The Social Justice Bench in the Supreme Court had its first sitting Friday, as it took up cases relating to rehabilitation of the tribal affected by the Narmada dam project, exploitation of children in circus, providing night shelters to the homeless and construction of hostels for students belonging to SCs/STs.
While the endeavour of Chief Justice of India H L Dattu in having a designated bench to address issues relating to rights of people has attracted much applaud, legal eagles have also voiced their suggestions to make it more effective.
Eminent jurist and senior advocate Fali S Nariman told The Indian Express that the bench should comprise not two but at least three judges. Presently, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Uday U Lalit comprise the bench, which is designated to hear not only certain identified pending cases but also fresh PILs on the issues troubling common man in everyday life.
“The move to have a special bench to deal with the issues of fundamental rights and human rights is to be appreciated in all earnestness. In my view, however, the Social Justice Bench should comprise three judges. It brings more flexibility in the view, at the same time bringing more legal firmness in the orders to be passed by the bench,” Nariman said.
He clarified that a three-judge bench could always overcome the predicament over difference in opinion on an issue by two judges, and it would also have the authority to pass all orders in the interest of justice even in cases where two-judge bench had taken a certain view in the past.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, who has been associated with significant PILs like public distribution system, midday meal, malnutrition, crimes against women, acid attack and many more, called it a “distinguishable” measure to bring to the centre stage the issues of public interest but raised apprehensions over the sheer number of pending PILs.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who led the PILs on 2G spectrum scam and Coal block allocation case in the apex court, hailed the CJI’s move, saying it was indeed a “judicial leap” to earmark a special bench to deal with the PILs. However, he said the time allocated to the Social Justice Bench was inadequate considering the number of PILs pending in the court and also in the wake of the orders required to be issue urgently on some cases. Advocate Sanjay Parikh, who happened to be arguing the first case before the Social Justice Bench, also agreed with the view that two hours every week was not enough.
“I appear for the Narmada Bachao Andolan and my case is now listed for January 9. The court has said it would start hearing my case regularly from the next day till it finishes. I know it as a matter of fact that my case would take really long and it may actually take weeks since this bench will sit only once every week for two hours. So what happens to the other cases listed after it?” asked Parikh.