Migrants Issue: Senior Advocates Said Supreme Court Can’t Retreat Into A Self-Effacing Deference
Migrant workers and their families carry their luggage while walking in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

Migrants Issue: Senior Advocates Said Supreme Court Can’t Retreat Into A Self-Effacing Deference

Twenty senior advocates from Delhi and Mumbai wrote to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, a day before the top court took suo motu cognizance of the plight of migrant workers stuck in different parts of the country.

In the letter, the advocates said the top court’s unwillingness to hold the government to account will severely erode its constitutional role and status as the guardian of the fundamental rights of the people.

The letter was signed by senior lawyers from Delhi and Mumbai. The Delhi-based lawyers who are signatories to the letter include P Chidambaram, Anand Grover, Indira Jaising, Mohan Katarki, Siddarth Luthra, Santosh Paul, Mahalaxmi Pavani, Kapil Sibal, Chander Uday Singh, Vikas Singh and Prashant Bhushan.

From Mumbai, senior advocates Iqbal Chagla, Aspi Chinoy, Mihir Desai, Janak Dwarkadas, Rajani Iyer, Yusuf Muchhala, Rajiv Patil, Navroz Seervai, Gayatri Singh and Sanjay Singhvi are signatories to the letter.

In the letter, mailed to the Chief Justice around 10:34 p.m. on Monday, the senior lawyers point out the May 15 order in a public interest litigation seeking to ensure transport, food and shelter arrangements for the migrant workers. The apex court had declined to intervene on the issue and left it to the government to address the crisis.

We respectfully submit that this institutional deference to statements made on behalf of the government and the court’s apparent indifference to this enormous humanitarian crisis would, if not rectified immediately, amount to the court having abdicated its constitutional role and duty to these teeming millions of poor, hungry migrants.
Letter By Senior Advocates To Chief Justice Of India

The top court over the last one week has seen strong criticism of its response to the migrant workers issue. Last Saturday, the Supreme Court Bar Association President Dushyant Dave said that barring a few high courts, the judiciary had left the citizens to fend for themselves. On Monday, Justice V Gopala Gowda, a former Supreme Court judge, in an op-ed article for the Deccan Herald newspaper, called its response to the pandemic as the darkest moment of the top court.

ADM Jabalpur will no longer be remembered as the darkest moment of the Supreme Court. That infamy now belongs to the Court’s response to the preventable migrant crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justice Gopala Gowda (Deccan Herald op-ed)

The letter says the top court also failed to intervene and subject the government’s actions to careful scrutiny during the period of the lockdown.

In the midst of the executive imposed Covid-19 lockdowns, the Hon’ble Supreme Court cannot retreat into a self-effacing deference, leaving millions of Indian citizens, especially those who are poor, vulnerable and impoverished, to the mercy of the executive, reminding us of ADM Jabalpur when detenues were left to the tender mercy of the executive with “Diamond bright Diamond hard” hope that something would be done.
Letter By Senior Advocates To Chief Justice Of India

The advocates urged the top court to intervene and ensure arrangements for transport, food and shelter for the migrant workers.

Soon after, the Supreme Court last night announced in an order that it will be taking suo-motu cognizance of the plight of the migrant workers. The court in its order observed that while governments have taken steps to address the crisis, yet there have been inadequacies and certain lapses.

‘’We are of the view that effective concentrated efforts are required to redeem the situation.’’ the top court said in its order on Tuesday directing that immediate arrangements for shelter, transport and food must be made for the migrant workers..

The Supreme Court has issued notice to the central and the all the state governments asking them to file their response on the steps taken to address the plight of the migrant workers. The case will be heard on Thursday.

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