Covid-19, & the Government beyond logic!

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By Madhukar Jetley MLC UP, TIO: In 1979, Justice Bhagwati accepted a postcard as a PIL from a prisoner in Tihar jail,
who had written to the Supreme court reporting an incident of torture perpetrated on a
fellow prisoner. Justice Bhagwati had famously remarked that the court must “provide
access to justice to large masses of people who were denied basic human rights, to
whom freedom and liberty had no meaning.” A 25-paise postcard set constitutional law
in motion.

Former Chief Justice of India, Justice P.N. Bhagwati

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As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, India is faced with an additional
humanitarian crisis: the unprecedented flight of migrant workers from different parts of the
country to their villages. Extreme heat, pangs of hunger from days of walking with no
food, dehydration, humiliation and with uncertainty looming over their heads they
soldiered on. Over 130 migrants got killed in various road accidents during the lockdown
and many others died due to lack of basic provisions in poorly organized relief camps or
in-transit, separated from their families; longing for the respite promised by the
Government, the respite which was deemed to be their socio-economic right by virtue of
being a citizen of India, their right to be protected by the Constitution of India helmed by
the Supreme Court of India- but they were FAILED.

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One knows that the hallowed portals of Supreme Justice in India exhibit signs of Judicial
deference to the Legislature with a willingness to transfer judges unpalatable to the
Executive, the manner in which the issues of Kashmir, unbridled arrests under Unlawful
Activities Prevention Act and the anti- Citizenship Amendment Act agitations have been
dealt with are examples of this.

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What should have happened once the pandemic was brought Under the Disaster
Management Act, a national plan should be prepared by the National Executive
Committee, which was then approved by the NDMA. The minimum standards include
shelter, food, drinking water, medical cover and sanitation, but shockingly, till date no
minimum standards have been set up for any of these categories. “The government is
consulting states as to how many of them have to be transported to their states and how
many have to be given help and what kind of help,” (April 27th 2020). This was the work
of the Centre.

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In a series of blatant lies masquerading as the Centre’s argument, the Solicitor General
of India had argued before the Supreme Court on 31 March that “anyone who is outside
has been taken to the available shelters” and that there is “no person walking on the
roads in an attempt to reach his/her home-towns”. It is against this backdrop that the top
the court had said that it is impossible for courts to monitor the movement of migrant
workers across the country. In contrast, as many as 19 High Courts of India offered
some redemption to the justice system by raising concern over migrant labor walking
back. This seemed to have irked the Solicitor General, as alluding to the activism shown
by these courts, he remarked that “some High Courts are running a parallel
government”.

When the Supreme Court, after more than two months, finally took Suo Motu
cognizance of the condition of migrant laborers, the Solicitor General concluded by saying

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“I have something more to say as an officer of the court. I have a complaint”.

“A large number of steps were taken by the government and the Supreme Court was fully
satisfied with it earlier. But we have something called prophets of doom who only
spread negativity, negativity, and negativity. All these people writing on social media,
giving interviews, cannot even acknowledge what is being done…They are not showing
any courtesy to the nation.” A slew of personal attacks followed, branding all those who
had brought the plight of migrant workers before them as “vultures of doom”.
The simple “complaint” reeks of apathy and insensitivity in the migrant laborer’s crisis
which is being called “the greatest exodus since partition.” The least that is expected of
us as humans, if not as “officers of the court”, is empathy for the hundreds of migrant
workers trudging unbelievable distances home on foot.

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Migrants Walking Miles

What is to be seen is if the submission by the Solicitor General to the SC in March and
less credible arguments by him on 29th May 2020, will he be held in contempt, for
lowering the respect for Supreme Judiciary? The SG’s outburst draws attention to the
SC’s silence. It would be unfortunate, indeed, if the SG’s unwise and mean-spirited
exuberance is allowed to be seen to, in some way, or in any way, be endorsed by the
highest court.
Our founding fathers had a very different vision for India, one with which the India of
today– the India in which thousands of its people are suffering in the face of an
apathetic government and judiciary– is in sharp contrast. A prominent freedom fighter
had once said, “The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe
every tear from every eye.” The fourth pillar of our democracy needs to stand strong in
these turbulent times– impartial and fearless as its legacy has been– or the very
framework of our democracy may collapse.

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Oh, by the way, also coming in from various ‘Prophets of Doom’ that the Ram Mandir
construction has started in Ayodhya on 26th May 2020, with a budget rumored to be to
the tune of INR 10,000 crores. Walls of secrecy seem to be crumbling now with an RTI
application getting the following response from the PMO, “the PM CARES Fund is not a
public authority under the ambit of section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.” However, relevant
information in respect of the fund may be seen on the website pmcares.gov.in.” It
comes as no surprise that, no such information is available on the official website. It just
goes to show how much our PM Cares! By denying the status of ‘public authority’ it is a
big blow to transparency and not to mention our democratic values.

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Copy Edited By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, USA

 

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