Duty of courts to ensure human rights are not violated during Covid-19 pandemic, says former CJI Ranjan Gogoi

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court's handling of the Covid-19 related crisis can't be compared with its role during the Emergency, former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said Friday.
Justice Gogoi, who is now a Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha, added that the role of the judiciary in a crisis situation is of a "course corrector and as an evaluator with constitutional ethos as the guiding norms."
He was addressing a webinar organised by the School of Law, Bennett University on “Covid-19: Constitutional and Legal Challenges.”
Speaking on the topic of `Cooperative Federalism: Role of Judiciary: A dynamic concept to manage and adjudicate disputes during Covid Crisis' the former CJI noted that attributing "ill will to the institution as a whole or individual judges only serves to adversely weaken the institution" perhaps referring to detractors of the apex court who have criticised it for reacting late to the plight of migrants and other concerns relating to the lockdown.
Citing the recent heavy criticism of the judiciary for its approach and silence the Parliamentarian said "Its 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."
Turning to the current concern on what is a valid criticism of the judiciary, Gogoi said well founded criticism of judicial performance is indeed crucial for the vitality of an institution. But "hyperboles masquerading as honest criticism may benefit a few in the short run, in the long run it would for sure adversely affect the nation as a whole."
The former judge underlined the need to understand that "there are limits to judicial power exercised by courts, in particular the Supreme Court of India" adding that "Court has the mandate to protect basic rights and uphold the Constitution but it is also bestowed with a wisdom to step back from what are essentially problems of administrative nature, requiring consultations."
Referring to the handling of the Covid-19 crisis and litigation surrounding it in the apex court, Gogoi stressed that the administration must be given adequate time to discharge their obligations under the Constitution and the laws.
"The Court, therefore, ought not to act as the first recourse to settle all stresses and strains i.e. even before the executive and the administrative had the opportunity to address such concerns," he observed, explaining that unlike in the past when SC had the time to think and deliberate, to take on board varying viewpoints and engage with vast amounts of data to decide its response, "the pandemic situation takes away this luxury" as in addition to long term response, "short term responses are necessary which are often crafted on the go."
So, "while unprecedented times may call for unprecedented responses" Gogoi said the duty of the court is also to constantly try and work with the administration to tackle the fallout of crisis situations without compromising basic rights and liberties of the citizens.

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