Updated: May 30, 2020 7:54:04 am
APPEARING for the Centre in the Supreme Court Thursday in a PIL on migrant distress, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta slammed critics, questioning their motives and credentials. In the same vein, he criticised High Courts saying that some “are running a parallel government”.
The apex court had taken suo motu cognizance of the plight of stranded migrant workers across the country.
What Mehta called “running a parallel government” is a slew of directions from as many as 19 High Courts to governments — at the state and the Centre. These range from stopping coercive action during lockdown to addressing migrant distress to checking lacunae in testing strategies.
Currently, PILs related to Covid are being heard in the High Courts of Allahabad, Andhra Pradesh, Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Gauhati, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madras, Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Orissa, Sikkim, Telangana and Uttarakhand.
While some High Courts, like Bombay, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Patna, have taken suo motu cognizance, others are hearing pleas filed by petitioners including activists and members of the Bar.
On Thursday, hours after Mehta made the statement before the Supreme Court, a division bench of the Telangana High Court asked for testing of bodies for Covid before releasing them from hospitals.
A bench of Justices R S Chauhan and B Vijaysen Reddy came down heavily on the state government against its “attempts to show a low number of cases.”
The first detailed order came from the Allahabad High Court on March 18 in which it directed the Uttar Pradesh government to not take any coercive action against individuals that would force them to approach courts for relief during the lockdown. The next day, the Kerala High Court also passed similar orders.
However, the Supreme Court granted an ex-parte stay against orders of both the high courts on March 20.
The union government had moved the top court arguing that these orders could have a “pan-India repercussion” and would “incentivize citizens” to delay payments or taxes that are payable by law.
The migrant issue has dominated proceedings in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madras and Uttarakhand High Courts. These courts have questioned governments on upkeep of migrants and payment of their train fare home.
The Karnataka government, which had briefly stopped migrants from leaving the state onboard Shramik Express, reversed its stand after the High Court’s intervention. On May 18, a bench headed by the Chief Justice Abhay Oka asked the state government to clarify who is paying for the tickets.
On May 20, the Uttarakhand High Court, noting that rapid antibody testing has not been approved by the Indian Council for Medical Research, directed that it could be used for surveillance purposes. The court’s order, however, came with the caveat that the nature of its intervention is not “adversarial” but based on agreement of all parties.
In April, the Kohima bench of the Gauhati High Court issued a direction to the state to set up its own testing facility after a petition was filed arguing that the delay in getting results hampered contact-tracing.
Then there are issues several High courts have taken up suo motu. For example, on May 28, the Delhi High Court took up the issue of disposal of bodies in crematoriums.
Two benches of the Bombay High Court, at Bombay and Nagpur, raised questions on the Maharashtra government’s policy on banning delivery of newspapers in the state.
A division bench of the Patna High Court on May 28 took suo motu cognizance of a video on social media showing a toddler tugging a sheet that covered his dead mother in Muzaffarpur.
High Courts have broad powers under Article 226 of the Constitution “to issue to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases, any Government,” orders for the enforcement of fundamental rights.
Even though the rulings of the Supreme Court are binding upon the High Courts, both courts have similar powers to enforce fundamental rights.
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