NEW DELHI: Did the Supreme Court slip up in its handling of the Covid-19 crisis? Late last month, 20 senior advocates had suggested precisely that, saying the SC was exhibiting symptoms of its Emergency-era mindset.
Former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi strongly disagreed with the view, but former attorney general Mukul Rohtagi felt the court had not reacted when it should have. Both were speaking at a webinar on ‘Covid 19: Constitutional and legal challenges’ organised by the School of Law, Bennett University, on Friday.
Justice Gogoi, now a member of the Rajya Sabha, said attributing “ill will to the institution as a whole or individual judges only serves to adversely weaken the institution”.
“Its (SC’s) silence or failure to act has been compared to the role of the institution during the Emergency. In my view the two situations are incomparable. What happened during the Emergency are constitutional perversions conceived by the human mind. Though legal options were clearly available to undo the wrong, we humans faltered. The current situation is beyond human comprehension. Never before have we experienced anything even remotely similar. The scenario offers only hindsight views,” he added.
But Rohtagi chose to differ. “Covid has affected the entire world. Dreadful scenes of migrants walking for thousands of kilometres. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court didn’t react when it should have,” he said.
Constitutional expert and senior advocate Harish Salve said the lockdown imposed by the government to check the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to many complex legal disputes arising out of non-performance of contractual and statutory obligations by people, companies and authorities. The Centre, he said, should bring a law to deal with the issue.
The scenario triggered by the pandemic is very complex and the government should take the initiative to bring a legislation instead of leaving it to the judiciary to decide as the courts are already overburdened with cases, Salve added.
A strong federal structure is extremely important in dealing with a pandemic successfully, and cooperation between Centre and the states is key to mitigating the crisis, former Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam said.
Noted lawyer and former solicitor general Gopal Subramanium stressed on the need for reforms. “Reform processes are absolutely required and it needs government initiative like adequate investment in infrastructure, institutions, governance, education and health. There should be public spending and public-private partnership in these sectors,” he said.
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