A day before the Supreme Court took cognisance on its own the “unfortunate and miserable” plight of migrant labourers, twenty prominent lawyers from Delhi and Mumbai wrote a critical letter to Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde and other judges saying the top court’s apparent indifference to the humanitarian crisis and its institutional deference to statements of executive would amount to abdication of constitutional role if not rectified immediately.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, on Tuesday, took suo-motu (on its own) cognizance of the miseries faced by migrants, who are stranded across the country and asked the Centre and the states to take measures to provide relief to the workers as there have been inadequacies and certain lapses.
The lawyers including P.Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Anand Grover, Indira Jaising, Prashant Bhushan, Iqbal Chagla in a letter on Monday have referred to the proceedings undertaken by the top court on certain PILs and urged that judicial notice be taken to help the migrant workers.
“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,” the letter said.
Lawyers like Mohan Katarki, Siddarth Luthra, Santosh Paul, Mahalaxmi Pavani, CU Singh, Vikas Singh, Aspi Chinoy, Mihir Desai, Janak Dwarkadas, Rajani Iyer, Yusuf Muchhala, Rajiv Patil, Navroz Seervai, Gayatri Singh and Sanjay Singhvin also signed the letter.
Indeed, the current migrant crisis is symptomatic of how the constitutional promises of equality, life, freedom and dignity have been totally ignored by the Government while imposing arbitrary executive measures.
“The Supreme Courts’ unwillingness to hold the Government to account and to provide succor to these poor millions, will severely erode its constitutional role and status as the guardian of the fundamental rights of the people,” it said.
The Supreme Court’s constitutional role and duty assume even greater importance in the time of a crisis, such as the present when the entire country and its economy was locked down from March 24, it said, adding that more than 75 per cent workers earn their livelihoods in the unorganized sector and the lockdown resulted in an immediate loss of employment, livelihood and the means of sustenance.
The letter said the apex court took note of the status report of the government which referred to a circular prohibiting movement and transportation of migrant labourers and also accepted the statement in March that no migrant person was walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns villages.
“As a consequence of the Court’s failure to intervene, even though the number of COVID cases were then only a few hundred at the time, the millions of migrant workers were unable to proceed to their home towns and were compelled to remain in small cramped tenements or rooms or on the pavements, without any employment or livelihood, and even a definite source of food. In fact this enforced stay in cramped quarters only exposed such poor workers to a higher risk of COVID infection,” it said.
The letter also referred to the emergency era when detenues were left to the tender mercy of the executive.
Referring to the glorious tradition of Public Interest Litigation, the letter said that PILs changed the Indian constitutional jurisprudence forever and dealt with issues ranging from eradication of bonded labour, prison reforms, environmental compliances, and right to food.
On Wednesday, senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala moved the Supreme Court seeking to intervene in the matter in which the apex court has taken cognisance on its own of the “unfortunate and miserable” plight of migrant labourers.