control Supreme Court’

Mehta said there is a group of handful of people who give certificates of neutrality only when the judiciary abuses the executive and is attempting to control the Supreme Court.

There is a trend that even if the court declines any case on merit, some make it an “’ADM Jabalpur” moment and make it a slur on the court, he said, referring to a now-overturned Supreme Court verdict that held that people couldn’t move courts to enforce right to liberty during the Emergency.

‘’Every time the judges refuse to abuse the executive or legislative action, it is not a rehash of the ADM Jabalpur era.” the Solicitor General said.

Mehta didn’t name anyone but in a recent article for the Deccan Herald newspaper, Justice Gopala Gowda, a former Supreme Court judge, called the top court’s response to the Covid-19 crisis as its darkest moment since ADM Jabaplur case.

‘Submissions Not In Good Taste’

Supreme Court Bar Association President Dushyant Dave said the Solicitor General shouldn’t have made such statements.

“These are not a submission that a law officer should make. It would be inconceivable that law officers of the past like MC Setalvad, CK Daphtary would have raised this kind of submissions. It is not in good taste,” Dave told BloombergQuint in an interview. “The administrations are failing which is why the high courts have to step in.”

Dave had earlier said that barring a few high courts, the judiciary had left citizens to fend for themselves.

Senior Advocate Siddartha Luthra, one of the signatories to the letter to the Chief Justice a day before the court announced that it will suo motu take up the issue of the migrants, declined on comment on Mehta’s arguments but explain why he signed it.

“I have believed and I believe that our courts are to provide protection to the downtrodden and the underprivileged. There was a feeling that the courts had not acted in a manner that they have in the past where they have sought to secure the rights of the citizens,” he said. “That is the constitutional duty cast on the courts and a request to the courts follow their constitutional duty appeared to have led to the institution of suo motu proceedings. This demonstrates that the system continues to function.”

The top court on Thursday has asked the Solicitor General to file a detailed reply on the steps being taken by the government to address the plight of the migrants, while directing that they should not be charged money to go home.

The Supreme Court will now hear the migrant workers case on June 5.

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