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Regular-article-logo Sunday, 16 June 2024

To Supreme Court: Reprise protector role

Justice Shah pointed out that the apex court appeared to have 'remained sceptical' and in 'denial' about petitions filed seeking redress for migrant workers

Our Legal Correspondent New Delhi Published 01.07.20, 03:17 AM
In April and May, the SC had dismissed several petitions and applications concerning the rights of internal migrant workers.

In April and May, the SC had dismissed several petitions and applications concerning the rights of internal migrant workers. Shutterstock

Justice Ajit Prakash Shah, the commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists and a former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, has called on the judiciary to “reprise its role as protector of Indian people” against the backdrop of Covid-19.

Justice Shah pointed out that for two months (March 24 to May 28) between the start of the lockdown and the delivery of orders by the Supreme Court, the court appeared to have “remained sceptical” and in “denial” about petitions filed seeking redress for the migrant workers, according to the commission’s web site.

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Justice Shah made the observation during an interview with Frederick Rawski, the Asia and Pacific director of the commission.

The International Commission of Jurists is an NGO that defends human rights and the rule of law worldwide. The composition of the commission, which has up to 60 jurists, aims to reflect geographical diversity and many legal systems.

In April and May, the Supreme Court had dismissed several petitions and applications concerning the rights of internal migrant workers, the commission’s web site pointed out.

On May 26, the court took suo moto cognisance of their predicament and on May 28, ordered the government to register internal migrant workers, provide internal migrant workers free transportation, shelter, food, and water until they reach their homes. Two other were issued subsequently to help the migrants.

The retired judge said the lateness to react was damaging. “Courts should have intervened earlier. They could have monitored the process of the return of the migrants to their home states and ensured basic wages were fixed and delivered,” he added.

Justice Shah expressed the hope that the May 28 order represented a turning point. “Hopefully, going forward, the court will act in the same spirit … to grant some relief to suffering migrant communities. In the future, the court should take the lead and monitor these processes, serving as a guide to both the Centre and the state authorities and the bureaucracy for addressing these issues,” he said.

Justice Shah reminded the judiciary that Indian courts had historically been at “the forefront of giving effect to India’s international legal obligations”, including its economic, social, and cultural rights obligations encapsulated in International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

They had done so in landmark cases in which it was held that the right to life with dignity includes the right to food and a right to be free from hunger and starvation, and the right to shelter includes adequate living space, light, air, water, civic amenities and sanitation, he said.

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