Stating that the preparation of replies to public interest litigation related to the COVID-19 pandemic is consuming precious time of many officers badly needed for coordinating work on the ground, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Friday told the Supreme Court that “professional PIL shops” must be “locked down” until the country and the world emerges from the unprecedented crisis.
Mehta said he has been approached by many Advocate Generals of states, who have shared their anxiety that these government officers are losing precious working hours in these trying times by sitting in lawyers’ chambers and preparing replies to “frivolous PILs”.
He emphasised that it would be better to leave the officers to discharge their duties.
Mehta was responding to a PIL by activists Harsh Mander and Anjali Bharadwaj and another by Swami Agnivesh, also relating to migrant workers, Mander’s plea sought the court’s direction to the Centre to ensure payment of wages to migrant workers.
The bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta asked the Centre to respond to the averments in Mander’s petition and to submit a status report on averments in Agnivesh’s petition. It will take up the matters next on April 7
Mehta said the government has no problem submitting a report to the court if it wants to see a report.
He told the bench that the government had taken several proactive steps to mitigate difficulties caused to citizens in the wake of the health emergency. “Preparing PILs without any ground-level information or knowledge while sitting in an air-conditioned offices is not ‘public service’, entitling any of them to argue public interest litigations, particularly in the present global crisis,” he contended.
Mehta said the petitioners had not bothered to serve the poor and the needy, or those suffering from COVID-19 and therefore cannot be treated as “public spirited citizens”.
Mehta also told the court that filing of PILs in the middle of the “successful fight” against the deadly disease is “proving to be detrimental” to the country.
The law officer said the government had done “exemplary work”, as a result of which coronavirus’ spread has been “contained to a very minimum number”. All officers, he said, are working day and night through several control rooms.
The PIL said that the Home Ministry’s March 29 order directing employers to pay wages to migrant workers and for their landlords not to evict them for want of rent was not the correct response to the problems of these workers. The petitioners want the government to ensure that wages are paid to migrant workers at the place that they are presently located during the lockdown – whether in their home-state or in shelter homes or in a state where they had migrated to before the lockdown.
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