New Delhi, May 27: A day before the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the “unfortunate and miserable” plight of migrant labourers, twenty prominent lawyers from Delhi and Mumbai had written a critical letter to Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde and other judges saying the top court’s “apparent indifference” to the humanitarian crisis. 

The “institutional deference” to statements of executive will amount to abdication of constitutional role if not rectified immediately, the lawyers had written, as reported by NDTV.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, on Tuesday, took suo-motu cognisance of the miseries faced by migrants, who have been stranded across the country due to the nationwide lockdown and asked the centre and the states to take measures to provide relief to the workers as there 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 Court’s 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 top 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. Infact this enforced stay in cramped quarters only exposed such poor worker 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”.

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